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Murder at the Gallop

Murder at the Gallop(1963)

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Home Video Reviews

The Agatha Christie Miss Marple Movie Colletion presents the four Marple films from the early sixties starring Margaret Rutherford. Fans of Agatha Christies' frail, elderly, but infinitely sharp-witted sleuth were bound to have divided opinions about the casting of Margeret Rutherford, who took the role and made it her own: in other words, something wholly different than Agatha Christie's Miss Marple. When Christie saw the first film, Murder, She Said, she is quoted as saying "Oh, this will never do!" One can sympathize with Christie because the four Margaret Rutherford Miss Marples bear almost no resemblance to the charming books. But that doesn't stop the films from being highly enjoyable in their own right. Margaret Rutherford is a formidable and fearless presence as she tries to solve these four cases, and though not the model Marple, she really does make the role her own.

The first film, Murder, She Said, is the only one based on a Miss Marple novel (The 4:50 from Paddington). Miss Marple sees a murder being committed on a train running on a parallel track, but when the police fail to turn up any sign of a body and see no case to pursue, Miss Marple decides to take the case on herself. She determines that the only place along that particular stretch of railway that a body could've been tossed from the train without being seen is at Ackenthorp Hall. She manages to get a job as a maid at the Hall, and soon discovers the body in sarcophagus, which brings in Instpector Craddock (Charles Tingwell) and his men. But it's Miss Marple along with her sidekick Mr. Stringer (Striger Davis, Rutherford's real-life husband. Ironically, Joan Hixson, who would later become known as the definitive Miss Marple on the long-running BBC series, has a small part as a maid.

Murder at the Gallop is based on the Hercule Poirot novel After the Funeral. The not-so-unexpected heart attack of a rich man is written off as death by natural causes until Miss Marple discovers that the diseased had a pathological fear of cats, and someone had hidden a cat in the man's house so that he would come on it unawares. Once again the police have no intention of looking into Miss Marple's theory, so she checks into the Gallop Hotel, a horse riding establishment where all of the dead man's heirs are staying, and launches her investigation. But before long there are more deaths. Murder at the Gallop guest stars Robert Morley as the head of the family, who ends up hoping that Miss Marple will permanently keep her saddle at the Gallop.

Murder, Most Foul is also based on a Hercule Poirot novel, Mrs. McGinty's Dead. Miss Marple serves on a jury where she is convinced that the accused is not guilty – of course, the other eleven jurists feel otherwise. When the trial ends in a hung jury and the trial rescheduled, Miss Marple is on the move to solve the case. She traces McGinty's connections to a theatrical company that had just past through town. The struggling company, run by Driffold Cosgood (Ron Moody), is all too happy to take on a wealthy novice who wants to act (namely, Miss Marple). No sooner is Marple on the scene than the cast members start dropping off one by one. To solve the murders, Miss Marple must figure out the identity of an illegitimate child of a former actress. The cast includes Francesca Annis, who would later star in the series Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence: Partners in Crime.

The last film in the set, Murder Ahoy, finds Miss Marple appointed to the board of a school for wayward boys that is housed on the frigate The Battledorn, which is moored in the harbor. At their first meeting, one of the other board members takes a sniff of snuff and promptly drops dead. In the confusion that follows the snuff is stolen from the box. The board member had been upset about something he'd discovered on visiting The Battledorn, so Of course, Miss Marple decides to pay the Battledorn a visit herself, and once there finds that everyone on board appears to have a secret...and some of those secrets will lead to murder.

The four Rutherford Marple movies may not come close to representing Agatha Christie's creation, but they are delightful, entertaining films in their own right, best enjoyed if you don't actually think of them as true Miss Marple adaptations.

Warner Bros.' new set offers four splendid transfers, stuck from source material that in remarkable crisp and clean condition. The audio is also in excellent condition, with no sign of deterioration and crystal clear tone quality. The disc includes the trailers for all four films.

For more information about The Miss Marple Collection, visit Warner Video.

by Fred Hunter