“A POCKETFUL OF RYE” (1985) Review

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“A POCKETFUL OF RYE” (1985) Review

There have been two adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1953 novel, “A Pocket Full of Rye”. Well . . . as far as I know. I have already seen the recent adaptation that aired on ITV’s “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MARPLE” series in 2009. Recently, I watched an earlier adaptation that aired on the BBC “MISS MARPLE” series in 1985.

Directed by Guy Slater, this earlier adaptation starred Joan Hickson as the story’s main sleuth, Miss Jane Marple. The story begins in the London office of financier Rex Fortescue, who suddenly dies after drinking his morning tea. At first suspicion falls upon the employees of Fortescue’s firm. But the police coroner discovers that Fortescue had died from taxine, n alkaloid poison obtained from the leaves or berries of the yew tree. Due to this discovery, Detective-Inspector Neele realizes that someone within the Foretescue household may have poisoned the financier during breakfast. Suspicion falls upon Fortescue’s second and much younger wife, Adele after Neele learns of her affair with a local golf pro at a resort. However, Adele is murdered during tea, via poison. Even worse, a third victim, a maid named Gladys Martin, is found in the garden, strangled to death and with a peg on her nose. After Adele and Gladys’ murders are reported by the media; Miss Marple, who used to be Gladys’ employer, pays a visit to the Fortescue home to discover the murderer’s identity among the list of suspects:

*Percival Fortescue – Rex’s older son, who was worried over the financier’s erratic handling of the family business
*Jennifer Fortescue – Percival’s wife, who disliked her father-in-law
*Lance Fortescue – Rex’s younger son, a former embezzler who had arrived home from overseas on the day of Adele and Gladys’ murders
*Patricia Fortescue – Lance’s aristocratic wife, who had been unlucky with her past two husbands
*Mary Dove – the Fortescues’ efficient and mysterious housekeeper
*Vivian Dubois – Adele’s lover and professional golf instructor
*Aunt Effie Ramsbottom – Rex’s fanatically religious ex-sister-in-law

Despite Inspector Neele’s initial inclination to dismiss the elderly Miss Marple, he comes to appreciate her help in solving the three murders.

I like “A POCKETFUL OF RYE”. I like it a lot. I have always been a fan of Christie’s 1953 novel. And if I must be honest, I also enjoyed the 2009 adaptation, as well. Originally, one would be inclined to believe that this earlier adaptation is more faithful to Christie’s novel. Surprisingly, it is not. Screenwriter T.R. Bowen eliminated at least three characters from the novel and changed the murderer’s fate in the end. Otherwise, this adaptation was pretty faithful. But it is not its faithfulness to Christie’s novel that made me enjoy this production. I have read plenty of first-rate novels that translated badly to the television or movie screen. Fortunately, “A POCKETFUL OF RYE” does not suffer from this fate. At least not too much.

Overall, “A POCKETFUL OF RYE” is an entertaining and solid story that left me intrigued. It is also one of the few Christie stories in which the revelation of the murderer’s identity left me feeling very surprised . . . and a little sad. However, even sadder was the third murder . . . that of Gladys Martin. She was the only one of the three victims that was likable. Not only did I find her death sad, but also cruel. But it was also good drama. The movie also featured some strong characterization that I believe enhanced the story. Between the interactions between the members of the Fortescue family members, the interactions between Miss Marple and Inspector Neele, and the interaction between the latter and his assistant Sergeant Hay; this production reeked with strong characterization.

“A POCKETFUL OF RYE” did have its problems. One, I thought the movie’s pacing dragged a bit, following the death of Rex Fortescue. And because of this, the story took its time in reaching Miss Marple’s arrival at the Fortescues’ home. Another problem with Bowen’s script is that it strongly hinted the killer’s identity before Miss Marple could to the police. This problem has been a problem with the Joan Hickson movies throughout its run. For me, the real problem with “A POCKETFUL OF RYE” proved to be the killer’s fate. Apparently, Bowen and director Guy Slater decided that Christie’s version of what happened to the murderer was not enough. Instead, they decided to kill off the murderer in a convoluted manner via a traffic accident. Frankly, I found Christie’s original version more emotionally satisfying.

I certainly had no problem with the movie’s performances. Joan Hickson was top-notch as usual, as Jane Marple. I also enjoyed Tom Wilkinson’s very entertaining performance as Inspector Neele. I find it hard to believe that it took another 13 years or so for him to achieve stardom. There were three other performances that I truly enjoyed. One came from Rachel Bell, who was first-rate in her portrayal the victim’s enigmatic daughter-in-law. Selina Cadell’s portrayal of housekeeper Mary Dove proved to be just as enigmatic and impressive. Both Peter Davidson and Clive Merrison gave interesting performances as the two Fortescue brothers, Lance and Percival, who seemed such complete opposites of one another. I also enjoyed Fabia Drake, who gave an excellent performance as the victim’s religious, yet observant sister-in-law, Effie Ramsbottom. The movie also featured solid performances from Timothy West (whose appearance was sadly too brief), Annette Badland, Stacy Dorning, Jon Glover, Frances Low and Martyn Stanbridge.

“A POCKETFUL OF RYE” proved to be an entertaining and solid adaptation of Christie’s novel, thanks to director Guy Slater and screenwriter T.R. Bowen. The movie also featured excellent performances from a cast led by the always incomparable Joan Hickson. However, I do feel that the movie was somewhat marred by a slow pacing in the middle of the story and an early and unsatisfying revelation of the killer’s identity. Oh well. At least “A POCKETFUL OF RYE” was not a bust or even mediocre.

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“NEMESIS” (1987) Review

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“NEMESIS” (1987) Review

Although not highly regarded by many Agatha Christie fans, I used to be a long time fan of her 1971 novel,“Nemesis”. My opinion of the novel has dimmed a bit over the years, but I still admire its slow, melancholic air that I believe gave it a rich atmosphere. As far as I know, there have been a radio adaptation of the novel and two television movie adaptations. One of the latter was a BBC production that aired in 1987.

“NEMESIS” begins with the death of a millionaire named Jason Rafael, whom Miss Jane Marple had first met in Christie’s 1964 novel, “A Caribbean Mystery”. Through his will, Rafael charges Miss Marple to solve a crime that he believes remain unsolved – the murder of his ne’er do well son Michael’s former fiancée, Verity Hunt. If Miss Marple is successful, she will inherit £20,000. Rafael arranges for Miss Marple to join a bus tour of famous British homes and gardens that includes one Miss Elizabeth Temple, the headmistress of a famous girls’ school that Verity had attended; a Professor Winstead, a psychiatrist who had examined Michael Rafael to judge whether the latter was capable of murder; a young woman named Miss Cooke, whom Miss Marple had spotted in St. Mary’s Mead; and the latter’s companion, a Miss Barrow. Accompanying Miss Marple is her nephew/godson Lionel Peel, a character created by screenwriter T.R. Bowen. During one stop of the bus tour, Miss Marple meets a Mrs. Lavinia Glynne and her two spinster sisters – Clotilde and Anthea Bradbury-Scott. Miss Marple learns that Rafael had arranged for the three sisters to take care of her during the tour’s more physically challenging segments. She also discovers that at least two of the sisters – Clotilde and Anthea – knew both Verity and Michael very well, since the former’s parents knew the Bradbury-Scotts before their deaths.

Regardless of my feelings for Christie’s novel, I must admit that I am not a major fan of the 1987 adaptation.  Do not get me wrong.  I managed to enjoy the movie. But I would never regard it as one of my favorite adaptations that featured the Jane Marple character. I have at least three problems with this production. One, “NEMESIS” seemed to move at an incredibly slow pace. Granted, many of the “MISS MARPLE” television movies were guilty of slow pacing. But there were times when it seemed that a snail moved faster than the pacing for this film. Another problem I had with “NEMESIS” is that the story does not feature many suspects. Not really. It seemed pretty obvious in the story that most of the characters that knew Michael Rafael and Verity Hunt – Elizabeth Temple, Professor Winstead, an Archdeacon Brabazon and Lavinia Glynne – made improbable suspects. That only left the two remaining Bradbury-Scott sisters, Clotilde and Anthea, Miss Cooke and Miss Barrow. Actually, Bowen’s screenplay tried to include Michael Rafael as a suspect by placing him in the area when Elizabeth Temple was killed. But that did not really work for me.

Which leads me to my third problem with this production . . . namely Michael Rafael. In Christie’s novel, the latter had been in prison for a decade, convicted of Verity Hunt’s murder (and possible the murder of a local girl named Nora Brent). However, Bowen changed matters by allowing Michael to roam free as a suspect who had never arrested or convicted. Worse, he had Michael roaming the streets of London as a homeless man, acting as some kind of advocate for many of London’s homeless. Every time the story focused on Michael, I had to reach for my remote and push the fast forward button. It was either that or allow the Michael Rafael sequences put me to sleep. Not even Bruce Payne’s performance could keep me interested. If I must be more brutally frank, I thought the 2007 adaptation handled its changes of the Michael Rafael character a lot better. I wish that Bowen had adhered to Christie’s original story by allowing Michael to remain in prison, if he was that intent upon closely following the novel.

However, “NEMESIS” was not a terrible movie. Despite its shortcomings, it proved to be pretty solid adaptation. Bowen and director David Tucker did an admirable job in adapting Christie’s novel for the television screen. More importantly, they did an equally admirable job of adhering to the novel with very few changes. Although I am not particularly thrilled with the changes done to the Michael Rafael character, I have to admit that I liked the addition of the Lionel Peel character. He strongly reminded me of the Arthur Hastings character and actually managed to somewhat assist Miss Marple in her investigation.

The best aspect of “NEMESIS” is that it did not deviate from the novel’s theme . . . namely love. I read another review of the movie that tried to hint that the changes in Bowen’s screenplay emphasized on the topic of decay. Recalling Christie’s original novel, it was an argument that I found hard to accept. More than anything, I believe love played a major role in this story. Due to a series of interviews with other characters in the story, Miss Marple came to the conclusion that Verity Hunt was a much beloved young woman. In fact, her observation led her to question the stark condition of Verity’s resting place. The love Verity shared between Michael Rafael had led to her murder and emotionally ruined his life. The love theme that seemed to permeate the screenplay convinced me that both Bowen and Tucker to maintain the melancholic air that made the novel so interesting . . . and haunting.

I certainly had no problems with the production’s performances. Joan Hickson gave one of her best performances as the truth-seeking Jane Marple. In fact, this particular movie featured one of my favorite Hickson moments on film . . . the moment in which Miss Marple confronts the murderer and reveals the latter’s motive and methods. “NEMESIS” also featured superb performances from Margaret Tyzack, Anna Cropper and Valerie Lush, who portrayed the very interesting Bradbury-Scott sisters. Despite my complaints about the Michael Rafael character, I cannot deny that Bruce Payne gave a very intense performance as the hard-luck drifter. Both Roger Hammond and Patrick Godfrey nearly made a perfect screen team as Jason Rafael’s pair of solicitors, Mr. Broadribb and Mr. Schuster. Peter Tilbury gave an entertaining performance as Miss Marple’s mild-mannered nephew (or godson), Lionel Peel. And I found Helen Cherry’s portrayal of the former school headmistress, Elizabeth Temple, very poignant. Another poignant performance came from Liz Fraser, who portrayed the mother of the missing and presumed dead Nora Brent. The movie also featured solid performances from Ann Queensberry, Jane Booker, Alison Skilbeck, John Horsley and Peter Copley.

I suppose I should be grateful that “NEMESIS” did not prove to be a narrative mess, like the 2007 adaptation of the same novel. Yes, it possessed flaws that made it difficult for me to regard it as one of my favorite Miss Marple adaptations. But it still managed to somewhat closely follow the 1971 novel and maintain its melancholic air. And it also featured excellent performances from a cast led by Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. On a whole, it proved to be a pretty damn good movie.

Favorite Films Set in the 1940s

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Below is a list of my favorite movies (so far) that are set in the 1940s:

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1940s

1-Inglourious Basterds-a

1. “Inglourious Basterds” (2009) – Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed this Oscar nominated alternate history tale about two simultaneous plots to assassinate the Nazi High Command at a film premiere in German-occupied Paris. The movie starred Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent and Oscar winner Christoph Waltz.

2-Captain America the First Avenger

2. “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) – Chris Evans made his first appearance in this exciting Marvel Cinematic Universe installment as the World War II comic book hero, Steve Rogers aka Captain America, who battles the Nazi-origin terrorist organization, HYDRA. Joe Johnston directed.

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3. “Devil in a Blue Dress” (1995) – Denzel Washington starred in this excellent adaptation of Walter Mosley’s 1990 novel about a laid off factory worker who becomes a private detective, after he is hired to find a missing woman with connection to a local politician in post-World War II Los Angeles. Directed by Carl Franklin, the movie co-starred Don Cheadle, Jennifer Beals and Tom Siezmore.

3-Bedknobs and Broomsticks

4. “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” (1971) – Angela Landsbury and David Tomilinson starred in this excellent Disney adaptation of Mary Norton’s series of children’s stories about three English children, evacuated to the countryside during the Blitz, who are taken in by a woman studying to become a witch in order to help the Allies fight the Nazis. Robert Stevenson directed.

4-The Public Eye

5. “The Public Eye” (1992) – Joe Pesci starred in this interesting neo-noir tale about a New York City photojournalist (shuttlebug) who stumbles across an illegal gas rationing scandal involving the mob, a Federal government official during the early years of World War II. Barbara Hershey and Stanley Tucci co-starred.

5-A Murder Is Announced

6. “A Murder Is Announced” (1985) – Joan Hickson starred in this 1985 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1950 novel about Miss Jane Marple’s investigation of a series of murders in an English village that began with a newspaper notice advertising a “murder party”. Directed by David Giles, the movie co-starred John Castle.

6-Hope and Glory

7. “Hope and Glory” (1987) – John Boorman wrote and directed this fictionalized account of his childhood during the early years of World War II in England. Sarah Miles, David Hayman and Sebastian Rice-Edwards starred.

7-The Godfather

8. “The Godfather” (1972) – Francis Ford Coppola co-wrote and directed this Oscar winning adaptation of Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel about the fictional leaders of a crime family in post-World War II New York City. Oscar winner Marlon Brando and Oscar nominee Al Pacino starred.

8-Valkyrie

9. “Valkyrie” (2008) – Bryan Singer directed this acclaimed account of the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler in July 1944. Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson starred.

9-The Black Dahlia

10. “The Black Dahlia” (2006) – Brian DePalma directed this entertaining adaptation of James Ellroy’s 1987 novel about the investigation of the infamous Black Dahlia case in 1947 Los Angeles. Josh Harnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank starred.

10-Stalag 17

Honorable Mention: “Stalag 17” (1953) – Billy Wilder directed and co-wrote this well done adaptation of the 1951 Broadway play about a group of U.S. airmen in a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany, who begin to suspect that one of them might be an informant for the Nazis. Oscar winner William Holden starred.

“THE MOVING FINGER” (1985) Review

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“THE MOVING FINGER” (1985) Review

I might as well put my cards on the table. I am not a fan of Agatha Christie’s 1942 novel, “The Moving Finger”. I do not regard it as one of the author’s more remarkable works. In fact, I have difficulty in viewing it as mediocre. When I first learned about the 1985 adaptation of the film, I did not bother to get my hands on a video or DVD copy.

In the end, I found myself viewing the 1985 television movie, due to it being part of a box set of Jane Marple movies. Before I express my opinion of it, I might as well reveal its plot. “THE MOVING FINGER” is basically a murder mystery set in a small English town. A brother and sister from London named Gerry and Joanna Burton purchase a house in the small, quiet town of Lymstock; in order for Jerry to fully recover from injuries received in a plane crash. After settling in and meeting their neighbors, the two siblings become the latest victims of a series of anonymous poison pen letters. Unbeknownst to the Bartons and other citizens of Lymstock, the vicar’s wife, Mrs. Maude Calthrop, summons her old friend, Miss Jane Marple, to help the police find the letters’ writer. However, not long after Miss Marple’s arrival at Lymstock, the poison pen letters take a murderous twist. Mrs. Angela Symmington, the wife of local solicitor Edward Symmington, is found dead after receiving a letter. The coroner rules her death as suicidal. Only Miss Marple believes Mrs. Symmington had been murdered. And it took a second death – the obvious murder of the Symmingtons’ maid – for the officials to realize she had been right about the first murder.

One of the aspects about Christie’s 1942 novel that I found so unremarkable was the actual murder that took place. It had been very easy for me to figure out the murderer’s identity, while reading the novel. In fact, I managed to do so before I was halfway finished with the novel. I wish I could say that Julia Jones’ adaptation made it a little more difficult for anyone to guess the murderer’s identity before the movie’s final denouement. But I cannot. Jones and director Roy Boulter made it easy for anyone to identify the killer, thanks to some very awkward camera directions. To make matters worse, both Jones and Boulter made the mistake of closely adapting Christie’s novel. Which meant both followed the novel’s narrative in which one of the characters openly approached the killer before Jane Marple could expose the latter’s identity to the police. Actually, Miss Marple used one of the characters to entrap the killer. And I hate it when this form of narrative is used in a murder mystery in which the audience is supposed to be unaware of the killer’s identity.

Another complaint I have regarding “THE MOVING FINGER” has to do with the romance between the dashing former pilot Gerry Burton and the victim’s oldest child, twenty year-old Megan Hunter. Actually, I have mixed feeling about the portrayal of this particular romance. On one hand, I liked the fact that Megan occasionally challenged Jerry’s patronizing attitude toward her. And the two actors portraying Jerry and Megan actually clicked on screen. On the other hand, I DID find his attitude patronizing. The Jerry-Megan romance almost seemed like a second-rate version of the Henry Higgins-Eliza Doolittle pairing in “PYGMALION”/“MY FAIR LADY” tale. Matters were made worse when Jerry dragged Megan to London for a day of shopping, dining and dancing. I realize that Christie and later, Jones were trying to make this sequence romantic. I found it tedious, patronizing and an unoriginal take on both “MY FAIR LADY” and “Cinderella”.

Thankfully, there was another major romance featured in “THE MOVING FINGER” that struck me as a lot more mature and satisfying. I am referring to the romance between Jerry’s sister, Joanna Burton and the local doctor, Welsh-born Dr. Owen Griffith. Unlike the Jerry-Megan romance, I did not have to deal with some immature take on “PYGMALION”. The worst Joanna and Owen had to deal with was the latter’s sister Eryl, who not only seemed slightly disapproving of Joanna, but who was also infatuated with widow of the murdered woman, Edward Symmington. In fact, the romances featured in this story seemed to offer an hint on what made “THE MOVING FINGER” enjoyable for me – the portrayal of village life in Lymstock. The movie also featured interesting characters that included the solicitor Edward Symmington and his high-maintenance wife Angela, their attractive nanny Elsie Holland, local gossip and art collector Mr. Pye, and the Reverend Guy Calthrop and his wife Maud – both friends of Miss Marple. Forget the murder mystery and enjoy the story’s strong characterizations and romances. It made “THE MOVING FINGER” a lot more bearable for me.

Paul Allen’s production designs struck me as solid. I thought he and his team did a pretty good job in re-creating an English village in the early-to-mid 1950s. I found Ian Hilton’s photography very attractive and colorful . . . even after 29 years. Christian Dyall created some very attractive costumes for the cast – especially for Sabina Franklyn, who portrayed the sophisticated Joanna Barton. If I have one complaint, it is the hairstyle worn by
Deborah Appleby, who portrayed Megan Hunter. Quite frankly, I found her mid-1980s hairstyle in the middle of a production set in the 1950s rather startling. And I am not being complimentary.

“THE MOVING FINGER” featured some excellent performances from the cast. Joan Hickson gave her usual above-average performance as the modest elderly sleuth, Jane Marple. However, due to the amount of romance and village intrigue, her appearance seemed a bit toned down. Michael Culver gave an excellent performance as the grieving widower, Edward Symmington. I found his performance very realistic and complex. Sandra Payne was another who gave a first-rate performance as the equally complex Eryl Griffith. Sabina Franklyn gave a very attractive performance as the sophisticated Joanna Barton. Not only did she click well with Martin Fisk, who portrayed the mature and subtle Dr. Griffith, but also with Andrew Bicknell, who gave a very charismatic portrayal of the attractive Jerry Burton. Bicknell also created a very nice screen chemistry with Deborah Appleby, who portrayed the gawkish Megan Hunter. I wish I could be just as complimentary about Appleby’s performance. There were times when her performance seemed solid. Unfortunately, there were times when she came off as wooden. And Richard Pearson was a delight as the gossiping Mr. Pye.

I could have easily dismissed “THE MOVING FINGER” as a loss. Thanks to Christie’s original novel, it does not possess a scintillating murder mystery. In fact, I was able to solve the mystery halfway into the story, when I first read the book. In the end, the story’s excellent portrayal of village life in the early 1950s and a pair of entertaining romances made “THE MOVING FINGER”enjoyable to watch in the end. The movie also benefited from some excellent performances from a cast led by Joan Hickson.

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” (1992) Review

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“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” (1992) Review

Many critics tend to look upon Agatha Christie’s later novels with less favor. Among those novels viewed with less than any real enthusiasm was her 1962 novel, “The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side”. I find this interesting, despite the fact that one movie and two television adaptations have been made from this story. 

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” delved into the world of Hollywood movies through the new tenants of Gossington Hall, the former home of Colonel Arthur and Dolly Bantry. After the death of Colonel Bantry, Mrs. Bantry sold the manor to Hollywood movie star Marina Gregg and her husband, director Jason Rudd. Marina and Jason host a fête for the citizens of St. Mary Mead. Miss Jane Marple is one of the guests. Another is Heather Badcock, an annoying housewife and St. John Ambulance helper with a penchant for being self involved. During the reception inside the manor, Heather dies after drinking a poisoned cocktail. When the local police and Scotland Yard investigate Heather’s death, they realize that the cocktail had been meant for Marina Gregg. And they have plenty of suspects:

*Jason Rudd

*Dr. Gilchrist – Marina’s personal doctor

*Ella Zeilinsky – Jason’s lovesick secretary

*Lola Brewster – Hollywood starlet and Marina’s rival

*Ardwyck Fenn – Hollywood producer and Lola’s husband

*Margot Bence – Professional photographer and Marina’s former adopted daughter

*Arthur Badcock – Heather’s milequoast husband, who might had a reason to kill her

It is quite obvious that T.R. Bowen’s screenplay for “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” remained faithful to Christie’s 1962 novel. However, I did notice a few differences. The main police investigator, Dermot Craddock, turned out to be Miss Marple’s nephew, as he was in the 1980 adaptation with Angela Landsbury. And Marina and Jason’s Italian butler, Giuseppe Murano, had been murdered in the novel. In this movie, he was regulated to a minor supporting character and survived. Most fans would view the movie’s close similarity to Christie’s novel as a sign of its superiority as an adaptation. Faithfulness to the source material is not a sign of superior adaptation for me. I will admit that “THE MIRROR CRACK’D”is a pretty damn good adaptation. But I feel it had a few problems.

One of my problems with “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” is the casting of Judy Cornwell as Heather Badcock. Upon reading Christie’s novel, I had the impression that Heather must have been at least in her mid-30s or early 40s when she was killed, and in her 20s when she first met Marina Gregg during World War II. However, Judy Cornwell was in her early 50s when this movie was made and looked it. And since “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” took place in the 1950s – at least a little over a decade before Heather and Marina’s first meeting – I found it hard to accept Cornwell as the clueless Heather. I was also not that enamored of the scene featuring the revelation of the murderer very unsatisfying. But if I must be honest, the killer revelation scenes have never impressed me in most of the Miss Marple movies that starred Joan Hickson. They tend to be rather badly written. And what made revelation in this movie unsatisfying was T.R. Bowen and director Norman Stone’s decision to have Miss Marple reveal the killer’s identity to a cab driver, who was driving her to Gossington Hall. What on earth were they thinking? Talk about ruining a pretty good movie with a bad ending.

My biggest problem with “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” turned out to be Detective Inspector Dermot Craddock’s character background. As I had stated earlier, Bowen’s screenplay revealed Craddock as one of Miss Marple’s nephew, repeating the 1980 film’s characterization of him. If this had been John Castle’s first appearance as Detective-Inspector Craddock, I would not be making this complaint. But the actor first portrayed the character in 1985’s “A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED”, which also starred Joan Hickson as the elderly sleuth. And in that movie, Miss Marple and Craddock were strangers who had met for the first time, not blood relations. This was truly sloppy writing on Bowen’s part.

Fortunately, I still managed to enjoy “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” very much. I have to attribute this to Norman Stone’s lively direction. Most of the Jane Marple adaptations that starred Hickson had a tendency to drag in many parts. Aside from a few productions, I usually have difficulty staying alert, while watching them. I can thankfully say that I had no such problems with “THE MIRROR CRACK’D”. Not only did the movie benefited from Stone’s pacing, but also Bowen’s screenplay, and the cast. But I suspect that the movie’s subject matter – Hollywood in Britain – really helped to make“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” a lively affair. Not only did the story delved into the world of small town life in mid-20th century Britain, but also the Hollywood movie system during the same era. The movie featured some humorous interactions between the citizens of St. Mary Mead and its Hollywood visitors, along with a tension-filled dinner party featuring Marina, Jason, the latter’s secretary Ella Zeilinsky, producer Ardwyck Fenn and rival starlet Lola Brewster. Mind you, the movie lacked the entertaining bitch fest from the 1980 film, the script still managed to provide a few moments of bitchery from Marina, Ella and Lola. “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” also featured an amusing subplot featuring a companion hired by Miss Marple’s other nephew to take care of her. It seems the companion Miss Knight possessed a condescending manner that irritates the elderly woman.

I have to say that I found the movie’s production values very impressive. Merle Downie and Alan Spalding did an excellent job of re-creating 1950s Britain through their production designs. I suspect they had to add a bit of glamour to the movie, due to the story’s subject matter. The costumes for Hickson’s Miss Marple movies have always been first-rate. And Judy Pepperdine did a marvelous job in not only creating costumes for the St. Mary Mead citizens, but also the Hollywood characters. Cinematographer John Walker contributed to the movie’s sleek look with his colorful, yet sharp photography.

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” featured Joan Hickson’s last performance as Jane Marple. Needless to say, she proved to provide her usual above-average performance. I was especially impressed by her comedic skills in the scenes featuring Miss Marple’s exasperation with the condescending Miss Knight. Claire Bloom gave a complicated and very skillful performance as the talented, yet high-strung Marina Gregg. I did not find this surprising. Only a first-rate actress like Bloom could portray a high-maintenance character like Marina, without resorting to hamminess. I was equally impressed by Barry Newman, who was marvelous as Marina’s husband, Jason Rudd. He did an excellent job of portraying an emotional and passionate character with great subtlety. Despite my annoyance at Dermot Craddock being written as one of Miss Marple’s nephews, I must admit that I was happy to see John Castle back in the role. I really enjoyed his performance as the intelligent and cool Craddock in “A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED”. When he failed to appear in 1987’s“4.50 TO PADDINGTON”, I must admit that I felt very disappointed. Thankfully, my disappointment was eradicated by his appearance and performance in this film.

Aside from the 1980 miniseries, “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” and one or two other films, I have rarely seen Elizabeth Garvie in other film or movie productions. I certainly enjoyed her portrayal of Ella Zeilinsky, Jason Rudd’s sarcastic, yet love struck secretary. I may have had issues with Judy Cornwell being cast as Heather Badcock, but I have to admit that she did a pretty damn good job in portraying the self-involved woman. David Horovitch returned as Superintendent Slack. I found his appearance in the movie unnecessary, since he was not in the novel, but I must admit that Horovitch gave a rather funny performance. Margaret Courtenay was even funnier as the condescending companion, Miss Knight, who treated Miss Marple like a brainless child. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Glynis Barber, Ian Brimble, Norman Rodway and Gwen Watford. However, I found Constantine Gregory’s portrayal of Hollywood producer Ardwyck Fenn to be ridiculously over-the-top. One, he seemed to think that all Hollywood producers sounded and acted like gangsters from an old Warner Brothers film. And two, his American accent sucked. It is a pity that he did not study the American-born Newman, when he had the chance.

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” had its flaws. But they were only a few. Overall, I found it entertaining and well-paced, thanks to Norman Stone’s direction and the movie’s production values. In the end, it proved to be a well made epilogue to Joan Hickson’s tenure as the cinematic Jane Marple.

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“AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” (1987) Review

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“AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” (1987) Review

Agatha Christie’s 1965 novel is a bit of a conundrum for me. It strikes me as one of the most unusual novels she has ever written. When I first saw the television adaptation for it, I found myself wondering how the director and the screenwriter would handle it. 

“AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” beings with Miss Jane Marple arriving in London to spend a holiday at Bertram’s Hotel, a place she used to stay during her youth. Her first reaction to Bertram’s is sheer rapture, as she realizes that the hotel has retained its late Victorian/Edwardian atmosphere after many decades. The plumbing and communication system may have been modernize. Otherwise, the hotel’s atmosphere, interior designs, the food and the style of the hotel’s staff has not changed a whit. But it does not take Miss Marple long to realize that the hotel’s lack of change seemed unusual, considering that most long-standing hotels tend to change over the years. And thanks to an encounter with an old friend named Lady Selina Hazy, Miss Marple also becomes aware of a family drama being played out inside Bertram’s, between an adolescent girl of good family named Elvira Blake and her estranged mother, a famous adventuress and socialite named Bess, Lady Sedgwick. Their relationship seems to be tangled with two men – a Polish-born race car driver named Ladislaus Malinowski, who seemed to be romancing both women; and Bertram’s commissionaire, an Irishman named Michael “Micky” Gorman, whose conversation with Lady Sedgwick is overheard by both Elvira and Miss Marple. Everything comes to a head when one of the hotel guests, a forgetful clergyman named Canon Pennyfeather, disappears on the night the Irish Mail train was robbed; and on the following night, Bertram’s commissionaire, Michael “Micky” Gorman, is shot dead in front of the hotel.

I might as well say it. “AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” does not feature one of the best murder mysteries written by Christie. When I first read the novel, it did not take me long to figure out Michael Gorman’s killer. Even worse, the murder does not occur until the last third of the movie. However, one must remember that the title of this particular tale centers around Bertram’s Hotel. If one really wants to enjoy a good mystery in this tale, it can be found in the mysteries that surround the hotel itself – the “old-fashioned” atmosphere, the presence of freewheeling types like Lady Sedgwick and Malinowski in such an archaic establishment, and the sightings of hotel guests like Canon Pennyfeather at recent robbery scenes. The hotel itself proves to be the real mystery that not only captures Miss Marple’s attention, but also the attention of Scotland Yard’s Chief-Inspector Fred “Father” Davy.

I have to give director Mary McMurray credit for exploring the movie’s rich atmosphere of 1950s London and Bertram’s itself. There were other factors in the movie that contributed to its atmosphere, including Jill Hyem’s screenplay, Judy Pepperdine’s costume designs, and especially Paul Munting’s production designs. However, “AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” has its flaws. Aside from a lackluster murder mystery, the movie also suffered from faded coloring. Looking at the movie, I get the feeling that the actual television movie had been shot with inferior film. And as much as I liked the mystery surrounding the hotel itself, “AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” also suffered from a slow pacing, thanks to McMurray’s direction. But that seems to be the case for many of the Miss Marple films that starred Joan Hickson.

The strongest virtues of “AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” seemed to be its cast. Joan Hickson was marvelous as always as intelligent and observant Miss Marple. Joan Greenwood gave an entertaining portrayal of Miss Marple’s more elegantly dressed, yet gossipy friend, Lady Selina Hazy. I really enjoyed George Baker’s warm, yet colorful performance as Chief Inspector Fred Davy, who not only proves to be just as intelligent as Miss Marple, but also appreciative of her sleuthing skills and a solid afternoon tea. Robert Reynolds’ portrayal of Ladislaus Malinowski seemed like a cliche of Eastern Europeans, despite the sexy overtones. Brian McGrath practically oozed of Irish charm (of a slightly seedy nature) in his performance as murder victim Michael Gorman. Preston Lockwood gave a charming performance as the sweet, yet befuddled Canon Pennyfeather. But the two best performances – in my opinion – came from Caroline Blakiston and Helena Michell as mother and daughter, Lady Sedgwick and Elivra Blake. Lady Sedgwick has always struck me as one of the most colorful characters created by Christie, and Blakiston made the character even richer in her superb performance. And Michell did an excellent job in combining the two contrasting traits of Elivra’s personality makeup – her passionate feelings for Malinowski and her cool, yet conniving ability to manipulate others for her own personal gain.

“AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL” is not exactly one of the best Miss Marple films I have ever seen. Then again, it is based on one of the oddest Christie novels ever. But if a viewer can overlook the movie’s flaws – especially the disappointing murder mystery – that person might end up enjoying the movie’s atmosphere, the mystery surrounding the hotel itself and especially the performances from an excellent cast led by Joan Hickson.

“THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” (1986) Review

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“THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” (1986) Review

The year 1920 witnessed the beginning of Agatha Christie’s career as a mystery novel with the release of her first novel,“The Mysterious Affairs at Styles”. The novel also introduced a new sleuth to the literary world, Belgian-born Hercule Poirot. Another seven years passed before Christie introduced her second most famous character, Miss Jane Marple, in a few short stories. But in 1930, Miss Marple appeared in her first full-length novel called “The Murder at the Vicarage”

Fifty-six years later saw the first adaptation of the 1930 novel – a 102 minutes television movie that starred Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. “THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” featured the elderly sleuth’s investigation of the murder of a wealthy magistrate and former Army colonel in Miss Marple’s town of St. Mary Mead. The magistrate, Colonel Protheroe is so disliked by most of the citizens of St. Mary Mead that even the local vicar, the Reverend Leonard Clement believes his death would be a great service to the village. Reverend Clements ends up eating his words when Colonel Protheroe’s murdered body is found inside the vicar’s study. While investigating Colonel Protheroe’s murder, Miss Marple and Detective Inspector Slack unearth a good number of suspects; including the Colonel’s new widow Anne Protheroe, her lover Lawrence Redding, the Colonel’s only child Lettice Protheroe, the high-strung curate Christopher Hawes, St. Mary Mead’s mysterious new citizen Mrs. Lestrange, small time poacher Bill Archer and even the good Reverend Clement himself. Anne Protheroe and Lawrence Redding each confess to the crime, convinced that the other was guilty. However, both Miss Marple and Detective Inspector Slack realize that both are innocent and continue their investigation of the murder.

When I first read Christie’s 1930 novel, I must admit that it did not particularly move me. The plot seemed like a typical murder mystery set in a small village. There was nothing extraordinary about it, aside from Miss Marple’s continuous relationship with Inspector Slack. Mind you, I have seen mediocre or bad adaptation of some first-rate Christie novels. And I have seen some excellent adaptations of her mediocre novels. The 1986 adaptation of “THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” proved to be one of those productions in which my opinion of it matches the original novel. How can I say this? I found it a bore.

The best I can say about “THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” is that it is a close – but not completely accurate – adaptation of Christie’s novel. Unfortunately, T.R. Bowen did nothing with the screenplay to improve on the story. And Julian Amyes’ direction of the movie nearly put me to sleep. It was so boring and slow. Amyes tried hard to make the killer’s revelation interesting. But not even that worked. Between John Walker’s dim lighting of the scene and Amyes’ snail like direction, I fell asleep and had to rewind back to the scene in order to learn the killer’s identity. When a person falls asleep during a scene featuring the killer’s revelation, it is time to go back to the drawing board – so to speak.

Also, the movie was not served well by most of the bland characters that populated the story. Most of them – aside from a few – struck me as dull and one-dimensional. Some of the best characters in a murder mystery tend to be the original victim. Unfortunately, Colonel Protheroe turned out to be one of those rare cases in which the main victim proved to be uninteresting. I found his character so one-dimensional. Not even Robert Lang’s energetic performance could make it work. The character of Reverend Clement had been down-sized by the story’s translation from the novel to the screen. Apparently, Bowen could not find a way to make his character a major part of the investigation . . . which occurred in Christie’s novel. Only a handful of characters seemed interesting to me. And I have the performers to thank. Cheryl Campbell managed to inject some real energy into her portrayal of the vicar’s younger and sexy wife, Griselda Clement. David Horovitch was at his sardonic best as the police inspector who tries his best to dismiss Miss Marple’s sleuthing skills. Joan Hickson earned a BAFTA nomination for her performance as Jane Marple in this movie. I do not know if she truly deserved that nomination. But I must admit that I enjoyed her subtle, yet sly performance as the brilliant, amateur sleuth. I especially enjoyed her scenes with Horovitch’s Slack.

I guess there is nothing else I can say about “THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE”. It is not one of my favorite Miss Marple productions. Actually, I feel it is one of my least favorites featuring the elderly sleuth. The original story simply did not strike me as interesting and screenwriter T.R. Bowen did very little to enliven it. Also Julian Amyes’ slow-paced direction did not help matters. The only pleasures I managed to derive from this movie were the first-rate performances of Joan Hickson, David Horovitch and Cheryl Campbell.