Film of the Book: Murder, She Said (4.50 from Paddington)

Directed by George Pollock (1961)

murder-she-said-2

From the book review of 4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie:

When Elspeth McGillicuddy glances out of the window of her train carriage, she can see straight into another train that is running parallel to her own. As a blind flies up on the carriage opposite her, she is horrified to see a woman being strangled by a tall, dark man. Unable to do anything to prevent it, she reports it to the conductor. He suspects she’s just been napping and has dreamt the whole thing, but he’s a conscientious man so he reports the matter at the next station. However, no body is found on the train, and there the matter would probably have rested, but for the fact that Mrs McGillicuddy was on her way to St Mary Mead to visit her old friend, Jane Marple…

You can read the full book review by clicking here.

Film of the Book

murder-she-said-gallery

As soon as the delightful title music of Ron Goodwin starts up, it’s clear this is going to be a fun romping version of Agatha Christie’s story. Apparently Christie disliked these Margaret Rutherford adaptations, and I can see why. They are not what you would call faithful to the originals and Miss Marple is not the sedentary observer of human nature we all know and love. But for once I don’t care – the films are brilliant and just as entertaining as the books, if in a different way. Murder, She Said was the first of the four Miss Marple movies in which Rutherford starred and, despite some major changes, actually sticks fairly closely to the basic plot of the book. As the series went on the divergences from the books grew ever wider and the final movie, Murder Ahoy!, wasn’t even based on any of the books at all.

First of all, poor Elspeth McGillicuddy has been cut completely, as has housekeeper and assistant sleuth, Lucy Eyelesbarrow. Now it’s Miss Marple herself who sees the murder through the train windows. When the police fail to find a body, Inspector Craddock (Charles Tingwell) tries to persuade Miss Marple that she must have seen a couple… ahem… honeymooning, as he so delicately puts it. On Miss Marple pointing out in no uncertain terms that, spinster she may be, but she can still tell the difference between a bit of “honeymooning” and strangulation, Inspector Craddock subtly suggests that she must be dotty.

murder-she-said-inspector-craddock

So Miss Marple, after consulting her close friend Mr Stringer (who is played by Margaret Rutherford’s real-life husband Stringer Davis), decides that they should investigate themselves. After a lovely scene of these two rather, shall we say, mature people searching the railway tracks, Miss Marple gets herself employed as the new housemaid at Ackenthorpe Hall – Rutherford Hall in the book, and changed to prevent confusion over the coincidence of the house sharing the same name as the star of the film. Why they changed Crackenthorpe to Ackenthorpe defeats me though, as does the fact that Miss Marple apparently now lives in Milchester rather than St Mary Mead…

murder-she-said-railway-tracks

While the purist in me is shaking her head disapprovingly about these wholesale changes, I do understand them. Unlike Poirot, often Miss Marple doesn’t have a huge role in the books, tending to perform her miracles somewhat in the background of the action. She doesn’t really investigate as such – she merely listens and applies her knowledge of human nature to get to the truth. In this book, Lucy Eyelesbarrow is the central character with only occasional appearances from Miss Marple herself. But if you’ve booked the wonderful Margaret Rutherford to star in your movie, you want her pretty much in every scene, or else you might find yourself lynched by an angry mob of disgruntled Rutherford fans… including me! So this version of Miss Marple carries out all the investigative work herself, helped only a little by Inspector Craddock and the ever-faithful Mr Stringer.

murder-she-said-james-robertson-justice

The cast is a nice line-up of British character actors of the period, plus a few up-and-coming stars of the future in bit parts. James Robertson Justice guest-stars as grumpy old Mr Ackenthorpe, and his exchanges with new housemaid Jane are total comic joy. Muriel Pavlow is excellent as poor put-upon Emma, Mr Ackenthorpe’s daughter. The various Ackenthorpe brothers are an unpleasant bunch, as they are in the book too, and all played by well-known faces even if the names are less familiar to me – Thorley Walters, Conrad Phillips and Gerald Cross, with Ronald Howard as brother-in-law Brian Eastley. For reasons unknown (to me), an American actor, Arthur Kennedy, plays Dr Quimper and I must say I find his American accent a bit discombobulating amongst all these Brits. A youngish Richard Briers appears in a tiny role, and who should pop up as the daily cleaner at Ackenthorpe Hall but the woman who would later in her career become the definitive Miss Marple – our very own Joan Hickson! There’s a lovely bit where she gets chased by a goat…

murder-she-said-joan-hickson

In the book, I loved the interplay between the two boys, Alexander and his friend Stodders, and the various adults. Stodders has been ruthlessly done away with in the same mass culling that took Elspeth and Lucy. But Alexander is delightfully played by Ronnie Raymond. (Wondering whatever happened to him, I checked it out and IMDb informs me he quit acting and became an undertaker! I kinda wish I hadn’t checked now…) In the film, he’s an arrogant, cheeky little so-and-so who quite frankly would benefit from a swift kick up the pants, but Jane soon gets him onside and he becomes a kind of assistant sleuth. He and Rutherford work beautifully together and provide much of the film’s humour.

murder-she-said-alexander

Just to add to the general jollity, the film throws in some light-hearted mild horror elements – people hiding behind curtains, storms and thunder, lights going out at unfortunate moments, and a gardener of the scowling sinister variety. Because of the disappearance of Mrs McGillicuddy, the ending is changed (though the solution is not), and builds up to a tense face-off between Miss Marple and the murderer. As Inspector Craddock points out, she’s a very brave lady!

murder-she-said-torch

OK, OK, I know Christie fans are probably gnashing their teeth right now, but honestly, it’s so much fun! Try to forget that the real Miss Marple is unlikely to disguise herself in dungarees! Ignore the unlikeliness of her possibly having romantic inclinations towards dear Mr Stringer! Go along with the idea of her creeping about the grounds in the middle of the night with a torch, searching for corpses! In fact, just try to put out of your mind that it’s got anything to do with the book at all and enjoy it for what it is – a great British comedy thriller starring one of the finest comedy character actresses of all time. You surely won’t regret it…

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

It kinda breaks my heart to choose from these, so…

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

4-50-from-paddington-2

THE BOOK!

murder-she-said-dvd

AND THE FILM!

* * * * *

This post is part of the Agatha Christie Blogathon being hosted by Christina Werner and Little Bits of Classics. Do pop through to find links to all the great Poirot posts from yesterday, and check back with them over the next couple of days for links to today’s Miss Marple posts, and tomorrow’s posts on anything else Agatha Christie related.

AgathaChristie

43 thoughts on “Film of the Book: Murder, She Said (4.50 from Paddington)

  1. OK, the cranky, irascible, annoying dedicated purist in me wouldn’t like all those changes, FictionFan, not least because I really enjoyed the book. But I know what you mean – very well – about Margaret Rutherford’s acting skills. And there is that scene with the goat… Did you know Christie dedicated The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side to Rutherford? At any rate, a wonderful review of a film that I think I’d probably want to think about on its own merits, rather than as an adaptation of a book.

    • Did she? No, I didn’t know that. I’m glad – it must mean she couldn’t have totally hated the films then! Thank you – haha! Yes, normally all those changes would make my hackles rise, but I think the only way to approach it is to try to forget it has anything to do with the book. But it is such fun to watch!

  2. The purist in me is shuddering and I’ve not seen this film. I don’t like Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple and despite your great review and recommendation I have no intention of watching it, especially as there is no Lucy Eyelesbarrow! Not for me, I’m sorry. (:

    Joan Hickson though is very different and I loved her portrayal of Miss Marple – perfect! 🙂

    • Haha! I totally see where you’re coming from, but I just pretend they have nothing to do with the books and then I can enjoy them as great comedies. But I agree the Joan Hickson version is much closer to the book. She’s good in this one too, though her part is tiny – but she does being chased by a goat very well! 😉

      • I wish I could do that, but instead I just sit there saying things like ‘it’s not like that in the book’, ‘why have they changed it/missed bits out/or added other characters, or even worse why is this Miss Marple when she doesn’t do the investigation’ and so on.

        But there are films of books that I do like, Atonement for one, even though the film changed the ending!

        • Oh yes, I loved Atonement – both film and book. It was a long time after I read the book when I saw the film, and with my rotten memory I couldn’t remember how it had ended anyway, so it didn’t bother me. They’re both on my list for a re-read/re-watch as part of this film of the book thing. Don’t know when I’ll get to them though…

  3. Oh my! Joan Hickson looks so young in that photo! I absolutely adore her as Miss Marple and have the entire series actually 🙂 I have watched this Rutherford version, but had completely forgotten about it. Shall try to get my hands on it – would love to watch it again 🙂

    • Doesn’t she? I love these old films for spotting people when they were young and not so famous. She’s good in it too, even though her part is tiny. I love the Hickson Miss Marple adaptations too – much more faithful to the books. But for sheer fun, the Rutherford ones win! 🙂

    • I love the Hickson adaptations too, much closer to the books. With these Rutherford ones, I just try to forget they have anything to do with the books at all and enjoy her perfomance – she’s wonderful to watch! Perfect afternoon entertainment…

  4. I love all the Rutherford Marples, and for some reason their divergence from the books never bothered me. That was a period that produced some wonderful comic films – The mouse that roared, Passport to Pimlico, Arsenic and old lace………. Pity no-one is making films like these now.

    • So do I! I think possibly they diverge so much that it’s easier to forget they’re supposed to have anything to do with the books. Sometimes it’s when they try to get it right but fail that it provokes teeth gnashing, whereas right from the off with these you know they’re not even trying to reproduce the “real” Miss Marple. Yes, it was a golden age for comedy films. I love Arsenic and Old Lace – one of my all-time favourites.

  5. Well now that I’ve got to appreciate Miss Marple’s fine qualities I may well check this one out, before I read the book! It sounds enormous fun and I loved the bit about the difference between honeymooning and strangulation – I’m putting this on the list for our Sunday evening film list – since I never get to chose it must be my turn soon 😉

  6. Oh my, this sounds delightful! Not very Agatha Christie-ish, but still delightful! I’ve been schooling myself not to be a purist about movie adaptations of books so that I can be philosophically consistent with my oft-stated belief that it’s okay for movies to depart from the book (not that they usually depart for the better). 🙂 But this sounds delightful.

    And Joan Hickson with a goat? Irresistible!

    I really enjoyed your review of both the book and the film and am so glad you could join us for the Agatha Christie Blogathon!

    • Thanks, Christina, and thanks for hosting! I enjoyed all the Poirot posts and am looking forward to reading more of the Miss Marple ones…

      The thing about these films is that they’re so different from the books they don’t actually annoy me – it’s easy to forget about the books while watching. It’s when films try to get it right and fail, or make totally pointless changes, that it bothers me. In this one all the changes are to allow Margaret Rutherford to do her own thing – and she does it superbly! I’m 99.9999999% sure you’d love this! 😉

      • Even the trailer was fun…it looks so droll…and I’m a real sucker for comic/horror type stories. This will be my first Margaret Rutherford, actually, but I’m 99.9999999% sure I’ll agree with you! 🙂

        Yes,that’s true about the pointless changes or the not getting it right. Sometimes, I wish some movies would actually depart further from a book rather than be tepid or halfway faithful.

        • I only really know her from these films. While I was watching, I was thinking I really must seek out some of her other stuff. Yes, it’s the same with pastiches or spin-offs – if they try to hard to stick to the originals then I start noticing all the discrepancies, but if they swing wildly away then I can just go with the flow. Like Anthony Horowitz’s Moriarty – it’s in Holmes’ London, but that’s almost the only connection to the originals.

  7. OK, I’d have to disconnect my head from the book in order to watch or love the film. However, I’ve done that with other books and characters very successfully. I’ll try it, if I can find it. LOL

    • Haha, yes, that’s the only way to do it with these films! But actually they’re so different from the books that I find it easier than with films that try to stick more closely to the originals. Rutherford is so great I don’t really care that she’s nothing like the “real” Miss Marple, and the supporting cast really do support her. I hope you enjoy it… if you can find it! 🙂

  8. I have to be honest…when I first heard the music…I was like: “No, just no.” Then, I continued watching and it does look pretty good! I can identify with that older lady. I see things all the time that I’m sure no one will ever believe. *sigh*

    Finally a film…equaled the book!

    • You don’t like the music?!? Oh, I think it’s great fun – as a backdrop for the movie, anyway. I don’t think I’d listen to it just as a piece of music on its own. It really suits the film. *laughs* Yes, I can see the resemblance, now you mention it! You should swap hats with her…

      I know! Originally the book was going to win but… I just couldn’t do it! Once you’ve read the book you must watch the film… *nods decisively*

      • I’ve been listening to…the Patriot soundtrack! Historically raunchy movie. And sorta funny. But the soundtrack by John Williams is brilliant. Just thought I should mention that. I’ve been wearing my Pats hat as of late! Got a friend in the bookstore at Duquesne. We’re both Pats fans! Went to see him today, actually.

        Have you watched Civil War yet?

        • Is that the Mel Gibson film? You shouldn’t be watching raunchy movies, sir! I hope you closed your eyes at those bits! A friend in a bookstore – my fantasy!! He’ll be able to keep all the good books aside for you… give me his e-mail address so I can send him your TBR immediately! Why are you wasting time talking to him about football when you could talk about books!!!

          *laughs* Hey! Soon, I said! Soon!!

  9. The film sounds fantastic. As for literary comparisons, I’m more familiar with Poirot than with Miss Marple. I’m glad both book and movie hold still and are worth checking out.
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Cheers!
    Le

    • The film is great fun even if it’s not exactly faithful to the book! I used to prefer Poirot but gradually over time I began to appreciate the Miss marple books more and now I prefer them. I still love the Poirot ones too, though.

      Thanks for popping in and visiting! 😀

Please leave a comment - I'd love to know who's visiting and what you think...of the post, of the book, of the blog, of life, of chocolate...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s