An enjoyable weekend of films

Last weekend was extremely rainy and thus required staying inside the house the whole time. So my Puritan work ethic took over and I spent the time doing all the indoor chores that naturally accumulate over time and which get postponed because there are better things to do.

Ha! Of course, I did nothing of the sort.

Instead I spent the entire time in gross idleness watching a lot of films. It is both a benefit and a curse of the internet that it enables you to satisfy idle curiosity immediately and doing so can take you one link at a time all over the place.

My wandering started with my post about the actor Ron Moody and looking at the films he had done reminded me that he had appeared in one of the Miss Marple films Murder Most Foul starring Margaret Rutherford in the role of the famous detective. Since I had liked the series, I went and watched all four in succession: Murder She Said (1961), Murder at the Gallop (1963), Murder Most Foul (1964), and Murder Ahoy (1964).

Agatha Christie created the character because she felt that elderly women were shortchanged in literature and stage and films. The Miss Marple of her books was a small-built, prim, and proper elderly lady who pretty much stayed close to home and gathered information from other people in order to solve the crimes.

Rutherford’s portrayal was nothing like that. She was stocky with a bulldog look that matched the proverbial determination of the breed, fearless, no-nonsense, and adventurous, bustling about everywhere, investigating on her own, even going undercover and putting her life at risk to solve the crimes. To many of us, Rutherford’s portrayal became the Miss Marple and I for one could never take seriously the subsequent portrayals by other actors that were actually more in line with Christie’s vision in the books.

The film Murder She Said also has one of the best film theme music ever that you can hear in this clip.

The pulsing guitar rhythm evokes the motion of a train that was a key element of the first film, while violins and harpsichord carried the melody. The theme was such a hit and so memorable that it was used for the three other Miss Marple films featuring Rutherford as well, and came to be identified with her and called the ‘Miss Marple Theme’. (I recently mentioned the film to an old school friend who had not seen it in over four decades and the first thing he recalled was the theme music.) Although the films were mystery thrillers with some of the requisite noir elements, the jaunty theme signaled that the films would be light-hearted and played for comedy as well as mystery.

Charles Tingwell played the exasperated police inspector Craddock in the thankless role of the unimaginative police foil for the private investigator, who has to cope with her interfering in his murder cases, although she feels forced to act because he lacks the ingenuity to solve them on his own. Each film sees him doubting and dismissing her ideas at the beginning, realizing that she is far ahead of him during the middle, and being willing to aid her in unmasking the killer at the end.

Watching Tingwell, I was reminded that he also appeared in that excellent small low-budget Australian comedy The Castle (1997), a film that I strongly recommend to everyone. Supposedly filmed in less than two weeks, it features a slow-witted, loving, and earnest family with a proud and doting father that finds quiet pleasure and satisfaction in what the rest of us might consider mundane or even undesirable. They own a house right by the big Melbourne airport, with the runway ending just across their garden fence, and with massive power lines passing right over their home. The father is surprised that they got the house cheap despite what he sees as its great location because the family sees these as very desirable features, the power lines to remind them of the wonders of technology, and the proximity of the airport because they enjoy seeing planes taking off and landing right over their home and can walk to the airport if they might ever need to fly somewhere.

When a massive business conglomerate tries to take over their home using eminent domain laws to facilitate an expansion of the airport, the family decides to resist this alliance of government and big business and that David versus Goliath struggle forms the basis of the plot. It is an absolutely wonderful film. Here’s the trailer.


  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    To many of us, Rutherford’s portrayal became the Miss Marple and I for one could never take seriously the subsequent portrayals by other actors that were actually more in line with Christie’s vision in the books.

    I’ll never tire of watching Rutherford’s Miss Marple films (by the way, she made a cameo appearance as Miss M in Tony Randall’s Poirot film The Alphabet Murders, based on Christie’s The ABC Murders), and wish she could have made more. But, Joan Hickson’s portrayal in the BBC series was, for me, definitive. As Suchet’s Poirot was.

  2. moarscienceplz says

    I only learned about dear Maggie’s Marple films a few years ago. What a delight! I bought the full set on DVD and watched a couple of them again just a month or so ago.
    I agree with Rob that Joan Hickson did a superb job. I also like Geraldine McEwan’s protrayal.
    They, and David Suchet have elevated Christie’s stories to a level of entertainment that I have never found in the books themselves. I don’t feel that Christie was a very good writer, even though she did create several interesting characters.

  3. flex says

    Maybe you’ve seen it already, but if you like old mystery films you might like Green for Danger, a 1946 Alister Sim film which is quite quirky.

  4. James Rose says

    The Castle is a fantastic film, not least because the issue of ownership of one’s own land has been a very hot topic in Australia for a long time, and this movie brought the concept of what we call ‘native title’, that is, the ownership of their traditional lands by the Aboriginal peoples who’ve dwelt there for millennia, into a context that white Australians found relatable at a time when one of the landmark native title cases had recently been before the courts, and the concept of Terra Nullius (the idea that before Europeans arrived, the land was empty) had been overturned.
    Also, it’s really funny.

  5. says

    As above Joan Hickson is the defining Miss Marple for me, I thing Margret Rutherford played it for laughs, which she did very well so I’m not knocking her performance.

    When she’s allowed to properly play it for laughs she’s utterly brilliant , eg: The Mouse on the Moon, which also stars Ron Moody.

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