The four 1960s Miss Marple films starred Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple. For purist fans of Agatha Christie’s spinster detective, these films don’t offer much. Only one of the four was based on a Miss Marple book while two others were based on Poirot stories and one of the four was an original story. Some have compared these films to Peter Ustinov’s Poirot films in the 1970s and 80s, but to me that misses the mark. Ustinov’s Poirot films were at least nearly recognizable as the same character and stories despite the changes.
The only way to enjoy these four films is on their own merits and by that measure they do work. Miss Marple finds herself in one murder mystery after another. It begins with Murder She Said, when she sees a murder through a window while riding a train and is disbelieved by the local Detective Inspector (Bud Tingwell) and she’s assisted in solving it by her friend, the local librarian Stringer (played by Rutherford’s real-life husband Stringer Davis.) The formula of her getting involved in murder and having the Inspector treat her like she’s a meddling amateur and her being vindicated in the end is the way all three films go that see her investigate murders at stables, at a rooming house, and at sea. And she also generally gets an unexpected marriage proposal.
The series gets a little goofier, though mostly in a good way, as it goes along with a lot of tongue and cheek humor. I might compare it in some days to a somewhat more restrained version of the approach to the 1966 Batman TV series with a bit more of a British pantomime take to its comedy, as there are very broad characters who are well-played.
The writing is decent, although the last film Murder Ahoy (the only original story) was a bit weaker than the rest of the series. However, the weaknesses in the script are made up for by the performance of Lionel Jeffries gives as the ship’s captain as he helps sell the dodgier aspects of this story.
The music is light, with a cheery upbeat tune that wouldn’t fit most productions based on Agatha Christie’s writing, but fits this one like a glove.
This is one of the coziest mystery movie series you’ll find. If you like that sort of film and can tolerate its deviation from its source material, this is a delightful romp that’s worth viewing.
Rating: 4.0 out of 5
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