Saturday, September 17, 2016

A Caribbean Mystery ( 1983 )

"Mrs. Kendell had a knife??"

Why was Mrs. Kendell walking around with a knife? Mrs. Kendell herself certainly could not say. Indeed, the poor woman did not even realize that during one of her recent blackout spells a body had been discovered stabbed to death. This is just one of several murders that occur at the Golden Palm, a small resort in the West Indies that Miss Jane Marple checks into for a holiday.

Sunshine, fresh air, and plenty of rest are just what the doctor ordered for Miss Marple, and so she headed to the Caribbean only to discover mystery, mayhem, and murder awaiting her!

It all began with Major Palgrave.....

"Want to see a picture of a murderer?" he asks. While working on his memoirs, the Major offers to show an incriminating photograph to Miss Marple but then he suddenly recognizes one of the people at the resort as the face in the photo and quickly tucks it away. Shortly thereafter he dies of a "heart attack". Coincidence? Miss Marple thinks not, and the spinster from St. Mary Mead has solved enough crimes to recognize the signs of foul play. 

Among the many suspects are: Mr. and Mrs. Kendell, the proprietors of the resort ( Jameson Parker and Season Hubley ); "Lucky" and her husband ( Cassie Yates and Stephen Macht ), Mr. and Mrs. Hillingdon ( Beth Howland and George Innes ), Dr. Graham ( Brock Peters ), and that old tycoon Mr. Rafiel ( Barnard Hughes ). 
A Caribbean Mystery was a made-for-television production that aired on CBS on October 23, 1983. It was one of several Agatha Christie TV movies made by The Stan Margulies Company. It took Margulies three years to acquire the rights to convert Christie's novels into television features, and, once having obtained them, he was anxious to focus on the Miss Marple stories. After the success of the first Christie production Murder is Easy ( based on her 1939 mystery of the same name ), Margulies set to work on producing an adaptation of her 1964 novel "A Caribbean Mystery", which previously had not been filmed. 

Helen Hayes, the first lady of the American Theatre, took on the character of Miss Marple with her usual sweet command. She had a brief role in Murder is Easy but this was the first time she was cast as the famous senior sleuth. In spite of her spunky Americanization of the part, Agatha Christie fans adored her and she returned to the role two years later in Murder with Mirrors
Miss Marple is an elderly granny-type, who enjoys knitting and listening to bits of gossip when she can overhear it. Nobody suspects that she has a shrewd intellect and, therefore, she can go about her detecting unnoticed. Unlike Joan Hickson or Geraldine McEwan's interpretations of the character, Helen Hayes brilliantly nails this unsuspecting nature of Miss Marple. 

Christie's "A Caribbean Mystery" was praised when it was first published with crime-writer and reviewer Anthony Berkeley Cox exclaiming that the writer was back in her old form after a series of disappointing novels. "In 'A Caribbean Mystery' she tells the reader explicitly what is going to happen; and yet when it does, nine out of ten will be taken completely by surprise – as I was. How does she do it?"

Well, this television adaptation of the story receives praises among Agatha Christie fans too, and justly so. It stays true to her novel, meandering along at a gentle pace unraveling new layers of delightful puzzles as it progresses. The cast, while not particularly well known outside of their television work, are perfect in each part. Barnard Hughes is especially entertaining as the wheel-chair bound grouch Mr. Rafiel. The film added a hint of romance between him and Miss Marple which is another pleasant touch. 
For a respite from the approaching rainy autumn weather, sit back and enjoy the winning combination of sunshine and murder to be found in A Caribbean Mystery

This post is our contribution to the Agatha Christie Blogathon being hosted by Christina Wehner and Little Bits of Classics. Be sure to head on over to their sites to check out more posts about the famous mystery writer, her books, and the film adaptations of her work. 


  1. I'm not sure I've seen this, but I am very curious after your description of how Helen Hayes gets the unsuspecting part of Miss Marple right. It does seem like people have a tendency to play her as more overtly shrewd than she appears in the books...especially Geraldine Fitzgerald, who seems more eccentric than anything else.

    1. I hope you do get a chance to see the film, it's a favorite in our family!

  2. I like Helen Hayes to begin with, but when she was cast as Miss Marple I gave a cheer. She's so completely disarming, and exactly the old lady I'd like to grow up to be. I recall this movie fondly and its invitingly warm atmosphere.

    I do love Joan Hickson as Jane. The look behind those eyes is so piercing you wonder how others miss it. Geraldine and Julia are talented, it goes without saying, but the adaptions and the character approach did nothing for me.

    1. I have yet to see Geraldine or Julia as Miss Marple, so I'll have to check out their performances, but I'll take your word that they are not as good as Joan Hickson. Actually, my favorite Marple of them all is Margaret Rutherford even though she is nothing like the book character!

  3. I didn't know about this adaptation so thanks for highlighting it! Actually I can imagine Helen Hayes being excellent in the role - I do think that quite often adaptations don't get Miss Marple quite right - they're often too outwardly shrewd, whereas the "real" Miss Marple seemed fluffy and vague, until she suddenly revealed her expertise on wickedness! Even Joan Hickson, though I love her in the role, has never seemed quite fluffy enough to me. Must check this one out... :)

    1. Yes, the actresses that have been portraying Miss Marple during the past 30 years have all seemed too intelligent. If I were to meet their characters in real-life I would not mistake them for being dotty old busybodies. I think some actresses just have a hard time playing innocent....interestingly enough, most modern child-actors have that same problem. They just aren't genuine enough.

  4. I wasn't aware of this made-for-TV movie, but I'm anxious to see Helen Hayes as Miss Marple! Helen is fantastic, and I don't doubt she is wonderful in this role (maybe better then Margaret Rutherford? Hum?)
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

    1. It would depend on your preference to say whether Hayes is better than Margaret Rutherford, but she is certainly closer to Christie's vision of her.