She’s nothing like the character in the books, but even Agatha Christie loved Margaret Rutherford’s interpretation of Miss Marple.
Film Review Murder Ahoy 1964
Of all of the actresses to play Agatha Christie’s ageing spinster sleuth Miss Jane Marple, Margaret Rutherford seems the most miscast, but over four feature films, she made the character very much her own.
Christie loved Rutherford’s performances, though she disliked the films themselves for replacing tense murder melodrama with comedy and slapstick. In this case, for example, Miss Marple engages in a sword fight against a much younger and more accomplished swordsman.
Murder Ahoy is one of the best in the series, actually the last of the quartet and more of a romp than a whodunit; though it has a string of clever murders involving poisons administered through snuff boxes and finger-trapping mousetraps. The film makes several digs at Christie’s already long running detective story stage play – The Mousetrap.
The plot as such involves an old naval ship used as a training vessel for helping in the rehabilitation of young offenders.
Miss Marple finds herself elected to the parole board committee of governors of the vessel, absurdly on the death of her uncle (given her own age, his ongoing duty to that time seems preposterous).
She is no sooner elected than the bodies start appearing, and she begins to interfere in both police and naval procedures almost immediately.
A great early moment is Marple setting up a crime scene lab in her own kitchen, testing snuff residue for several poisons in a row until she establishes strychnine as the killer’s main instrument.
Two other performers stand out in the movie – Lionel Jeffries is great as the captain of the ship, slowly being driven out of his mind as amateur detective and killer alike disrupt his meticulous routines.
The other great performance is the fleeting appearances of Nicholas Parsons as a doctor who arrives to announce an official cause of death before rushing off to see his next patient – his insensitive delivery and eagerness to be off on his way instantly making him a very memorable character.
This is Rutherford’s starring vehicle though, and though other Miss Marples have been closer to Christie’s vision, Rutherford is undoubtedly the best performer in the role of all of them.