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Apparently, what I saw was a young man and woman in the throes of connubial bliss.


Murder She Said


Agatha Christie wasn’t mad keen on this adaptation of her 1957 novel 4.50 from Paddington, and purists quite possibly agreed with her. Not least because Margaret Rutherford is no one’s idea of a model Miss Marple (everyone else, though, ought to find her irresistible). Murder She Said was the first film Marple adaptation, and the first of four Rutherford outings as the amateur sleuth across the first half of the sixties. If Joan Hickson – who appears here, as Mrs Kidder – would rightly assume the mantle of the note-perfect embodiment, Rutherford makes a clean break as an exuberant, irrepressible snoop in her own right. Not unlike Ustinov as Poirot, in that respect.

Miss Marple: I may be what is termed a spinster, but I do know the difference between horseplay and murder.

Christie may have been a critic – although she did like Rutherford personally – but it wasn’t as if the response to her novel had been rapturous. A certain line of criticism had it that, enjoyable as it was, it was rather thin on the actual deductive front, with insufficient fodder in the way of clues to account for Miss Marple’s solution. Which is rather what I thought watching Murder She Said, although it’s such a breezy, enjoyable ride, it’s a little churlish to hold that against it.

The seventh full-length novel to feature Marple (the first appearing in 1930), it’s delegation of duties, owing to her age, has been noted; it references her as nearing ninety, but the tenth novel, published eight years later, implies she’s a decade-and-a-half younger than that. Either way, others are prevailed upon to do much of her leg work. Murder She Said changes that markedly; this Marple is, after all, a robust – vigorous even – 68-year-old, and consummately can-do. It’s Marple who witnesses the murder (an effective opening sequence from director George Pollock, who would helm all four Rutherford Marples as well as the 1965 Ten Little Indians). Rather than sending someone to work at Ackenthorpe Hall – Rutherford Hall in the novel – as a housekeeper, Jane does it herself.

David Pursall would adapt two further Rutherford Marples, as well as The Alphabet Murders, in which she cameos, and his screenplay accentuates Marple as far from a meek and fragile old lady; she isn’t taking any nonsense, least of all from ailing patriarch Luther Ackenthorpe (James Robertson Justice, in his early fifties at the time, so sporting lashings of white powder in his hair and beard). Jane is also accompanied throughout by her own Hastings, real-life hubby Stringer Davis, as local librarian Jim Stringer (when Luther “charmingly” proposes to Marple at the end – “I’ve decided to marry you” – she tells him there’s someone else, and departs to a waiting car driven by Stringer; pesky young pup Alexander has attached a just “married” sign and cans to the auto, further underlining the point).

Alexander: We’ve never had a golf-playing maid before.
Miss Marple: You may have heard that this is the age of the common woman.

Having received a brush off from Inspector Craddock (Charles Tingwell), Miss Marple secures the job via a visit to “Mrs” Binster (a very young Richard Briers) of Mrs Binster’s Employment Agency – lucky the Hall has regular vacancies – because she believes the woman she saw strangled was intentionally thrown near its grounds (yes, all a bit convoluted). Naturally, there are the usual suspects, comprising the entire complement of the family and its affiliates, with the exception of the aforementioned Alexander (an accomplished performance from Ronnie Raymond as a precocious adolescent). Regarding Luther, they’re all “waiting for him to drop dead”.

Emma Ackenthorpe (Muriel Pavlov, Doctor in the House) is in love with Doctor Quimper (Arthur Kennedy, perhaps most recognisable as Jackson Bentley from the following year’s Lawrence of Arabia). Cedric Ackenthorpe (Thorley Walters) is keen to point suspicion in all directions. Harold Ackenthorpe (Conrad Phillips) is plain suspicious (“You don’t look like a domestic to me”). Albert Ackenthorpe (Gerald Cross, The Stones of Blood) and Alexander’s father Brian Easley (Ronald Howard) make very little impression. Then there’s Hillman the Gardener (Michael Golden): “He seems very fond of killing things” notes Jane.

Miss Marple: You contrived to put arsenic in my curry. Which I find, by the way, unforgiveable.

Miss Marple shows herself a dab hand at housework – including cooking – and expertly fields any attacks or assertions form the household, frequently to humorous end. There’s some nice playing here, particularly Craddock’s growing respect for her and her complete indifference to Luther’s apoplectic fits. When the reveal comes, that it’s Quimper, it rather makes sense, as we’ve spent insufficient time with most of the other family members, aside from Luther and Emma.

Miss Marple: Yes, dotty old me.

The role gave Rutherford renewed cachet – she’d win an Oscar for The V.I.P.s two years later – and there’s an air of unadulterated splendour about seeing her traipsing around, propelled onwards by Ron Goodwin’s classic score; it is indeed an all-timer, and no attention whatsoever should be paid to the vandalised sampling in Scooter’s 1995 Back in the U.K. (they were big in Germany). It’s a great curmudgeonly Justice role too; he was used to hobnobbing with the gentry in real life, as a member of Prince Philip’s Thursday Club (along with David Niven and Peter Ustinov and… Kim Philby). Also in the cast is Peter Butterworth as a ticket collector. Murder She Said is the kind of effortless-seeming, post-Ealing fare that invites maximum respect.

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