Murder Most Foul
The third Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple movie, and the second to – idiosyncratically – adapt a Poirot novel for the amateur sleuth. David Pursall and Jack Seddon throw out many of the characters and motivation, but their inventions and alterations are mostly successful ones, and their meta-sense (which we previously saw in Murder at the Gallop) is in full effect. Murder Most Foul is anything but.
Pursall and Seddon adapted 1952’s Mrs McGinty’s Dead and retain the title character, and her death, and a falsely accused man found at the scene, and the gender red herring of the murderer’s name (Evelyn), but much else is improvised. There is no jury service in the original – Miss Marple has been called to do her duty – and while the creative arts play a part – the murderer is a playwright, planning to adapt the novel of a famous mystery wright, so there are meta elements there too – the preponderance of the movie is set in an around the theatre, with Miss Marple auditioning for rep company the Cosgood Players.
She lands the job, but only after actor/manager/ham Driffold Cosgood (Ron Moody, reuniting with Rutherford following the previous year’s Mouse on the Moon) informs him she is “of independent means” (“My dear lady!”). Also in the company are James Bolam (as Bill Hanson, the novel’s Robin Upward/Evelyn, and instantly suspect because he “acts” an attack on a fellow thesp early on, illustrating he’s got a psycho streak), Francesca Annis (as Sheila Upward, but otherwise unconnected to the novel), Alison Seebohm (as the red herring-named Eva, which is the first name of Eva Kane, mother of Evelyn, in the novel; here, his mother is Rose Kane). There’s also Ralph Michael, Annette Kerr and Maurice Good.
The prime guest play is reserved for Moody, though, enjoying himself immensely as a shallow, vain artiste; “This is tragic, absolutely tragic… Now we’re stuck without someone to play the housekeeper” he comments after the latest murder.
Ralph: Could you believe in Miss Marple as a lady detective?
Driffold: I don’t know any lady detectives. She’s hardly typecasting.
Ralph: You’re quite wrong there, you know. She’s perfect as the Hon Penelope Brown.
Miss Marple has concluded the murdered Mrs McGintey knew someone from the visiting players and was blackmailing them, on account of going to see their performance of – ahem – Murder She Said by Agatha Christie six times (“It’s an excellent play, Miss Marple” offers the faithful Mr Stringer). Christie wrote 4.50 to Paddington, of course; the title was the first of the Rutherford movies. That’s only the beginning of the self-reflexiveness, though. After Marple’s successful audition – an electric rendition of The Shooting of Dan McGrew – Ralph (Ralph Michael) suggests Driffold might consider casting her as a lead lady detective. When she hears of it, Jane protests “Mr Cosgrove, I really wouldn’t have thought I was anyone’s idea of a detective”.
Inspector Craddock: One member of that jury was being deliberately perverse.
Miss Marple: Many more than one, inspector.
Inspector Craddock: Oh?
Miss Marple: Eleven, to be precise.
Jane is on superlative form when confronted by keepers of the law too, be it obstructing the judge with her means of concentration (“Madam, either you will have to cease knitting, or I will have to cease judging. Which shall it be?”) or being resolute in her disagreement with the rest of the jury (“I’m afraid it would be a waste of time, milord” comes the response to the suggestion of considering the verdict for longer). Terry Scott’s plod, who misses the first murder because he’s having a crafty pint, is outraged: “That woman’s made a mockery of my one and only murder”. Ever aggrieved Inspector Craddock accuses her of “impersonating a rag-and-bone merchant” (she insists she’s collecting for church jumble by visiting Megs Jenkins as McGinty’s sister). While he respected her smarts in previous movies, he’s set on reaching rash conclusions here, only to be proved wrong:
Inspector Craddock: Only a woman’s mind, possibly only yours, could think that up.
Miss Marple: It may irritate you, inspector, but women sometimes have superior minds. You’ll simply have to accept it
As recompense for his laboured misapprehensions, Craddock ends up with concussion and a promotion to Chief Inspector. Miss Marple also proves her proficiency with a handgun (“I should inform you, I won the ladies’ small arms championship at Bisley in 1924”) and immunity to Cosgood’s overtures to funding (“Is that not the term for a backer of theatrical enterprise?”). As such, while this movie also ends with a man proposing to Miss Marple, it’s very much of a financial nature this time (“Whatever I may or may not be, I am definitely no angel”).
Stringer meanwhile, is pressed into service selling encyclopaedias early on, leading to his receiving Gladys’ (Jenkins) attentions: “Miss Marple, I do assure you I gave that woman no encouragement” he protests. Murder Most Foul is a witty and playful Miss Marple, and offers a reasonably satisfying mystery too. Although, obviously, that’s of secondary consideration.