Under Full Sail
Margaret Rutherford performs admirably in “Murder Ahoy”, an MGM production that spoofs the murder mystery genre while jazzing up the main character, Miss Marple, in an updated version that looks curiously dated.
A raccoon left his calling card at the front door of our cottage last night. At least, that is what we surmise has happened in the ongoing saga of the “battle with the beast”. A pile of poop resting on the welcome mat added to the infamy of this most unwelcome house guest whose previous exploits include awakening the household in the wee hours of the morning with his caterwauling during a particularly unneighbourly altercation.
“Bandito” the raccoon, as he is called by the neighbour kids, apparently has few compunctions about his anti-social behaviour, preferring instead to exercise squatter’s rights by sleeping it off in someone’s tree house during the day. Is he the guilty party who got into our trailer over the winter, chewing and peeing his way into everlasting infamy? Or was it some other raccoon? We may never know since we have no sharp witted Miss Marple in the neighbourhood to investigate the case.
Such was not the misfortune of the late night Agatha Christie mystery, Murder Ahoy. Well, actually, it is not a real Agatha Christie murder mystery. It was a put-up job put over by MGM. There is but a trace, supposedly, of the plot details of an actual Agatha Christie novel. It is the last, and some would say the weakest, of a series of four MGM confections from the 1960s employing the considerable comic talents of Margaret Rutherford as Ms. Christie’s famous female sleuth, Miss Marple.
Funny that. The Rutherford incarnation of the famous Miss Marple bears an uncanny physical resemblance to my grandmother. She is nothing like my grandmother in terms of personality, but sometimes the quizzical expression on Rutherford’s face reminds me so much of my own dear gran. Not that I can imagine my granny parrying with a deadly foe as the 1931 former women’s fencing champion, dancing the twist in a formal evening gown (in another film in the series), nor cooking up a chemistry experiment to identify the poison in question – although I do remember my grandmother cooking up a really mean nut fudge in the kitchen when I was a kid.
But Margaret Rutherford is not much like the Miss Marple of Agatha Christie’s wonderful murder mystery novels. Miss Jane Marple has been described as “a tall, thin, elderly lady, sedate, quiet-spoken, and dignified, living in a quiet little cottage in a quiet little English village” patterned after Christie’s own grandmother. Neither is she like other famous interpretations of the role such as those brought to us by Angela Landsbury, Joan Hickson, and Geraldine McEwan. Margaret Rutherford is able to say most emphatically to Detective Inspector Craddock (who accuses her of being “unhinged” and perhaps “not entirely herself”) - “Chief Inspector, I am always myself!”
No, I am the one who becomes more than slightly unhinged, quite unlike myself, leaping about the kitchen when the CBC announces that they are planning to screen another Christie murder mystery with Geraldine McEwan. I must admit to going a bit squirrelly. During the actual viewing, I take no phone calls, the kids go temporarily neglected, my poor husband knows better than to interrupt me: I am concentrating! Intensely.
Doubtless Ms. Rutherford’s version of Miss Marple is consistently presented with her own unique flavour. It may not have a lot in common with Agatha Christie’s character, but it is lots of fun. Rutherford’s Miss Marple is entirely at home belting out “Rule Brittania” and barking out “Damn the topedoes! Full speed ahead, Mr. Stringer!” Rutherford’s Marple is earthy and irrepressible as well as intelligent and resourceful.
Critics have labeled the other performances in this particular episode of the MGM series as especially wan. Lionel Jeffries as Captain Rhumstone does more than passable service in my books as the ridiculous figurehead skipper. Nicholas Parsons as the brisk Dr. Crump bustles in and out, moonlighting as the county coroner between stops in delivering babies. Bud Tingwell as the unsuspecting Detective Inspector Craddock is thoroughly thorough without being too obviously incompetent when shown up by Miss Marple’s sleuthing talents. Stringer Davis is wonderfully understated as Rutherford’s faithful sidekick and partner in crime solving. Joan Benham gives good service playing opposite Lionel Jeffries as the longsuffering Matron Fanbraid.
The supporting cast made up of many familiar British actors of the day does its job of supporting the main character as played by Margaret Rutherford. It may be a little weak topside, but when Ms. Rutherford is under full sail, as in all four of these entertaining flicks, who really cares?
What can I say? I like them all. I certainly do have preferences and favourites when it comes to Agatha Christie mysteries and Miss Marple renditions. I enjoyed Rutherford’s early 60’s “jazzy” version on its own merits. It may not please the most demanding of connoisseurs, but then, after midnight on a Saturday Night at the Movies, my priority is just to kick back, laugh a little, and relax. Ms. Rutherford doesn’t seem to be taking herself too seriously, so why shouldn’t I just follow her lead?