There have been many Miss Marple actresses over the years. But the first actress to bring Agatha Christie’s silver sleuth Miss Marple to the screen was Margaret Rutherford. MGM made four black and white movies casting Rutherford as Miss Marple:
- Murder She Said (1961)
- Murder At The Gallop (1963)
- Murder Most Foul (1964)
- Murder Ahoy! (1964)
The character Miss Marple is described as being a small, mature lady with a straight-laced attitude. But Rutherford’s portrayal is anything but. She portrayed the character as a bold, assertive and brave detective in these light-hearted comedies. Further more she wore her own clothes and makeup on set and sealed the deal on creating her very own Miss Marple.
She insisted that her real life husband Stringer Davis appear in the movies. The character Mr Stringer was made-up for him and he played her sidekick and friend.
Each movie is only an hour and a half so I’ll give a very brief taster on each, here goes….
4-50 From Paddington
Murder She Said is based on the book 4-50 from Paddington and the first scene opens out to the famous London train station. Miss Jane Marple is seen having her suitcase carried by a guard and being assisted onto the train. She settles into her carriage and begins to read a murder mystery book called Death Has Windows (a fictitious book made-up for the movie).
She falls asleep and is jolted awake by the train carriage. She wakes to another train running alongside her train. As individual carriages pass by she stares out and sees a man eating and in a little girl sticks her tongue out at her, and she returns the favour.
Then, the music becomes serious and dramatic as we see Miss Marple staring horrified and helpless at the next carriage. There is a woman being strangled to death by gloved hands. A bodiless black leather gloves shudder in midair and the woman drops.
Inspector Craddock (Bud Tingwell) pays Miss Marple a visit to her cottage in Milchester to advise her that no body was found. Like Mr Stringer´s character Inspector Craddock appears in all four movies and he tells her that she probably saw a couple of “honeymooners”. To which she replies, “I do know the difference between horseplay and murder.” He is promptly shown the door and she flings her cloak on, strides out to visit Mr Stringer.
Mr Stringer works at the local library and she pulls him into one of the book aisles. She whispers to her friend that the police think she is dotty. She asks him how many detective novels they have read over the years. And he replies that it is impossible to say due to the large amount. She suggests that they have knowledge of the criminal mind and it is time to put it to the test!
And so the amateur sleuthing begins.
After The Funeral
After The Funeral is Agatha Christie’s book and Murder At The Gallop the movie it was loosely based on.
The scene opens up to an aerial view of Milchester town centre. Miss Marple and Mr Stringer are walking round the village to collect donations for the Reformed Criminals Assistance League. She suggests visiting the rich and eccentric local Mr Enderby for a donation. They knock on the door and to their surprise it swings open slightly. Walking slowly into the large hallway, they are met by Mr Enderby at the top of the stairs clutching his chest. He falls down the stairs. Holding a hand to his mouth to check his breathing she announces he is dead. Suddenly, they hear a smash upstairs and Miss Marple rushes up to investigate. She opens a door and a cat springs out and dashes by her. Mr Stringer remarks that he thought he didn’t like cats. Miss Marple concurs and says that he was frightened to death of them.
On telling Inspector Craddock that Mr Enderby was murdered and it was not a heart attack, he categorically disagrees with her. She asks him if he has read The Ninth Life by Agatha Christie. And when he says no she tells him that is why he has not made the connection, and states, “Agatha Christie should be compulsory reading for the police force.”
“Doom came to her victim in the shape of a cat.” she tells Craddock, referring to The Ninth Life. He shakes his head in disbelief. With a swish of her coat she marches off declaring, “I will have to investigate this myself, good day!”
Mrs McGinty’s Dead
In Murder Most Foul Mrs McGinty (from Christie’s original book title Mrs McGinty’s Dead) is the victim.
In the middle of the night a local bobby on the beat sees the silhouette of a woman hanging. He runs into the house and finds the woman with the rope around her neck. The other end of the rope is being held by a man bending down on the floor. There are one and five pound notes scattered on the floor and a single dead rose. The bobby (Terry Scott) looks down and exclaims, “What’s all this ‘ere?”
The man is tried in court and there are 12 jurors, one of them is Miss Marple. The police think the case is straight forward. However the jurors do not agree and there is a mistrial.
Inspector Craddock is displeased as he walks out of the court and says, “One jury member was being deliberately perverse.” Unknown to him Miss Marple is behind him and responds, “More than one Inspector I can assure you.” “Oh?.” he replies. “Eleven to be precise!” she retorts.
Miss Marple meets up with her friend Mr Stringer to tell him that they will return to the scene of the crime to investigate. And so another amateur, yet fruitful investigation begins.
Murder Ahoy was not based on particular Christie book. However, it does take some ideas from Agatha Christie’s They Do It With Mirrors. Opening yet again to the village of Milchester with horses trotting and the streets lined with little shops we see Miss Marple striding across the road and into a women’s clothes shop.
Hanging on a dressmaker´s dummy is an impressive ladies Navy uniform. Miss Marple is shown into a changing room behind a curtain. The shop’s assistant begins undressing the dummy and dressing Miss Marple.
Dressed in her uniform she attends a meeting with four other trustee board members of The Cape Of Good Hope Youth Reclamation Centre. During the meeting one member keeps attempting to re-direct the agenda as he is itching to speak about something. He keeps getting put off by the Bishop who is running the meeting. Eventually, he takes a big sniff of his snuff and stands up to be heard but instead falls forward onto the table. They call the doctor and he is pronounced dead.
Miss Marple puzzles, “I wonder what he was going to say?” The Bishop tells her, “He’d just made a surprise visit to the Battledorm ship, got back this very day as a matter of fact.” On re-entering the meeting room she sees the man’s snuff box is now empty and there is a notepad with his doodles on. The sleuth in her is awakened!
She decides to board the Battledorn and the exploring begins.
Watching Someone Special
Whenever I watch Margaret Rutherford on screen, there’s something special happening. She is a one of a kind, scene stealing, frightfully funny lady. I first saw her in Blithe Spirit (1945). This was her pivotal movie and understandably so. Her Madam Arcati is priceless and a must see movie. You’re in for a treat whenever you watch this charming and captivating actress.
And even though the movies did not reflect Agatha Christie’s books the author still dedicated one of her books to her. The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side: To Margaret Rutherford, in admiration.
The plots and characters are fun, even the distinctive music (by Ron Goodwin) that plays in each movie is uplifting and makes you smile.
One of the best Miss Marple actresses ever, Rutherford is playful and peculiar in these comedic whodunits and so you get four times the fun! What are you waiting for?
Investigate and let me know what you discover in the comments below.
Do you like detective comedy movies? Did you see any of these?
Or will you bookmark this page to remind you to watch another time.
Respect to the Image Makers!
Margaret Rutherford by Classic Film Scans (Wunderstock.com)