Murder She Said 7.25
eyelights: the setting. the plot.
eyesores: the lightness of the proceedings.
“I may be what is termed a spinster, but I do know the difference between horseplay and murder.”
‘Murder She Said’ is a 1961 motion picture based on the Agatha Christie’s novel, ‘4.15 from Paddington’. Starring Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple, the picture was enough of a success that three sequels were shot in close succession in the ensuing years.
The film revolves around a murder that Miss Marple sees whilst on a train trip home; while passing a train going in the opposite direction, she sees a woman being choked to death by someone wearing black gloves. She tells the attendant, who obviously doesn’t believe her.
But he humours her and advises the police, who find no traces of foul play. So she decides to take the case on herself, enlisting the help of her best friend, Mr. Stringer, an eager local librarian. It gives her someone to explain things to – and to aid the audience.
Naturally, Marple figures out where the body has landed, and gets a job at Ackenthorpe Hall, a nearby manor, where she thinks the body and the culprit can be found. She befriends a clever and dynamic young teenaged boy at the house, who will be her guide.
In no time flat, she finds the body hidden on the property and the police are anonymously called. But who is the murdered the woman? And who is the culprit? Marple intends to find out, but in so doing puts her life in jeopardy. Anyone in that household could be the murderer!
What’s interesting about this adaptation of Christie’s novel is that the suspense has been toned down and a liberal dose of humour has been injected in its stead. Even the score is playful, setting a whimsical tone from the onset; it was clearly meant to be a romp.
Rutherford’s interpretation of Miss Marple is key to this take on the story: although the rest of the cast generally plays it straight, she’s constantly making faces, throwing zingers or making associations that could appear slightly ridiculous to some.
And yet she also manages to imbue the character with many qualities: Rutherford’s Marple is not only funny, she’s sharp and feisty. Had she not appeared to be an aging old crone, she would immediately impress as a force to be reckoned with.
But she’s certainly capable. Although she doesn’t get into any situation requiring much of her physically, Marple also doesn’t let anything or anyone get the best of her; she seems to be fearless, and doesn’t consider the risks involved when the time comes to find clues.
Her deductive abilities are what the whole plot hinges on, and this is where ‘Murder She Said’ falls into the same trap that its peers frequently do: like Sherlock Holmes, Marple deduces many things that we couldn’t possibly guess, based on the little evidence at hand.
This is infuriating because part of the fun of watching a whodunnit is trying to solve the case ourselves, to pit ourselves against the story’s detective(s). Unfortunately, there’s no way one can piece this together with the information that is made available to us.
But it doesn’t make the film less fun to watch. It’s a delightful, breezy affair. Agatha Christie was not pleased with it, mind you, and it’s hardly surprising: on top of a dramatic change of tone, the screenwriters made a few significant changes along the way.
- The direct involvement of Miss Marple in everything from the get-go (in the book, she only arrives midway through; other characters are initially involved).
- The insertion of Mr. Stringer, who is not at all in the book (and who was played by Rutherford’s real-life spouse, Stringer Davis).
- Ackenthorpe Hall was originally named Rutherford Hall, but the producers changed it due to Margaret Rutherford’s participation.
I can completely see why Christie would have disliked a picture that is a fluffy adaptation of the grittier piece she’d written, but ‘Murder She Said’ is a pleasing cinematic treatment. It’s no wonder that it appealed to the masses, even if it’s lacking meat.
I look forward to revisiting the other films in the series.
Date of viewing: November 21, 2014