The Mirror Crack’d

The Mirror Crack’d (1980)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Angela Lansbury, Geraldine Chaplin, Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, TV Spots, Talent Files

While not on par with other Agatha Christie adaptations, 1980’s ’The Mirror Crack’d’ still charms with the patented Christie formula of mixing murder with British manners. This time out, the always-wonderful Angela Lansbury portrays flower-loving amateur sleuth Miss Jane Marple along with the requisite all-star suspect list headlined by Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, Tony Curtis and Kim Novak.

When Hollywood descends on Miss Marple’s quaint English hamlet to shoot a movie, tongues wag and necks arch as the townspeople quickly become audience to the feud between leading ladies Marina Rudd (Elizabeth Taylor) and Lola Brewster (Kim Novak). However, smiles quickly turn to shrieks when someone mysteriously dies during a cocktail party given by the crew for the town. Investigations by Miss Marple and her nephew, Inspector Craddock (Edward Fox) of Scotland Yard, reveal that Marina’s life is in danger and her would-be murderer may be one of her co-workers. Is it conniving producer Marty Fenn (Tony Curtis), the scheming Brewster, secretive assistant Ella Zielinsky (Geraldine Chaplin) or even Jason Rudd, her seemingly devoted husband/director (Rock Hudson)? Clues stack up like planes on approach. Miss Marple and Inspector Craddock must sift out the red herrings from the truth to crack open the case… before the murderer’s dark purpose is completed.

Former Bond helmer Guy Hamilton tackles the script (by Jonathan Hales and Barry Sandler) with the right tone, but not necessarily the right pace. The plot flags a little bit in the middle, magnified by the conceit of Miss Marple laid up because of a sprained ankle and relying on her nephew to interview the suspects. This story point fragments our involvement with what should be a single protagonist. Sure, Sherlock Holmes had Watson, but even Sherlock would go around gathering clues. As such, Craddock reporting to Miss Marple every fifteen minutes gets a little tiresome. When the grand moment of solving the crime arrives, (I’m not spoiling anything here) the emotional release is muted. The film best succeeds when Hamilton lets his considerable cast just go to it, whether it’s Jason and Marina in their private moments or Brewster’s subdued bitchiness towards Marina. When Craddock questions Marina, we can still see glimpses of Taylor’s magnetic hold of the camera. Indeed, with a generation past and history what it is, watching Taylor and Hudson acting together a quarter-century after their first pairing in the 1956 classic ’Giant’ reminds of the strange twists and turns life, and Hollywood, can take.

The 1.85 anamorphic transfer exhibits a sharp picture with consistent and solid color rendition, mastered from mostly clean source elements. Because the photography favors diffusion effects (again, like other Christie period films), light film grain is visible and edge enhancement pops up frequently but not to distraction. From capturing the sheen of Hummel figurines on the mantel to differentiating the myriad floral patterns on Miss Marple’s drawing room couch, the video image maintains excellent detail delineation with deep blacks and stable contrast levels. Except for pixelation during the end credits, I found no digital or compression artifacts.

The two-channel mono soundtrack performs well enough, with a low noise floor and ample headroom. (Then again, if you don’t count Elizabeth Taylor’s hysterical screaming, there isn’t a single loud moment in the script.) John Cameron’s light, breezy music score reproduces on par for a mono track competing with sound effects and dialogue all emanating from the same compressed channel.

A theatrical trailer and two TV spots consist of the only supplements. The trailer is letterboxed and does a good job of jumbling the dialogue and scenes to convey the right humorous tone. Both the trailer and TV spots are relatively blemish-free. Talent bios definitely skew towards the heroine, as Angela Lansbury gets five slates for her biography/filmography, while everyone else (lumped in the category of ’Suspects, victims and innocent bystanders’) gets a meager two to three slates for theirs.

Anchor Bay continues to crank out winning DVDs of ’fringe pop-culture titles,’ for lack of a better name. ’The Mirror Crack’d’ may not be the best Christie film, but its disappointments are few. Check it out.