“A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY” (1989) Review

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“A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY” (1989) Review

I have a confession to make. I am not a big fan of Agatha Christie novels written after 1960. In fact, I can only think of one . . . perhaps two of them that I consider big favorites of mine. One of those favorites happened to be her 1964 novel, “A Caribbean Mystery”.

There have been three television adaptations of Christie’s novel. I just recently viewed the second adaptation, a BBC-TV production that starred Joan Hickson as Miss Jane Marple. This version began with Miss Marple’s doctor revealing to one of her St. Mary Mead’s neighbors that following a recovery from pneumonia, she had been treated to a vacation to a beach resort in Barbados managed by a young couple named Tim and Molly Kendal, thanks to her nephew Raymond West. Miss Marple becomes acquainted with another resort guest named Major Palgrave, a retired Army officer who tends to bore not her but others with long-winded stories about his military past. But while Miss Marple struggled between shutting out the verbose major and pretending to pay attention to him, the latter shifts his repertoire to tales of murder. When Major Palgrave announces his intention to show her a photo of a murderer, he suddenly breaks off his conversation before he can retrieve his wallet. The following morning, Major Palgrave is found dead inside his bungalow. And Miss Marple begins to suspect that he has been murdered. Two more deaths occurred before she is proven right.

As I had earlier stated, the 1964 novel is one of my favorites written by Christie. And thankfully, this 1989 television movie proved to be a decent adaptation of the novel. Somewhat. Screenwriter T.R. Bowen made a few changes from the novel. Characters like the Prescotts and Señora de Caspearo were removed. I did not miss them. The story’s setting was shifted from the fictional island of St Honoré to Barbados . . . which did not bother me. The television movie also featured the creation of a new character – a Barbados woman named Aunty Johnson, who happened to be the aunt of one of the resort’s maids, Victoria Johnson. The latter made arrangements for Miss Marple to visit her aunt in a black neighborhood. Aunty Johnson replaced Miss Prescott as a source of information on Molly Kendal’s background. More importantly, the Aunty Johnson character allowed Bowen to effectively reveal Imperial British racism to television viewers by including a scene in which the Kendals quietly reprimanded Victoria for setting up Miss Marple’s visit to her aunt.

More importantly, I have always found “A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY” to be an entertaining and well-paced story – whether in print or on the television screen. Bowen did a excellent job in adapting Christie’s tale by revealing clues to the murderer’s identity . . . in a subtle manner. That is the important aspect of Bowen’s work . . . at least for me. The screenwriter and director Christopher Petit presented the clues to the television audience without prematurely giving away the killer. And considering that such a thing has occurred in other Christie adaptations – I am so grateful that it did not occurred in this production.

However, “A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY” does have its flaws. Fortunately, I was only able to spot a few. First of all, I had a problem with Ken Howard’s score. I realize that this production is one of many from the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MISS MARPLE” series. But “A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY” is set at a beach resort in the Caribbean. One of those problems proved to be Ken Howard’s score. Considering the movie’s setting at a Caribbean beach resort, I figured Howard would use the appropriate music of the region and the period (1950s) to emphasize the setting. He only did so in a few scenes. Most of the score proved to be the recycled music used in other “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MISS MARPLE” television movies – you know, music appropriate for scenes at a quaint English village or estate. Frankly, the score and the music’s setting failed to mesh.

I also had a problem with a brief scene near the movie’s ending. This scene featured a brief moment in which an evil (and in my opinion) cartoonish expression appeared on the killer’s face before attempting to commit a third murder. I found this moment obvious, unnecessary and rather infantile. But the movie’s score and this . . . “evil” moment was nothing in compare to the performances of two cast members. I have never seen Sue Lloyd in anything other than this movie. But I am familiar with Robert Swann, who had a major role in the 1981 miniseries, “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY”. Both Lloyd and Swann portrayed a wealthy American couple from the South named Lucky and Greg Dyson. Overall, their performances were not bad. In fact, Lucky and Greg seemed more like complex human beings, instead of American caricatures in the movie’s second half. But their Southern accents sucked. Big time. It was horrible to hear. And quite frankly, their bad accents nearly marred their performances.

But I did not have a problem with the production’s other performances. Joan Hickson gave a marvelous performance as the elderly sleuth, Miss Jane Marple. I especially enjoyed her scenes when her character struggled to stay alert during Major Palgrave’s endless collection of stories. She also had great chemistry with Donald Pleasence, who gave the most entertaining performance as the wealthy and irascible Jason Rafiel. What made the relationship between the pair most interesting is that Rafiel seemed the least likely to believe that Miss Marple is the right person to solve the resort’s murders. Both Michael Feast and Sheila Ruskin gave the two most interesting performances as the very complex Evelyn and Edward Hillingdon, the English couple who found themselves dragged into the messy history of the Dysons, thanks to Edward’s affair with Lucky. I found both Sophie Ward and Adrian Lukis charming as the resort’s owners, Molly and Tim Kendal. I was surprised that the pair had a rather strong screen chemistry and I found Ward particularly effective in conveying Molly Kendal’s emotional breakdown as the situation at the resort began to go wrong. “A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY” also benefited from strong performances given by Frank Middlemass, Barbara Barnes, Isabelle Lucas, Joseph Mydell, Stephen Bent and Valerie Buchanan.

There were a few aspects of “A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY” that rubbed me the wrong way. I felt that most of Ken Howard’s score did not mesh well with the movie’s setting. I also had a problem with a scene in the movie’s last half hour and the accents utilized by two members of the cast. Otherwise, I enjoyed the movie very much and thought that screenwriter T.R. Bowen, director Christopher Petit and a fine cast led by Joan Hickson did a more than solid job in adapting Agatha Christie’s 1964 novel.

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“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.

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.

 

3-Bedknobs and Broomsticks

3. “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

4. “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

5. “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

6. “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

7. “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

8. “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.

 

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9. “Pearl Harbor” (2001) – Michael Bay directed this historical opus about the impact of the Pearl Harbor attack upon the lives of three people. Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale, Josh Harnett and Cuba Gooding Jr. starred.

 

10-Stalag 17

10. “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.

 

9-The Black Dahlia

Honorable Mentioned – “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.

“THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY” (1984) Review

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“THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY” (1984) Review

As far as I know, there have been two adaptations of Agatha Christie’s 1942 novel, “The Body in the Library”. I have already seen the latter version that aired on ITV in 2004. Recently, I saw the earlier version that aired twenty years earlier. And I must say that I was taken by surprise by the differences in the two versions.

I now realize that I should not have been taken by surprised. The screenwriter for the 2004 made numerous changes to Christie’s novel. However, screenwriter T.R. Bowen was a lot more faithful to the novel in the adaptation that aired in the 1980s. Most people would see this as a sign that 1984’s “THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY” was the superior version. Well . . . they would be entitled to that opinion. But it is not one that I would share.

“THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY” beings when the dead body of a young blonde woman is found inside the library of Gossington Hall, the home of Colonel Arthur and Dolly Bantry of St. Mary Mead. While Mrs. Bantry enlists the aid of their friend and neighbor Miss Jane Marple to investigate the crime; Detective Inspector Slack first suspects Colonel Bantry and later, another local named Basil Blake as the murderer. However, the police is finally able to identify the body as Ruby Keene, a local dancer at a resort hotel called the Majestic, in the nearby seaside resort of Danemouth. Her cousin, another dancer named Josie Turner, had identified the body. And according to Josie, Ruby had been missing for some time. Worried over the investigation’s impact upon her husband, Mrs. Bantry suggests that she and Miss Marple spend a few days at the Majestic Hotel. There, they learned about Ruby’s connection to a wealthy invalid (and old friend of the Bantrys) named Conway Jefferson, who was planning to leave a considerable amount of money to Ruby.

During the first three years of “MISS MARPLE”, the episodes usually aired over two or three nights. In the case of “THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY”, it aired over three nights, resulting in a running time of 156 minutes. And that is a hell of a long time for a story like “THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY”. It was simply too long. And it felt like it, thanks to the slow pacing. One, the story’s setup – namely the discovery of the body, Miss Marple’s recruitment into the case, the introduction of the police – seemed to drag forever. I found myself wondering when Miss Marple and Mrs. Bantry would finally make it to the Majestic Hotel. And it seemed as if T.R. Bowen and director Silvio Narizzano were determined to include every detail to Christie’s novel. I might as well say it. I am not one of those who demand that a television or movie adaptation of a novel be completely faithful to its source. It depends on whether or not being faithful served the production in the end. I do not feel that this faithful adaptation did great service to a novel that was never a particular favorite of mine in the first place. I really had to struggle to maintain my interest in this television movie.

I have one other major complaint. I noticed that Christie’s novel, along with this movie, tried to include as many suspects as possible in the murder of Ruby Keene. But once the story shifted to the Majestic Hotel and Conway Jefferson’s family, the number of real suspects seemed to whittle down to two – Jefferson’s son-in-law and daughter-in-law, Mark Gaskell and Adelaide Jefferson. Even worse, Bowen failed to create a balanced portrayal of the pair. One ended up receiving more attention and screen time over the other.

I had no problems with most of the movie’s production. I thought it did a serviceable job in re-creating St. Mary’s Mead and a seaside resort circa 1955, thanks to the work of production designer Austin Ruddy. John Walker’s photography struck me as serviceable. But like most productions that featured Joan Hickson as Miss Marple, it is obvious that the movie was shot on inferior film that managed to fade over the years. I enjoyed Jan Wright’s costume designs. But they did not blow my mind. I do not know who did the actresses’ hairstyles. But whoever worked on Sally Jane Jackson’s hairstyle did a very questionable job – as seen in the images below:

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What in the hell happened?

At least the performances for “THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY” were up to snuff. The television movie marked Joan Hickson’s debut as Jane Marple. And she did an excellent job in setting up the numerous first-class work that eventually did for the next seven to eight years. The movie also marked the debut of David Horovitch as Inspector Slack, the police detective featured in most of Hickson’s Miss Marple productions. I found his performance rather interesting, considering Slack’s hostile attitude toward the elderly sleuth in compare to later movies. Three other performances also caught my attention. Moray Watson (from 1980’s “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”) did a very competent job in portraying Colonel Arthur Bantry’s growing sense of isolation from his neighbors’ suspicions that he may have been involved in Ruby Keene’s death. Anthony Smee gave a very entertaining performance as St. Mary Mead’s new resident, the colorful Basil Blake. And I was very impressed by Trudie Styler’s portrayal of the victim’s pragmatic, yet reserved cousin Josie Turner. The movie also featured competent support from Andrew Cruickshank, Ciaran Madden, Gwen Watford, Ian Brimble, Raymond Francis and Jess Conrad.

I am not saying that “THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY” is a terrible movie. I thought that director Silvio Narizzano and screenwriter T.R. Bowen did a solid job in adapting Christie’s novel. And the movie featured excellent and solid performances from a cast led by Joan Hickson. But . . . two hours and thirty-six minutes struck me as too damn long for an adaptation of a novel that has never struck me as extraordinary. And quite frankly, the long running time and the slow pacing nearly put me to sleep.

“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

10

 

“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.