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In the 60s four Miss Marple movies were made with Margaret Rutherford as the lead. Every time I came across information about these movies in the 1990s it was negative, even though Christie enjoyed Rutherford’s performances quite a bit (even dedicating a Marple book to her). Well, a couple of years ago I was sick in bed for a week and Britbox had all the movies, so I took a chance, even though I was convinced they were going to be terrible. Wow. I can’t believe how good they were! They totally got me through being sick and I have watched them many times since.
So here’s to all the lovely delights of these movies: from the lovely Ron Goodwin creepy 60s harpsichord score to all the fun, scary delights and spookiness. They were all directed by George Pollock and produced by George H. Brown, and Rutherford wore her own clothes! I can only hope there will be more movies like this out there, or more in heaven!
These are always light-hearted and feature Miss Marple riding trains, buying clothes, doing charity work, and even serving on a jury- all leading up to the case.
Miss Marple can fence, ride, golf and shoot with the highest in her class, an award is usually mentioned to maintain her street cred with the folks who don’t pay attention to old maids.
It seems as though Rutherford is always experimenting and using the newest police techniques to procure clues, but with her cottage ingenuity and charm.
Stringer Davis, Rutherford’s real life husband is in all these movies and he always assists Miss Marple, often times as the Hastings to her Poirot-like brains. He tracks criminal gang shore patrols, holds library books, helps with experiments, does all the checking-up legwork, rides bicycles with Marple and is an all-around “Her Boy Friday.”
There is always a book mentioned, sometimes it provides the plot for the murderer! None of the books are real, and some are nods (there is a Christie and a Plantagenet), Marple prides herself on reading so many murder mysteries that she can solve any crime- and she does!
They are all varied, some regular, and some wacky!
Probably the best part as the 60s had lots of light-hearted scary movies such as “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken”, and the tone of this is fun like those. The creepy parts include finding bodies, surviving a stormy night with no power, pretending to be asleep to catch a murderer, spying during a storm, finding a cyanide trap, snooping around an old creaky ship, and more.
There are lots of other romps in the movies: amateur plays with fake knives, Morse code from ship to shore, exploring train tracks and detective books, trying out for plays with reciting Robert W. Service poem “The Shooting of Dan McGrew,” climbing on horse carts to snoop at second-story windows, dancing the twist, playing with stove timers, and lots more!
In case you are interested, or need more convincing, here are the fun bits broken down by movie.
Murder, She Said 1962
Adapted From: 4:50 from Paddington, AKA What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!
Introduction: a train station
Clue Fun: a compact that plays Fere Jacques, finding a body in a creepy barn
Trophy: Winner, Ladies’ Open Golf Handicap, 1921
Creepy Bits: boy hiding in the next room, looking for a body in the barns, storm with the lights out,
Stringer Davis: is the librarian, saving books and spying with Miss Marple
Book: The Hat Rack Hanging by Falcon-Smith (book saved by Stringer Davis)
Murders: by strangling, poisoning, and gunshot
Other Fun: Marple cooking, golfing, using an old indoor telephone box, going to a maid’s agency, Marple turning down a proposal from a cranky old man
Plus: Joan Hickson as the cranky weekly maid (she would later play Miss Marple!), our first introduction to the wonderful harpsichord of Ron Goodman, and hot buttered crumpets for tea!
Murder at the Gallop 1963
Adapted From: After the Funeral, AKA Funerals are Fatal
Introduction: reformed criminals fundraising through the village
Clue Fun: cooking a plaster cast of a piece of mud from a riding boot in the same oven as the pastries for tea
Trophy: Ladies’ Riding Champion, Junior Silver Spurs, 1910, Brockbook, Miss J.T.V. Marple
Creepy Bits: after the dance, setting the trap, and seeing the “ghost” come into the room
Stringer Davis: runs around like a dogsbody, rides a bicycle with Marple
Book: The Ninth Life by Agatha Christie (not real)
Murders: by cat, and with a hairpin, trampling by horse
Other Fun: Rutherford dancing the Twist!, climbing on horse carts to snoop, and riding sidesaddle! Plus, Miss Marple gets her second proposal of marriage (but not from Mr. Stringer). She turns it down, of course.
Murder Most Foul 1965
Adapted From: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead
Introduction: a drunk policeman, Miss Marple doing jury duty
Clue Fun: finding a newspaper with letters cut out of it, getting another copy and figuring out the message
Trophy: Ladies’ Small Arms Champion, Bisley, 1924
Creepy Bits: thunderstorm, spying with a mirror to see over the transom windows
Stringer Davis: running to London for research, , stays at the Y, keeping fit
Book: (a play this time) Remember September by H Driffold, then another: Out of the Stewpot
Murders: by hanging, arsenic, cyanide
Other Fun: Rutherford recites the John W. Service poem The Shooting of Dan McGrew to audition
Murder Ahoy 1964
Adapted From: original script
Introduction: Marple tries on and buys a ladies’ sailor uniform
Clue Fun: analyzing snuff with a girls’ chemistry set, the number 33 written on a paper, hidden “treasure”
Trophy: Ladies’ National Fencing Champion, 1931
Creepy Bits: creeping around the ship at night with lovely harpsichord music, spying when setting the trap
Stringer Davis: follows the chore patrol, does Morse code, hides in rowboats, tangles with a hobo
Book: The Doom Box by J. Plantagenet Corby
Murders: by strychnine poisoned snuff, by sword and hanging, by poisoned mousetrap
Other Fun: the police doctor is always in a hurry “got a baby due,” etc., the changing room at the beginning, the captain is Lionel Jeffries who has a lot of fun with his role, Marple backing out of a window, Marple putting her hand right in a snuff box
Well, there you have it, although short, her film career was great. Rutherford primarily acted on the stage. There are many more movies, even one where she won an Oscar! Her character and Mr. Stringer do show up again- in a perfectly lovely cameo in the Alphabet Murders, a 1965 movie with Tony Randall as Poirot (and Robert Morley from Murder at the Gallop!). Its at approximately 26:50 in the movie, but I found a clip on Youtube:
Was there ever to be another Marple movie with Rutherford? Unfortunately Murder Ahoy was not well-received (even though it is a fine movie in the series) and so plans for a movie based on The Body in the Library were shelved.
Cheers to Margaret Rutherford and all her achievements that have brought so much joy to so many!
With fun 1960s mystery movies to you from Kansas Street,