Monday, February 8, 2016

The Mirror Crack'd (1980)

After the success in the 1970s of a couple of movies based on Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mysteries it seemed logical enough to attempt an adaptation of a novel featuring Christie’s other popular series detective, Miss Marple. The result was The Mirror Crack'd in 1980 and it’s rather entertaining.

This British production boasts a galaxy of British and America acting talent. All-star films of this era often collapsed under the weight of too many stars (many of them being somewhat faded stars) but in this case they’re all well cast and they all do well.

There is great excitement in the picturesque little English village of St Mary Mead. Hollywood film star Maria Rudd (Elizabeth Taylor) is there to make a movie, along with her director husband Jason Rudd (Rock Hudson) and producer Martin N. Fenn (Tony Curtis).

All is not well with the film people however. Marina hasn’t made a movie for several years and has had a series of breakdowns. She is kept together, after a fashion, with pills. Things start to go really wrong when Fenn arrives at a party with another Hollywood star, Lola Brewster (Kim Novak). Lola is playing a small part in the film. Marina and Lola hate each other. Which is putting it mildly.

The party ends with an even bigger disaster. A woman from the village, a devoted Marina Rudd fan who has been looking forward to meeting her idol again (they met briefly during the war), keels over dead. Poison is suspected, and subsequently proved. But why on earth would anyone want to poison such an inoffensive soul?

Detective Chief Inspector Craddock (Edward Fox) is puzzled but perhaps his favourite aunt can help. His aunt being a certain Miss Jane Marple (Angela Lansbury), who has rendered him some very useful assistance in the past.

The key to the case seems to be the complicated relationships between Marina, Jason Rudd, Lola Brewster and Martin Fenn. 

Chief Inspector Craddock’s task might be frustrating but it has its compensation - he is a keen movie fan and is thoroughly enjoying mixing with the stars (he remembers some of Marina’s movies better than she does).

Although it’s based on an Agatha Christie novel the movie is not as plot-driven as you might expect (although Christie fans will be aware that there was actually a good deal more to her work than ingenious plotting). There’s quite an emphasis on character, and especially on the troubled life of Marina Rudd. This makes sense - there’s not much point in having major stars in a movie if they’re not going to be given something useful to do. Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson in particular get the chance to demonstrate their acting chops. 

The vendetta between Marina and Lola provides some of the film’s best moments, with some gloriously bitchy dialogue which Taylor and Novak deliver with relish. Taylor of course could play the bitch onscreen as well as any actress who has ever lived and Novak proves herself to be just as capable.

Edward Fox makes a very amiable detective, a thoroughly decent fellow who is no fool either. Whether Christie purists will approve or not I found Angela Lansbury to be a more than acceptable Miss Marple. She’s convincingly shrewd, she’s gently amusing and she’s likeable whether being syrupy. 

Director Guy Hamilton did not make a huge number of movies but among his relatively modest output can be found under-appreciated gems like The Best of Enemies and Funeral in Berlin as well as no less than four Bond movies (including the classic Goldfinger and the very underrated Diamonds Are Forever). Hamilton was quite at home with the mystery and suspense genres, especially when combined with the opportunity for visual excess, and he displays a sure touch here.

The Region 4 DVD offers a good anamorphic transfer without any extras apart from a trailer.

The Mirror Crack'd offers plenty of enjoyment. It looks splendid. It has a pretty decent plot. It has some fine acting from Rock Hudson, Edward Fox and Charles Gray (as the butler) and some deliciously ripe but entirely appropriate over-acting from Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Novak and Tony Curtis. Angela Lansbury is an engaging and lively Miss Marple, being just feisty enough to have a bit of bite without ever becoming irritating or saccharine. It’s not a movie to be taken seriously but it doesn’t wasn’t to be taken seriously. This is not a substantial and nourishing meal - it’s a slice of rich chocolate cake and if you’re in the mood to indulge yourself it offers plenty of enjoyment. Highly recommended.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds great and I can't believe I have never watched it. However, I may wait a while because I want to read the book first. Wonderful overview.