Saturday 25 June 2011


The other night, with our friend Sophie, we watched (not for the first – or, I imagine, the last – time) the glorious Margaret Rutherford (portrayed, left, by the excellent Bob Doucette) as Agatha Christie's spinster detective, Miss Marple, in the 1963 film Murder at the Gallop.

There is, as the song says, 'nothing like a dame' and there never has been – and never will be – another dame like Dame Margaret!

True, Rutherford isn't at all like the Jane Marple described by Christie who, it is said, was never keen the portrayal (despite dedicating The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side to the actress "with admiration"), but, like her performances in the other three Marple films (Murder She Said, Murder Most Foul and Murder Ahoy) Murder at the Gallop is a tour de force romp.

Murder at the Gallop TV  Shot

Rutherford's exquisitely expressive face (topped off with a series of hats like squashed church fete cakes) is a ceaselessly animated pageant of wobbling jowls, pursed lips and narrowing (or widening) eyes!

Margaret Rutherford TV Shot

Then there is the body: a substantial tube of tweed, often with the addition of a cape (she insisted on wearing her own clothes for the role), from which are suspended two thin little legs in sensible, sturdy shoes on which she whizzes around with the determined speed of a nursery wind-up toy.

Murder at the Gallop (filmed in glorious black and white, but celebrated on this post with colour photo-art by Walker Dukes) is by far the best of the four films, if for no other reason than because it includes a scene in which Miss Marple and her loyal lieutenant, Mr Stringer (played by Rutherford's devoted husband, Stringer Davis), dance the Twist!

Pure bliss!

Margaret Rutherford Does the Twist TV Shot

The Marples film series also featured superb soundtrack compositions by Ron Goodwin including the instantly-memorable main theme featuring a harpsichord (representing Miss Marple's olde-worlde characteristics) artfully integrated into a score that sounds (or did for 'sixties cinema-goers) lively, adventurous and contemporary.

Here's a reminder of Mr Goodwin's classic composition which should be more than enough to send you off humming it for the rest of the day and searching out the DVD box-set. If you need assistance, just click here!


scb said...

Love the music, Brian! It is apparent that for too long I've been a "one detective woman" as far as Christie's work is concerned (fiercely loyal to Hercule Poirot and his little grey cells) -- I must see if these Miss Marple DVDs are available this side of the pond! (or I shall simply have to add them to my list of "things to buy in England"!)

Good Dog said...

It has been great watching the Margaret Rutherford Marples over the past year as they have been slotted into the Film4 schedules. Growing up, Rod Goodwin’s theme was as memorable as Malcolm Arnold’s theme to the St Trinians films (not forgetting Flash Harry’s theme).

The Rutherford films also had great casts, like Joan Hickson (the later Marple), James Robertson Justice and a young Richard Briers in Murder, She Said, Ron Moody, James Bolam, Terry Scott and Francesca Annis in Murder Most Foul, and Nicholas Parsons, Francis Matthews and the great Lionel Jeffries in Murder Ahoy. They really all the ideal films for a rainy Sunday afternoon!

Brian Sibley said...

SCB – As long as you are not expecting Miss Marple as Christie wrote her (my vote if anyone's looking for an authentic Marple portrayal is Joan Hickson), but for a sheer unadulterated fun-with-murders night-in: Rutherford's your gal!

Good Dog – Yes, great casts! Didn't want to dilute my paean to Dame Margret by mentioning it, but in Murder at the Gallop she is nobly paired with Robert Morley (the scene where she helps him off with his riding boots after a tumble from a horse is very funny and the scenes where he flirts with Miss M are delicious!), Flora Robson, James Villiers and the great Finlay Currie in a non-speaking death-scene in the opening minutes! Plus, of course, Australia's 'national actor', Charles Tingwell, as the long-suffering Inspector (later Chief Inspector) Craddock.

Arts and Crafts said...

I love M.Rutherford!!!, I love her voice, her accent... Obviously she is not the best Marple, but I have seen her Marple many times.. and the music!!...
Once I read that Rutherford performed without the intention of make flamboyant roles, I was surprised.

I'm not a fan of mistery novels, I have never read completely a novel, not even A. Christie's works but I love the work of the actors who perform Poirot or Marple, they enrich the characters.

Brian Sibley said...

Eudora – Yes, it is interesting that Margaret Rutherford's appraisal of her talents was obviously at total variance with that of people who watched her!

Contemporary posters for Murder at the Gallop described her, in HUGE letters, as "THE FUNNIEST WOMAN ALIVE", while she, apparently, expressed great surprise that her portrayals were interpreted, in any sense, as being 'comedic'.