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Case Number 09008

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The Agatha Christie Miss Marple Movie Collection

Murder, She Said
1961 // 87 Minutes // Not Rated
Murder At The Gallop
1963 // 81 Minutes // Not Rated
Murder Ahoy!
1964 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Murder Most Foul
1964 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski (Retired) // April 10th, 2006

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All Rise...

Judge Jennifer Malkowski wishes she had been Ladies' National Fencing Champion in 1931 or at least could solve murder mysteries. Miss Marple has her beat on both counts.

The Charge

"I may be what is called a spinster, but I do know the difference between murder and horseplay…if you imagine that I am going to sit back and let everyone regard me as a dotty old maid, you are very much mistaken."

Opening Statement

In these four 1960s adaptations of Agatha Christie's classic Miss Marple mysteries, Margaret Rutherford stars as the spinster sleuth. She brings a very different sensibility to the role than her successor Joan Hickson, playing the spinster sleuth as a quirky, forceful old bird with a penchant for slapstick rather than solemnity.

Facts of the Case

Each of these four stories follows the well-worn Christie pattern of initial murders followed by a dual investigation by Miss Jane Marple and the police, with another murder or two thrown in later on for good measure.

• Murder, She Said, 1961
Not to be confused with Murder, She Wrote, of course, this initial Marple movie is based on Christie's 4:50 from Paddington. Miss Marple witnesses a killing on a passing train from her own train cabin. With no body surfacing to prove wrongdoing, Miss Marple must not only deduce who committed murder, but demonstrate that it took place at all. When she reasons out the probable location of the body, she takes a job as a maid at Ackenthorpe Hall to search for it on the grounds there. In addition to finding the body, she must match wits with a lively and suspicious assortment of visiting family members, plus the grouchy old lord of the house.
Also starring: Arthur Kennedy, Muriel Pavlow, James Robertson-Justice

• Murder at The Gallop, 1963
Based on Agatha Christie's After the Funeral, this mystery begins when Miss Marple discovers an old man dying of a heart attack in his home while she is going door-to-door collecting for her church. While most of us would not think twice about a death by heart attack, the clever Miss Marple manages to sniff out a murder there. She knows that someone noted in the old chap's will intentionally frightened him to death, but whom? Her investigation leads her to The Gallop Hotel, a riding resort managed by a kindly gentleman who takes quite a shine to the elderly detective.
Also starring: Robert Morley, Flora Robson

• Murder Ahoy, 1964
This maritime murder is not based on any published Christie story. When Miss Marple's uncle dies, she inherits his post as a trustee for some naval society or other. A fellow trustee is about to report a disturbing fact about their ship or its crew when he is suddenly murdered. Miss Marple, with the help of her amenable companion Mr. Stringer, gamely boards the vessel to deduce what wrongdoing has motivated this killing, much to the annoyance of the ship's captain.
Also starring: Lionel Jeffries, Stringer Davis

• Murder Most Foul, 1964
This most foul murder originally unfolded in Christie's novel, Mrs. McGinty's Dead. There's surely trouble brewing when Miss Marple is called as a juror in an apparently open-and-shut murder case. Guess who hangs the jury and annoys the judge with her knitting, to boot? Convinced that a sneakier form of foul play is eluding the police, Miss Marple infiltrates an acting company to root out the killer hiding among them.
Also starring: Ron Moody

The Evidence

Having just reviewed the set of 1980s Miss Marple mysteries starring Joan Hickson, I knew I was in for something a bit different from the first five minutes of Murder, She Said. When Miss Marple notices a young girl in the passing train stick her tongue out at her, she blows a raspberry right back at her. As amusing as Hickson's Marple could be in her own way, we never got anything this lighthearted out of her. Therein lies the charm of this set of Marple movies: they're less proper, with a nicely humorous spirit, a more prominent and human Miss Marple, and a brisk pace heavy on laughs and action. Rutherford's Marple is a hands-on kind of sleuth, always going undercover and prowling around with a flashlight, but however tenacious she might be, she is also pretty anxious about the fact that the murderer always ends up trying to kill her, too. In contrast to Hickson's chillingly calm, powerful old woman, Rutherford's detective jumps at the sound of lightning or t! he sight of a creepy mask on the wall. One thing that Rutherford's Marple and the lighter tone of this set of films lack is compassion for the dead. Though solemnity could occasionally bog down the 1980s series, Hickson's Marple always had an profound respect for those "dead who shouldn't be." Incidentally, a careful viewer will enjoy the interactions between Rutherford and Hickson in Murder, She Said, in which the latter actress plays a small role 20-odd years before she took on the Marple mantle.

Putting comparisons aside, these films should be quite enjoyable with or without the context of the larger world of Marple stories and movies. A few fun themes and characters reoccur in each of the films, including supporting characters Inspector Craddock and Mr. Stringer. Craddock acts as a rather bland foil for Miss Marple as the representative of the style of official police investigations, which inevitably are less effective than Miss Marple's local busybody approach. He is always annoyed to find Miss Marple mixed up in his cases, but then realizes how helpful and oddly likeable she is by the end—though he seems to suffer from selective memory loss, as each time he begins a new case, he seems to forget that it was Miss Marple who solved the last one and is irritated with her all over again. Part of his prejudice is on account of her gender and he often makes jabs about how she is a dotty old woman or how she should be reading romance novels instead of detective storie! s:

Craddock: "Only a woman's mind—possibly only yours—could have dreamt that one up."
Marple: "It may irritate you inspector that women sometimes have superior minds. You simply have to accept it."

And speaking of relations between the sexes, Miss Marple receives an awful lot of ambiguously romantic attention for an elderly spinster. Two of these four films end with proposals of marriage and then there is her fellow detective novel aficionado, Mr. Stringer. Is this funny old gentleman who Miss Marple alludes to when she tells a suitor that if she ever were to marry, "there is someone else?" The makers of these films serve their series well by giving Miss Marple and the select few reoccurring characters plenty of screen time. Even so, the constant parade of suspects and victims can seem a bit boring and amorphous, with a few endearing exceptions.

The writers also throw in a few playful references, like Miss Marple's assertion that, "Agatha Christie should be compulsory reading for the police force," or the theater director's idea that the disguised Miss Marple should play a woman detective in their new production. But my favorite running joke of the series is the fact that Miss Marple seems to have been the "Ladies' National Champion" of just about everything in the 1920s and 1930s. From golf to riding to "small arms" to fencing, she certainly is a Jack—or Jane—of all trades.

Warner Bros. does a very nice job with the transfers of these films. In general, the picture quality is crisp and clear with good contrast, impressive deep blacks, and very little dirt or scratching. The frame jumps here and there, but the films are looking remarkably good considering their age. The sound is offered only in mono, but the quality is fine with the delightful score piping in loud and clear. As for extras, all we get is a collection of trailers for each of these films (two variants for Murder at the Gallop) and for Ten Little Indians. It's not much, but I did quite enjoy the trailer for Murder, She Said, which included some silly little bits of Rutherford talking to the audience. "Well, if they won't believe us," she tells us, "we'll just have to go and solve this crime ourselves, won't we?" The set is packaged as four separate discs, each in its own full-size case which slides into an exterior box.

Closing Statement

Margaret Rutherford does justice to the indomitable Miss Marple, as does Warner Bros. with this nicely presented collection.

The Verdict

Judge Jennifer Malkowski rules in favor of The Agatha Christie Miss Marple Movie Collection…but would that old spinster in the front row of the jury kindly stop that infernal knitting!

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Genres

• Classic
• Comedy
• Mystery

Scales of Justice, Murder, She Said

Video: 90
Audio: 80
Extras: 30
Acting: 75
Story: 85
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Murder, She Said

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 1961
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Murder, She Said

• Theatrical trailer

Scales of Justice, Murder At The Gallop

Video: 90
Audio: 80
Extras: 30
Acting: 75
Story: 85
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Murder At The Gallop

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 81 Minutes
Release Year: 1963
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Murder At The Gallop

• Two theatrical trailers
• Trailer for Ten Little Indians

Scales of Justice, Murder Ahoy!

Video: 90
Audio: 80
Extras: 30
Acting: 75
Story: 85
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Murder Ahoy!

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Murder Ahoy!

• Theatrical trailer

Scales of Justice, Murder Most Foul

Video: 90
Audio: 80
Extras: 30
Acting: 75
Story: 85
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Murder Most Foul

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Murder Most Foul

• Theatrical trailer








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