Murder at the Gallop 6.75
eyelights: the basic plot.
eyesores: Margaret Rutherford’s mugging. the unclear motive and seemingly lack of logic.
“Don’t look so frightened, my dear. I’ve done my quota of murders for today.”
‘Murder at the Gallop’ is a 1963 motion picture based on Agatha Christie’s ‘After the Funeral’. It is the first of three sequels to ‘Murder She Said‘, starring Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple. Although it was originally a Hercule Poirot book, Marple is the lead here. It also retains the original film’s more comedic tone, instead of Christie’s more suspenseful one.
The plot is simple: While collecting funds for the Reformed Criminals Assistance League, Marple and her trusty side-kick Mr. Stringer go to a rich recluse’s manor just as he falls dead. Having heard noises in the house and finding a cat, but knowing that the deceased hated cats, Marple believes that someone planted the cat there to scare the man to death.
The police won’t have any of it, naturally: the man died of heart failure and they chalk it up to a natural death. So Miss Marple takes it upon herself to find out who might have been behind this “murder”. She enlists the help of Mr. Stringer to eavesdrop on the reading of the wealthy man’s will, after which they go around town asking about each of the successors.
This leads Miss Marple to a riding establishment, The Gallop, owned by one of the successors. There she will have direct contact with each of the family members, and she will try to pry more information out of them. But the murderer isn’t quite done, and eventually the body count begins to soar, leaving Marple in a very dangerous position indeed.
As with the previous entry in the series, Margaret Rutherford’s take on Miss Marple is meant to be amusing: she constantly makes googly eyes and faces, exaggerates, and mugs for the camera – something I find annoying. Rutherford is quite good at this, but I just don’t like this interpretation; it takes away from the seriousness of the character and proceedings.
Again, the picture has a number of whimsical moments sprinkled throughout, such as when Marple tells the inspector that Agatha Christie’s novels should be compulsory to the police force (bizarrely, they referred to “The Ninth Life’, a fictitious book). Or when they have her get propositioned by a rich, smitten man at the end (as they did in the first film).
These can be somewhat amusing (Really? Would she have been so enticing?), but the picture also has its share of outrageously silly moments, such as the eye-gouging dance sequence between Marple and Stringer, which has them do a pathetic Charleston one night. It was such a brutally ham-fisted attempt at humour that I couldn’t help but cringe while watching this.
If the picture had balanced the humour with cleverness, I wouldn’t have minded so much, but this entry in the series doesn’t make much of an effort to make sense. For instance, why would the killer murder another person so soon when the first was still considered death by natural causes? This drew more attention and scrutiny to the case, when he/she could have gotten away scot-free.
Also, in the end, the motive simply isn’t clear, even as we know who the killer is. We also don’t know exactly how Marple found her killer, what the clues were that lead her to him/her. And, strangely, the cat thing didn’t seem to have any bearing on the proceedings at all. It could be a good or a bad thing, because it suggests that Marple isn’t infallible. Or that the movie isn’t.
Anyway, despite the climax being largely disappointing, I nonetheless enjoyed ‘Murder at the Gallop’. I was going to rate it a 7.0 because it’s hard not to have fun watching this, but when its absence of logic dawned on me I had to dock it a little bit. Still, it remains a picture that I would unhesitatingly turn to for a light-hearted whodunnit in the future.
Date of viewing: November 22, 2014