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Who does she think she is? Neptune’s mother?


Murder Ahoy!


The final of four Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple movies and the only one not based on an Agatha Christie novel. It’s also, despite some larky comedy and an ever-game Lionel Jeffries, by some distance the weakest. Rutherford’s supporting regulars – Stringer Davis as faithful assistant Jim Stringer and Charles Tingwell as long-suffering and ever-initially-dismissive Chief Inspector Craddock – are present and correct, but the balance between murderous intrigue and spinster quirkiness has veered into muddy plotting and slapstick.

The plot is convoluted, with two intersecting strands, which wouldn’t be a bad thing, were the mystery sufficiently foregrounded that you could coherently track it. It’s revealed this incarnation of Miss Marple is anything but an inconspicuous (not so) little old lady, as she has a grand family with connections; upon the demise of uncle Rear Admiral Sir Hubert Marple, she has been appointed trustee of a youth reclamation centre based around HMS Battledore (designed to “put backbone into young jellyfish” through “training young hooligans who might otherwise have gone to the devil”); she is also the granddaughter of the fleet founder, Admiral Sir Bertram Marple.

No sooner has Jane been welcomed to the trustee meeting (which includes typecast clergyman Miles Malleson as Bishop Faulkner) than one of her fellow trustees, desperate to get a word in, expires upon taking some snuff: “I wonder what he was going to say” ponders our amateur sleuth, who sets to work analysing a sample (there was Strychnine in it). Of course, as is the way with these contrivances, there was no guarantee he wouldn’t say what he meant to say before snuffing his snuff and snuffing it.

As noted, there are two plots here, one involving using the young delinquents to rob houses (loosely a plot point from They Do It with Mirrors). This has been organised by Lieutenant Compton (Francis Matthews) and Assistant Matron Boston (Norma Foster), with the assistance of Sub-Lieutenant Humbert (Derek Nimmo); the latter is besotted with Boston and being used to gain access to stately homes.

Compton and Boston discovered the ongoing ruse of the murderer, Commander Breeze-Connington (William Mervyn) to embezzle funds he feels are due to him from the Navy; he was axed, when, he believes, he should have been made admiral of the fleet. Consequently, they were blackmailing him. The trustee had discovered his fiddling the books, making it seem there were 45 crew when in fact there were only 33 (I’m unsure how he could get away with this for twenty years, so as to amass his loot, as he seems to suggest, but still). There doesn’t appear to be any masonic twist to that number.

I was unclear if Humbert, whom we last see being bashed on the head after confessing his chronic seasickness to Miss Marple, is deaded by Breeze-Connington, but that’s fairly typical of the laisse-faire approach taken by David Pursall and Jack Seddon (as alluded above, penning their own murder this time, rather than adapting one, however loosely). Miss Marple has some Christies on her shelf and there is reference to The Mousetrap, but her major source of inspiration is the (fictional) The Doom Box by Janet Plantagenet Corby, which the murderer has also been using for tips to committing is crimes.

There’s much more play here on the grief Miss Marple causes those she encounters, particularly pertaining to Jeffries’ Captain Sydney De Courcy Rhumstone, flummoxed by her at every turn and having to vacate his captain’s quarters for the duration of her stay (each officer in turn shuffles down a room, with Nimmo demoted to the broom cupboard). Jeffries is always entertaining, but I’m not so sure his broadest of playing is the perfect fit here, certainly when set against previous Marple foils (Justice, Morley, Moody). I did enjoy his attempt to persuade Craddock to get rid of her, though (“Trump up some charge, if you like? I’m sure you’re good at that”).

Craddock has turned into an even greater butt of jokes, having in no way learned to trust Marple’s nose, and while there are some nice sight gags (sergeant puts down phone on inspector’s stand), and he gets to lock her up, having Stringer lob a rock through the cabin window and knocking him out feels like it’s going just a bit far for slapstick yucks. Stringer is causing mayhem all over, since he also steals a boat that sets Craddock off on the wrong line of inquiry.

Sergeant Bacon: All life and death with him, isn’t it?

Nicholas Parsons appears as Doctor Crump, in a recurring gag where he cheerfully pronounces cause of death before rushing off to deliver babies (“Brisk sort of chap, isn’t he?”;He’s a bit on the brisk side, isn’t he?”; “That chap really is brisk, I must say”). The climax, riffing on Murder Most Foul having Marple reveal her marksman skills, finds her announcing “You won’t find it as easy as you think, I should warn you. I was Ladies’ National Fencing Champion in 1931” before engaging in a sword fight with Breeze-Connington. It isn’t quite as satisfying as that picture’s (it’s too protracted, for a start), but it’s a nice touch, all the same.

Rhumstone: You know, the first time I clapped eyes on her, I said to myself, what an old darling.

Generally, though, this smacks of “What jolly wheeze of a setting can we put Margaret in this time?” and building the murder plot around that. Christie especially disliked it, purportedly, and she already wasn’t a fan of the previous three as it was. While the first two films did well, it seems the third did not, and this was released in the UK almost a year after its US debut (and as the second feature in the double bill; the previous three were the main feature). The Body in the Library was mooted as a fifth outing, but it never happened. Still, if Murder Ahoy! is less successful than its predecessors, it’s still very likeable, and as a quartet, the quality is fairly consistent.

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