Sunday, April 21, 2019

Murder She Said

TCM's monthly spotlight for April was amateur detective, so I took the chance to record Murder She Said, not having done a post on it here before.

Margaret Rutherford plays Miss Jane Marple, Agatha Christie's spinster sleuth and probably one of the best known of all the amateur detectives out there. Marple is taking a train home when an express train going in the same direction comes up. Marple is looking out the window and into the other train, when she sees two gloved hands strangling a woman! Marple tells the conductor, who tells the police even though he doesn't believe her since she was reading a mystery novel.

The police don't believe Marple either, so with the help of her friend, village librarian Mr. Stringer (Rutherford's real life husband Stringer Davis), she starts investigating the train schedule to find out where the body was dumped -- even though the police claim they searched the entire line. The two don't find a body, but eventually, they do find some trampled grass and a bit of fur at the bottom of a hill that implies the dead woman's body rolled down a hill, eventually coming to a stop at a wall.

On the other side of that wall is Ackenthorpe Hall, the home of formerly wealthy but now invalid Ackenthorpe (James Robertson Justice), so Marple decides she's going to get a job there as a maid to further her investigation! Also living there are Ackenthorpe's daughter Emma (Muriel Pavlow) and her adolescent nephew Alexander, son of one of Emma's deceased siblings. Showing up from time to time to attend to the patriarch is American doctor Quimper (Arthur Kennedy). Emma has several other siblings, one a pilot killed in the war, and a couple of living siblings who were all at the house on the day Marple saw the killing and who can't corroborate their alibis if it came to that.

Eventually, they do find the dead body, in the old coach house. She appears to be French, and it eventually comes out that Emma's dead pilot brother had a relationship with their old French servant Martine before the war leading to her departure. Everybody thought at the time that he didn't have time to marry her before his untimely death, but then Emma gets a letter from Martine saying she had gotten married and was coming to visit. She'd be in line to receive a portion of the estate when Dad dies, so the obvious assumption is that one of the siblings killed her to keep her from inheriting. This assumption is strengthened when another of the inheritants gets poisoned....

Murder She Said is a fine example of a movie that would have been one of the old B movie series back in the 1930s, only made better by the fact that MGM's British branch had more modern production values and location shooting. Christie wasn't so sure about the casting of Rutherford at first, but warmed to it so much she dediated The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side to Rutherford. Rutherford is charming, while the rest of the cast does quite well. Kennedy seems slightly out of place as an American, but it's not as if he does anything wrong. The story, based on Christie's 4:50 from Paddington, has enough twists and turns to entertain and keep viewers guessing.

Murder She Said is availalbe on DVD from the Warner Archive Collection.

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