Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Missing Miss Marple Film

When Agatha Christie first wrote "The Tuesday Night Club", a short story which had appeared in The Sketch magazine in 1926, she had little idea that her protagonist - a small-framed, bespeckled, gossiping little old lady - would charm the public as much as it had. What made this spinster from the sleepy hamlet of St. Mary Mead so endearing? Beneath her seemingly dotty facade she kept hidden a master intellect capable of accurately judging character and shrewdly sifting truth from fiction....attributes that helped her immensely in her hobby - solving mysteries.

Her name was Jane Marple, more commonly known simply as "Miss Marple". 

Miss Marple appeared in over thirty different novels and short stories from her introduction in the mid-1920s. However, in spite of her popularity it was not until 1961 that she made her first screen appearance in Murder She Said, an adaption of one of Christie's most popular Marple mysteries, "4:50 from Paddington". 

Dame Margaret Rutherford played the lead role in this film and, despite Christie's misgivings about her suitability to the role, she captured the essence of our quintessential snoopy-sleuth to perfection. The film was quite popular at the box-office and three other Marple mysteries were released within the next two years, Murder at the Gallop, Murder Most Foul and Murder Ahoy. With all the changing winds of the mid-sixties blowing in, the series was - sadly - brought to an abrupt end. 

We'd like to share a review of the fifth Miss Marple mystery that Margaret Rutherford would have made, had the series continued on. Enjoy! 


Studio : Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Prod.
Directed by : Ronald Neame 
Cast : Margaret Rutherford ( Miss Jane Marple ), Gladys Cooper ( Duchess Wynfleet ), Leslie Philips ( Reginald Wynfleet ), Sue Lloyd ( Dana Malstrom ) Stringer Davis ( Mr. Stringer ), Charles Tingwell ( Inspector Craddock ), Keiron Moore ( fisherman Rodgers ), Joyce Grenfell ( Buntley librarian ), Norman Bowler ( David Wynfleet ), Valerie Van Ost ( Binnie ).

The film opens with a fisherman hauling in his catch one early morning and lo! what is amongst his aquatic load? A body...of the two-legged variety. 

Meanwhile in Miss Marple's village of Milchester, everything is peaceful as usual. Mr. Stringer, the village librarian, is spending a Saturday afternoon at Miss Marple's cottage enjoying her company and her excellent tea and biscuits. Her conversational repartee isn't up to par on this day however, for, while perusing the obituaries, she was startled to read this article : 


The body of Mr. Giles Townsend, of London, was found early this morning by a fisherman about a mile out from the coast at Buntley-by-the-sea. The police are investigating his death which appears to be from suicide caused by drowning. Mr. Townsend was one of London's most prominent genealogists. 

"Miss Marple, your interest in the obituaries is distressingly morbid. Have you ever thought about taking up a gentle hobby?" 

Little does Mr. Stringer know that Miss Marple is indeed very active in her community. In fact, it was because of her involvement in the Ladies of Milchester Society that made her recognize Mr. Townsend's name. She had written a letter to him only days earlier asking if he would give a lecture at the society's next meeting on Thursday. Why had he committed suicide? Or was it suicide?

That evening she is even more disturbed when she receives a rather cryptic letter from Mr. Townsend, postmarked two days earlier from Ye Old Ship's Inn, Buntley-by-the-sea. He states that he will be more than happy to make a speech for the ladies group but will not be able to arrive until Friday, as he is deep in research tracing a most prominent family's lineage. "England's future may just rest on the information I find!" he writes. These are not the words of a man who is about to kill himself. 

She takes her letter to Inspector Craddock but he dismisses her evidence as unsubstantial. And so Miss Marple packs up her bags and declares she is going "on holiday" the seaside. Buntley-by-the-sea. 

Inquiries at Ye Old Ships Inn and the local library reveal to Miss Marple that Mr. Townsend arrived in Buntley solely for the purpose of doing genealogy research on the Duke and Duchess Wynfleet. He had uncovered the fact that the current Wynfleets were not rightful heirs to the title nor the Wynfleet fortune. Perhaps this was the reason he was murdered?? 

With Mr. Stringers assistance ( he does a wonderful portrayal of an absent minded genealogist ) Miss Marple goes undercover to investigate at the Wynfleet estate and finds a house full of possible suspects... including the Duchess herself. 

Murder is Announced was a gem in the Rutherford series of Miss Marple films. It included one of the best casts with the inimitable Dame Gladys Cooper as the crusty Duchess Wynfleet. Gladys Cooper had been in films since the 1920s and had a made a name for herself in Hollywood for playing upper-crust, and often overbearing, English matrons. She had starred on Broadway as Mrs. St. Maugham in the 1956 stage adaption of Enid Bagnold's "The Chalk Garden" so the role of Duchess Wynfleet came very easily for her since they were quite similar characters. 

The film also boasts some wonderful supporting players such as Leslie Philips ( a delightful change from his usual comedy roles ), Joyce Grenfell, Keiron Moore, and Marple regulars Charles Tingwell ( as Inspector Craddock ) and Stringer Davis..who was in fact, Margaret Rutherford's husband. 

Ron Goodwin's jaunty theme music trips along throughout the film and helps enhance some of the more lackluster sequences. 

It is a shame that the series had to end after so few pictures because they are perfect films to watch on chilly autumn nights..which we will be having plenty of soon in the northern states!

This post is apart of The Great Imaginary Film Blogathon which will be running from Oct. 1-3, 2013. To read more about the event click here. 


  1. Terrific! Thank you so much for such an imaginative idea. Miss Marple lives!
    A good plot for Miss Marple and good cast. This would have been a hit!
    Margaret Rutherford is wonderful. I was so annoyed when the latest Tv incarnation called the series, "Marple". She will always be MISS MARPLE

    Vienna's Classic Hollywood

    1. Agatha Christie was disappointed with Margaret Rutherford, probably because she bared little resemblance to the Miss Marple she envisioned, but after all these years many fans will agree that she remains the best Miss Marple. I wish there was a film that featured her on an ocean liner. That would of been just ducky! We're glad you enjoyed our imaginary film idea.

  2. Is there anything more fun that finding a "house full of suspects"?

    1. Yes...finding a house full of buried treasure ( the requisite ingredient to all those haunted house flicks of the 1940s )!.

  3. Great idea and cast for a Miss Marple film! In fact, when I started reading, I thought your post was really about a missing, partially complete Miss Marple film with Margaret Rutherford. While the Rutherford's films were fun, I thought they emphasized comedy too much. I think Joan Hickson was the best Miss Marple. Ironically, she appeared as another character in Rutherford's MURDER, SHE SAID.

    1. You got a point there. Joan Hickson is much more in keeping with Christie's original character too ( Christie actually selected her )...we just can't resist Dame Rutherford's funny facial expressions. ;-)

  4. Here it is seven years later and I am enjoying this missing Miss Marple film. I've recently discovered these films and wish there were more than just the four. Maybe with this cast in mind I'll track down the original short story and find out who done it!

  5. So they didn't make this film? Hmm. Such a disappointment! Why the big publicity write-up then? Was any footage shot? I would LOVE to see it.

    1. Yes, it was disappointing that so few Miss Marple films were made! This review was written for the "Great Imaginary Film Blogathon" where the idea was to review a film that you would have liked to have seen made. Another great plot could have featured Miss Marple solving a mystery in Scotland....involving the Lock Ness monster!