Contains mild peril! This is the closest I’ve come to a horror film so far this October. It’s one of those films that I grew up with and haven’t seen for a long while. It cropped up on TCM a while ago and it’s been sitting in my Recordings for a good couple of months. I finally got the time to sit and watch it. I have to say; what a delight.
Veering off topic, it made me think something though. I wonder if I’m going to be able to pass on all these old films to my own kids the way my Dad passed them on to me? There’s just so much choice these days and they can literally pick from so many options; why would they pick some old film that they think they won’t like. Back when I was young, there wasn’t much choice. I’m old enough to remember there only being three TV channels (and them shutting down for long periods of the day). I remember Radio Rentals opening and us renting our first VCR. It opened up a whole new world but by then I had pretty diverse taste anyway. There wasn’t much choice; there was just whatever was on TV. Most of the time it would be an old matinee that Dad would find. Some western, swashbuckler or noir or Ben-Hur or something. There wasn’t much choice so I sat there long enough to be taken in by it all and realise they were great stories. I just hope I’ll be able to pass on some of these great films to my children so they don’t get lost in the tsunami of content that is being spewed out these days.
So, rant over. Back to the film. Margaret Rutherford will always be Miss Marple to me. Largely because I’ve not really watched any of the others. Agatha Christie wasn’t a fan of her portrayal of the character (at least at first) and the films bear about as much resemblance to the source material as Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes did to Conan Doyle. Who cares? What Rutherford brought to the role was fun and lots of it. Apart from anything else, it’s good to see a film this old with a mature female lead.
The film is based on Christie’s 4:50 from Paddington, in which Marple witnesses a murder through the windows of a passing train and hunts down the killer to an estate by the railway line. There’s the usual crop of red herrings you’d expect of a whodunnit like this. Among the family are a bunch of chaps who are fairly indistinguishable from one another, a kindly but clueless daughter and her lover, the overly helpful country doctor (who is inexplicably American) played by Arthur Kennedy who seems insanely familiar to me but who I only remember from Elmer Gantry.
The patriarch of the Ackenthorpe family at the heart if this mystery is played with great gusto by James Robertson Justice, and this is where the film’s most cherishable moments come from; the banter between his curmudgeon and that of Miss Marple. To see these two strike sparks off each other is a real joy all the day through the film.
I used to love this film along with the other of the series that I would regularly stick in the VCR: Murder at the Gallop. They have a real sense of nostalgia for me and that’s why I enjoyed this rewatch so much. It also reminded me of something else; how much the Police Inspector, Craddock, played by Charles ‘Bud” Tingwell reminds me of a British William Shatner. I always used to think that it was him when I saw these films as a child.
The Miss Marple films proved something of a hit for the studio in the ’60s and it’s good to see how they remain in rotation today. Look out for this one if you’ve never seen it before. it’s well worth it. I haven’t seen much of Margaret Rutherford’s back catalogue (just these and The VIPs, in which the starred alongside Richard Burton), but she’s certainly someone who evokes memories of childhood and that ‘warm blanket’ feel of familiarity in me.
Cheers for reading,
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