Sunday, December 20, 2009

Miss Marple is out to sea in 'Murder Ahoy!'

Murder Ahoy (1964)
Starring: Margaret Rutherford, Lionel Jeffries, Stringer Davis, Charles Tingwell, and Nicholas Parsons
Director: George Pollock
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

On the very day Miss Marple (Rutherford) is appointed to the Board of Trustees of a charity that runs a sailing ship where juvenile delinquients are rehabilitated, one of the other boardmembers is murdered. Miss Marple goes onboard the ship to investigate, and more murders follow as she uncovers a tangle of crime on the high seas that Blackbeard would have envied.

"Murder Ahoy" features Agatha Christie's Miss Marple character, but the film isn't based on any of Christie's books. In fact, like so many screen adaptations of literary characters, Miss Marple as she appears here is quite different than the Miss Marple of Christie's novels and short stories. (I think the only similarity is that they're both old spinsters who enjoy knitting. I can't ever imagine the Miss Marple in the books spending the night in jail, or dueling a killer with sabres as she does in this film, but both events fit perfectly with Miss Marple as played by Rutherford, who is more mischevious than prim.)

Although the story and actions of the various criminals and killers don't make a whole lot of sense, and the police are either stupider or lazier than suspension of disbelief can allow for, the film's leads give such fun performances that it hardly matters. Rutherford gives a great performance, but she is ably supported by Lionel Jeffries (as a twitchy ship's captain who is driven up the wall by Miss Marple's nosiness), Charles Tingwell (as a frustrated police inspector who shares the captain's pain), and Stringer Davis (who plays an elderly friend of Miss Marple who becomes her partner in detection and police-annoying). There's also a hilarious running gag with the doctor who is called to inspect the corpses (Parsons) always needing to run off to deliver a baby.("It's always life and death with him," comments a character after one of the doctor's speedy departures.)

There's also some marvelous soundtrack music by Ron Goodman's marverlous score--particularly the bouncy main theme--also plays a large part in making this movie as enjoyable as it is.

While may not have a whole lot to do with Agatha Christie's original Miss Marple character (or anything Christie actually wrote), this is a fun little comedy/mystery film that's worth checking out.