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At the height of Beatlemania, George Harrison was asked at a press conference to name his favorite actress. He replied, "Margaret Rutherford." The answer got a big laugh, but Rutherford was a big star in 1963, albeit an unlikely one. Stout, homely and elderly, Rutherford nonetheless was very popular in British comedies, particularly in the Miss Marple film series, based on the novels of Agatha Christie. In these comedy-mysteries, Rutherford played Christie's elderly British spinster who finds herself mixed up in murders and playing amateur sleuth. The second of four films in the series was Murder at the Gallop (1963), advertised with the misleading slogan "The Raciest Murder of the Season!"; adapted from a book about another Agatha Christie detective, Hercule Poirot, After the Funeral (also known as Funerals are Fatal) .
Though Miss Marple made Margaret Rutherford popular, it was a role that she nearly turned down. "Murder, you see, is not the sort of thing I could get close to. I don't like anything that tends to lower or debase or degrade. But then a friend and I talked it over and she pointed out that it could be entertaining and might indeed have a moral value, of a sort. And one likes to throw one's weight in on the side of good, doesn't one?"
The story of Murder at the Gallop begins with Miss Marple raising money to rehabilitate convicts. When she goes to the home of the elderly Mr. Enderby (played by Finlay Currie), she finds that he has died of a heart attack brought on by a cat. As she always did, Miss Marple investigates with the help of her companion, Mr. Stringer (Stringer Davis, in a role that was created for him at Rutherford's request). Riley, McAllister and Symons write in their book, The Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Agatha Christie, that Davis was more than just Rutherford's co-star in the films; he "was Miss Rutherford's husband, best friend, and biggest fan. Every morning before shooting began he would rise early, prepare breakfast (tea), and then go wake his wife (who would usually sleep through the clock's alarm). Together they would rehearse the lines for the scenes to be shot that day, making cuts or breaking up speeches to make memorization easier. On the set he saw to it that she was always well supplied with her favorite ginger chocolates or peppermint creams. He made sure that her lunch - soup, cheese, and biscuits was sent to her dressing room. Then he would spend some time personally answering her fan mail because it was his wife's opinion that those who cared enough to write deserved a reply. The magic of this special relationship is evident in their scenes together in the series. When Miss Marple turns down the marriage proposals of James Robertson Justice in Murder She Said  or Robert Morley in Murder at the Gallop, we know why."
Rutherford had worked with Robert Morley before Murder at the Gallop. In 1935, she appeared in his play Short Story and co-starred with him in the film Curtain Up (1952). Her other costars were respected character actress Flora Robson and Australian actor Charles "Bud" Tingwell reprising his role as Inspector Craddock. Tingwell, who became an Australian institution, was given a state funeral when he died in May 2009 at the age of 86.
Murder at the Gallop had its premiere in a tent at a church garden party in rural Cheshire (most likely for a fund-raiser as Margaret Rutherford was fond of doing charity works) before its American release in June 1963. It was well received and some film critics saw it as the lightweight entertainment it was meant to be. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times wrote of Rutherford "Playing the forceful Miss Marple, as she did in Murder She Said, this chummy old muffin-faced actress puffs her cheeks, cocks her head, squints her eyes when she's stricken with suspicion, whips her sturdy tweed cape about herself and finally exclaims with eyes flashing, "Now we can proceed with certainty!" At one point, to clinch a deft maneuver, she even performs the twist, supported by her husband, Stringer Davis. That's good for a nice genteel laugh. Companionable, too, is Robert Morley as the stout proprietor of the riding residence, who is so carried away with admiration for Miss Marple that he proposes marriage to her. Evidently she is quite accomplished at helping him off with his boots."
As for Agatha Christie, the creator of Miss Marple, while she enjoyed Rutherford's performances, she did not think her very much like the Marple she created. However, she was no fan of the series, often arguing with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer over scripts and characterizations; calling Murder at the Gallop "incredibly silly." The London Times agreed, "[T]he whole thing is happily calculated to convince foreigners yet again that everything they have been told about the English is absolutely true and only a trifle understated."
Producer: George H. Brown; Lawrence P. Bachmann (uncredited)
Director: George Pollock
Screenplay: James P. Cavanagh; Agatha Christie (novel "After the Funeral")
Cinematography: Arthur Ibbetson
Art Direction: Frank White
Music: Ron Goodwin
Film Editing: Bert Rule
Cast: Margaret Rutherford (Miss Marple), Stringer Davis (Mr. Stringer), Robert Morley (Hector Enderby), Flora Robson (Miss Milchrest), Charles Tingwell (Inspector Craddock), Gordon Harris (Sergeant Bacon), Robert Urquhart (George Crossfield), Katya Douglas (Rosamund Shane), James Villiers (Michael Shane), Noel Howlett (Mr. Trundell), Finlay Currie (Old Enderby), Duncan Lamont (Hillman), Kevin Stoney (Doctor Markwell).
BW-81m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.
by Lorraine LoBianco
"Actress Margaret Rutherford at 71: The Old Girl Still Kicks Up" Life Magazine 1 Oct. 1963
Crowther, Bosley "Tea with Miss Rutherford: Murder at the Gallop Opens at Beekman" New York Times 23 Jun 1963
Pitts, Michael R. Famous Movie Detectives II
Robertson, Patrick Film Facts
Riley, Dick, McAllister, Pam, and Symons, Julian The Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Agatha Christie Shaw, Marion and Vanacker, Sabine Reflecting on Miss Marple