I started this post some time ago and now that I’m at home 23 hours a day, I’m afraid it’s got longer and longer! So, if you find it too long, you can always come back to it at some other time!
She may not be everybody’s favourite Miss Marple, but I love Margaret Rutherford (1892 – 1972) in her 4 Agatha Christie 1960s films, all made by MGM in England.
Miss Marple was the unlikely sleuth who was always observing and evaluating events in the village of St. Mary Mead which was somewhere in the south of England.
She appeared in 12 Agatha Christie books and 20 short stories.
Margaret Rutherford hardly fitted Agatha Christie’s description of her amateur detective, Jane Marple who was described as tall , thin, demure – but Margaret’s warm personality and energetic style gave us an engaging Miss Marple.
- Margaret insisted that her husband, Stringer Davis appear in the Marple films. He played librarian Jim Stringer in Murder She Said. His kindly, quiet character played well against the boisterous Margaret.( and his character was not in the novels.)
- She also wore capes and cloaks which she was comfortable in .
After Murder She Said, the following three films seemed to embrace Margaret Rutherford’s comic persona – far removed from the Agatha Christie dramas.
It would appear that once Mrs. Christie sold the film rights, and as we know happened in Hollywood, the studio felt no obligation to remain faithful to the novels.
Of the four Margaret Rutherford films, only Murder She Said was based on a Miss Marple story, 4.50 From Paddington.
Both Murder Most Foul and Murder At The Gallop were actually Poirot stories, and Murder Ahoy wasn’t even a Christie story!
Australian actor Charles Tingwell appeared in all four Miss Marple films, playing Inspector Craddock who relied on Miss Marple quite a lot.
Does anyone remember the TV series Emergency Ward 10? Charles Tingwell was one of the stars and I was a big fan!
One story of how Agatha Christie came up with the name,Marple was explained by a Christie fan who quoted Agatha,
“I was at a sale in Marple Hall in Cheshire. I was wanting a name for my old maid character and I called her Jane Marple.”
Before her many comedy roles, Margaret had played the part of ‘Mrs. Danvers’ in REBECCA, with Celia Johnson in London’s West End.
After 2000 performances on stage in Noel Coward’s BLYTHE SPIRIT, Margaret’s performance as Madame Arcati was preserved in the film version in 1941.
Margaret was in the film version of The Importance of Being Earnest in 1952. She played “Miss Prism” alongside Edith Evans as Lady Bracknell. Both Margaret and Dame Édith has been in the original stage production in 1939.
Whatever Agatha Christie thought of the Miss Marple films, she did get on well with Margaret. In 1962, her latest book “The Mirror Crack’d “ had the dedication, “To Margaret Rutherford with admiration.”
In the middle of her four Miss Marple films, Margaret managed to garner an Oscar for her performance as the funny and touching Duchess of Brighton in THE V.I.P.s.
Margaret kept her Oscar above her fireplace.
Margaret’ s portrait by artist Michael Noakes. It hangs in the Gielgud Theatre in London.
A little background on Margaret Rutherford.
It’s no surprise that Margaret was a teacher of elocution. Her voice was always clear and concise. She was also a talented pianist and gave lessons. And she liked swimming.
Margaret’s childhood was very traumatic. Her father spent 7 years in the mental hospital Broadmoor after he killed his father. When he was released , he changed his surname from Benn to Rutherford and took his wife and baby to India.
When Margaret was three, her mother committed suicide and Margaret was brought back to England and left in the care of her aunt Bessie who raised her in Wimbledon. Margaret’s father ended up back in Broadmoor.
When her aunt died, Margaret had an inheritance which enabled her to go to drama school.
Politician Tony Benn was a second cousin and regarded Margaret like an old aunt.
Margaret made her stage debut in 1925 and joined the Old Vic company in 1933.
I remember enjoying the 1979 film,Agatha about the period in 1926 when Agatha Christie disappeared from her family home.
What happened to Agatha has never really been established. At the time she was 35 , married to Archie Christie and with a seven year old daughter, Rosalind.
Archie Christie had asked for a divorce in order to marry his secretary. Did Agatha have a nervous breakdown or memory loss?
her car was found abandoned and her disappearance was headline news. ( Her first book , The Mysterious Affair at Styles had come out in 1920 and introduced the world to that famous Belgian detective,Hercule Poirot.)
When found in Harrogate, her husband told the press she had suffered a loss of memory.
She made no mention of the events in her autobiography and was divorced in 1928.
A young Agatha Christie
Agatha remarried in 1930 to archaeologist Max Mallowen.
Miss Marple continued to be a popular figure in radio and on TV and film.
An unlikely Miss Marple was Gracie Fields who played the role in a 1956 GoodYear TV Playhouse production of A Murder Is Announced.
And Gracie played the amateur detective with a Scottish accent!
Also in the cast were Roger Moore and Jessica Tandy.
Would love to see it.
Helen Hayes was Miss Marple in 1983 and 1985. Helen looked the part but couldn’t quite lose her American accent. It was sad to see Bette Davis in “Murder With Mirrors”, in a supporting role not long after Bette had endured a debilitating stroke.
Angela Lansbury took on the role in the 1980 film, The Mirror Crack’d, but was somewhat overshadowed by the star cast including Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and Kim Novak.
Then, in 1984, the actress who became the definitive Miss Marple, took the stories back to television – Joan Hickson [1906-1998) played the role through to 1992 and was just what we expected Miss Marple to be like from the books.
Joan had been in films since 1934, generally playing landladies, barmaids , and had done lots of TV roles, but when she landed the part of Miss Marple, all the years of experience made her a star.
Joan actually had a small part in Margaret Rutherford’s Murder She Said in 1961! Little did she know……….
Other Miss Marples on TV were Geraldine McEwan (2004 – 2007) and Julia McKenzie (2008 – 2013).
I’ll be listening to June Whitfield who played Miss Marple on BBC radio. I’ve no doubt that June will be excellent.
Margaret Rutherford loves wearing capes and shawls, so I think her Miss Marple should be called The Caped Crusader”!
She really was a British institution.
And who can forget Ron Goodwin’s theme for the film series.
Is Julia McKenzie not still with us? But a good in-depth study of the Marple character.
Oh, have just realised that the dates are when she was in the Miss Marple TV series. D’oh!
Julia is nearly 80. I’ll never forget seeing her in SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM and GUYS AND DOLLS at the National Theatre.
I loved her in SIDE BY SIDE also – at Wyndham’s, in 1976.
This is fascinating about Rutherford; I just hope Agatha fully appreciates it, if you see what I mean!
Wish I’d kept the Wyndhams program. Happy memories.
Excellent post. I’m enormously fond of these movies too. Sure they’re not really what Christie had in mind but they are full of that infectious early-60s joy that somehow mans none of that matters much.
Actually and on a semi-related note, I’ll be reading (or rereading if I want to be accurate) 4:50 from Paddington next, just as soon as I finish off John Dickson Carr’s The Waxworks Murder
Oh, by the way, you might like to know you got name checked in a post on film noir message board The Blackboard in relation to the movie Larceny: https://members.boardhost.com/mrvalentine/msg/1587148807.html
Thanks, Colin. Interesting that they brought over Arthur Kennedy for the first one, Murder She Said.
I guess Christie purists wouldn’t be too happy with the Rutherford versions.
Must look out for The Waxworks Murder. Sounds fun.
Thanks for that link. Didn’t know that website.
I actually saw Gracie’s Miss Marple at the 1996 Cinecon. There was no attempt to dress her correctly. She had a sleeveless black cocktail dress in one scene.! Like Margaret her characterization was not as written in the books but she was very enjoyable as always. The show only ran an hour so some characters were dropped from the original story
I saw the Rutherford Miss Marple films in, I think, the early ’70s, and have not seem them since. I certainly don’t remember them in detail but I know that I enjoyed them.
Did you ever see Chaplin’s last film A Countess from Hong Kong? Despite the glamorous stars, I thought Rutherford’s performance was the best thing in the movie.
I love her clutching the Oscar in the Murder Most Foul poster.
Gosh, I hadn’t even noticed Margaret was holding an Oscar in that poster.
I haven’t seen Countess from Hong Kong but I love Margaret’s name in it – Miss GAULSWALLOW!
Interesting read. Have fond memories of Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple. Best regards.
She was a treasure. Thanks for stopping by.
How interesting,Jim. I’m trying to imagine Miss Marple in a cocktail dress!
What a nice post. I love Agatha Christie. Have read all of her books which I consider real comfort reading. Joan Hickson is certainly the actress who got the character, personality and quirks of Miss Marple absolutely right. She just nailed it. I love that series. I have to admit, for me the less is said about Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie the better. Just awful.
BUT though M. Rutherford’s Marple has nothing to do with the books, those four films are treasures. I love them and have watched them many times. And right now they’re the perfect comfort viewing. So much fun. As Colin said, that infectious early-60s joy is magic. Christie came to like her too.
My favorite scene must be where Miss Marple does the Twist on the dance-floor (forget which of the four films it is). You cannot watch this scene and not feel better right away. That and the intro song.
Glad you are a fan of the wonderful Ms Rutherford. Must catch that scene again where she does the twist!
Comfort viewing indeed.
I too love Agatha Christie, especially the Miss Marple stories, Margaret Rutherford was my favourite portrayal however I read that Agatha Christie was not too keen stating Miss Marple was not comedic & that the stories were ‘darker ‘
I would like to join a fan club & think it would be lovely to have Agatha Christie themed holidays (when the current climate allows) seeing Agatha Christie’s home & the places where her sleuths lived & investigated.
Hi, Tracey. Let’s hope when things get back to normal, you can investigate holidays etc.
margaret rutherford reminds me of alec guinness. perhaps they shared training from same person or it is just their stage training. rutherford, i think, was a better marple than joan hickson–any day!
I’m with you on Margaret.
I adore Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple, but you’ve convinced me to give the other Miss Marples a try, too.
I think everyone has their own favourite Miss Marple.