Friday 29 June 2007

Murder Most Foul (1946) George Pollock

As the title of the source novel would suggest, Mrs McGinty's Dead. She has been hanged in a house opposite the Hangman's Rest pub. Constable Wells was having a drink outside the pub at the time and so was very quickly onto the scene, catching a man red handed. However, given that Miss Marple is on the jury, we're obviously going to be caught up in a very English version of 12 Angry Men and sure enough, she is the sole jury member holding out for the accused's innocence. Unlike Henry Fonda's version though, she can't persuade her colleagues, so the case is temporarily put aside for a retrial and Miss Marple investigates herself.

After going undercover as a rag and bone woman, she soon comes up with the theory that Mrs McGinty was a blackmailer and uncovers evidence to suggest that she was blackmailing a member of the Cosgood Players, a theatrical troupe who put on a presentation of nothing less than Agatha Christie's Murder She Said at the Theatre Royal in Milchester. Naturally Miss Marple, a theatrical sort herself, joins the troupe to snoop into who the killer might be.

The cast is a solid one, populated not just by Margaret Rutherford, Charles Tingwell and the inevitable Stringer Davis, but by Ron Moody, Dennis Price and a whole slew of names I know well from sitcoms on English TV. The first person we see is Terry Scott from Terry and June as Constable Wells, and there's also Windsor Davies from It Ain't Half Hot, Mum and James Bolam from Only When I Laugh. Moody and Price come from higher calibre material, not that these were bad sitcoms but it's hard to compare them with Oliver Twist and Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Now I'm back on Miss Marple territory, The Alphabet Murders seems even more like a misguided step. This is another Hercule Poirot novel with Poirot torn out and Miss Marple inserted in his place, so it's hardly a particularly faithful adaptation. However it is firmly a mystery movie with comedy, where The Alphabet Murders was a comedy movie with mystery and Agatha Christie was hardly known as the Queen of Comedy. Fortunately for us, this one is firmly rooted in the mystery and it's the best of the bunch so far.

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