Warner Home Video
Cast: Margaret Rutherford, Stringer Davis, Robert Morley
Ever since I saw these films many, many years ago I have been a fan of Margaret Rutherford's seminal portrayal of Agatha Christie's lovable character, Miss Marple. I hadn't seen the films that make up this collection in a while so I was truly eager to revisit them and see how they live up on DVD after all this time. I am glad to report that they hold up very well.
"Murder She Said…" was the first film in the series and based on Agatha Christie's novel "4:50 From Paddington" it is immediately evident why the films were as successful as they were. Taking some liberties with the original material – there is no Mr. Stringer in any of Agatha Christie's novels for example – the film involves the viewer in a carefully crafted mystery in which Miss Marple witnesses a murder and then tries to solve the case when the police refuse to cooperate, unable to find a body. Miss Marple decides to jump directly into the lion's den and begins her investigation, putting her own life at risk.
The success of "Murder she Said…" in 1961 spawned a sequel in 1963 entitled "Murder At The Gallop." Among all films, this is probably the most lovable and charming as Margaret Rutherford teams up with Robert Morley for wonderfully droll moments. Again she gets involved in a death and solves the case by herself when the police refuse to believe it was murder. Based on Agatha Christie's novel "After The Funeral" the film even goes as far as poking fun at Agatha Christie's own novels.
"Murder Ahoy" takes Miss Marple aboard the fleet of Brittania. Something murderous is going on onboard one of the ships of the fleet and Miss Marple is determined to find out what it is that caused someone to kill a man using his own snuff. Soon she finds himself amidst the crew, looking for clues of the murder when other bodies pile up and Miss Marple's life is once again put in jeopardy.
"Murder Most Foul" was sadly the last of the films and here we see Miss Marple join a troupe of stage actors when a lead surrounding the murder of a young woman points toward the Cosgood Players. Serving up charm and atmosphere, along with murder and mystery, the film was a great way for Margaret Rutherford to bid farewell to her part as Miss Marple.
Even after all these years none of the actresses who have since portrayed Miss Marple on the screen have ever managed to become the spinster sleuth as convincingly as Margaret Rutherford did. The novels conjure up images of a time in Britain that was a bit romantic and stylized in many ways. A world in which people lived for their tea and the parlors to have it in. A world where "How do you do?" was still a very valid form of greeting people, and a world where technology referred to electrical light.
All that is wonderfully captured in these films, all of which where directed by George Pollock. The fact that all four films were made by the same director and penned by mostly the same writers made sure they had a red line going through them. The style, look and the characters were authentic in each film, giving it a great sense of continuity.
Warner Home Video has prepared great-looking transfers of the films for this DVD set. "Murder She Said…" is probably the most-seen film in the set and the print shows that. The print has a few defects and splices that are a bit out of alignment, but certainly nothing that would be detrimental to the enjoyment of the film. The same goes for "Murder At The Gallop," while the remaining two films are surprisingly clean ad sold, free of any but the most minor defects or blemishes. The black and white image is nicely detailed and only occasional is grain evident – mostly in optically enhanced shots, such as the opening titles and closing credits and a few "special effect" shots. Blacks are absolutely solid and the image is nicely balanced with good highlights and a finely delineated gray fall-off. No edge-enhancement or compression artifacts mar the presentation.
The audio on the films comes as the original mono language track in English and a French dub. The audio has clearly been enhanced as the tracks are free of any hiss or background noise. While still limited in their frequency response, the audio presentation is never overly harsh and nicely brings back the lively, recurring music theme from the films.
It is hard not to be taken in by the charm and atmosphere of these films and Margaret Rutherford's wonderful performance as Miss Marple. These films may be old, but that's what makes them so attractive and whimsical. They are my favorite Agatha Christie adaptations, hands down, and I am very grateful that these films have found such a good home on DVD thanks to Warner Home Video.