Murder She Said

PrintE-mail Written by Cleaver Patterson Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Fright of Your Life - by Cleaver Patterson

A somewhat dotty old spinster rushes to catch the train home, after a busy days shopping in London. Hurrying through the barriers she clambers on board the train with seconds to spare, settling into her seat as the Brackhampton train pulls out of the Paddington Station at exactly 4.50pm!

After a few minutes reading a lurid crime paperback she picked up at the platform kiosk, she nods off, lulled by the gentle rhythm of the train (things were so much quieter on public transport in the 1960's). Sometime later, she's unsure quite how long, she is awoken by the screaming whistle of a passing train, which is followed by another a moment later.

As the second train has almost passed, a blind in a compartment window springs up, to reveal a scene bound to wake anyone from even the deepest slumber.

As the distressed old lady looks on, she sees a young woman being strangled by a pair of gloved hands, the owner of which remains hidden. However, before the old lady can fully comprehend what she has just seen, the second train picks up speed and has disappeared. At the same moment the door to her own compartment is opened by a conductor requesting her ticket.

Conductor: Tickets please.

Old Lady: A woman has been strangled, I saw it.

Conductor: I beg your pardon?

Old Lady: A man strangled a woman in a train. I saw it out there.

Conductor: Strangled?

Old Lady: Yes strangled. You must do something about it at once.

Conductor: Me? Well I ...

The book the old lady has been reading is lying open beside her and catches the conductor's eye. The cover shows a young blonde woman with a knife protruding from her chest, and a masked figure peering through an open doorway, under the melodramatic title, 'Death Has Many Windows'!

Conductor: Madam. Don't you think you perhaps had a little nap, and maybe had a bad dream?

Old Lady: Young man I was not dreaming I saw it. What are you going to do about it?

Conductor: Well, errrr ... Look we'll be in Brackhampton in about five minutes. I'll report it as soon as we get there.

Old Lady: Thank you.

Conductor: Could I have your name and address miss?

Old Lady: Yes of course. Miss Jane Marple, Old Pasture Lane, Millchester.

Conductor: Very well Miss Marple, I'll report this to the Stationmaster.

Miss Marple: Yes please do.

The conductor beats a hasty retreat, closing the compartment door with a raise of his eyebrows.

Miss Marple: A bad dream indeed!



1961 87 mins

Director: George Pollock; Writers: David Pursall, Jack Seddon (based on Agatha Christie's, 4.50 From Paddington); Photography: Geoffrey Faithfull; Music: Ron Goodwin

Cast: Miss Jane Marple (Margaret Rutherford), Dr Quimper (Arthur Kennedy), Emma (Muriel Pavlow), Mr Ackenthorpe (James Robertson Justice), Cedric (Thorley Walters), Mrs Kidder (Joan Hickson), Mr Stringer (Stringer Davis), Ticket Conductor (Peter Butterworth), Mrs Binster (Richard Briers)

"Stealing every scene that's she's in, the indomitable Rutherford plays Miss Marple with a zesty zeal that papers over the film's unlikely plot" - BBC On-line Film Review

"Christie herself was no fan of the MGM movies, apparently, but taken on their own merits, each film offers first-class entertainment that holds up today" - The Aisle Seat (Andre Dursin, 28/03/06)

What, you may ask, is a scene from an Agatha Christie film doing in Fright of Your Life? However, those who dismiss stories, and their celluloid adaptations, by the 'Queen of Crime' as passé, formulaic, pot boilers, lacking in originality, are missing the point of Christie's creations, particularly Miss Marple. It is their normality, albeit in a quintessentially English fashion, that makes the countless (and frequently brutal) murders that pepper the stories so disturbing.

Take for instance the premise of Murder She Said based (loosely) on one of Christie's more famous Marple adventures, The 4.50 From Paddington. What could be more harmless than catching a train (though some would say you are dicing with death by taking any form of British public transport). Once ensconced in her own 1st class compartment, who could blame Miss Marple for nodding off, in a false sense of comfort and security. Which makes her rude awakening to the sight of a woman being strangled in a passing train, all the more shocking. Add to this the fact that no one (neither the ticket conductor or later the police) believe the ramblings of a dotty old lady, and you have the perfect setting for a story which uses subtle suggestion and disturbing inference to rack up the tension until the cleverly twisted ending. Fleeting appearances by two of Britain's comedy greats, Butterworth and Briers, also disarm the viewer - how could anything happen when your surrounded by such genial company? Wrong again!

Christie's stories, though somewhat plodding in style compared to the crime writers of today, nonetheless transfer wonderfully to the television or cinema screen. The Margaret Rutherford series from the 1960's, had the added advantage of being shot in black and white, making the old house where Marple tracks the body to, and passes herself off as a maid in order to investigate the murderous goings on, all the more sinister. Creaking doors, shifting curtains and power cuts may seem a little prosaic, but they work here. As Joan Hickson's housekeeper exclaims when leaving the house on the chime of six, "I wouldn't stay in this place after dark - not for all the tea in China".

Hickson's character, after Rutherford's, also gets some of the pithiest lines, her dry humour adding to rather than detracting from the underlying sense of melancholy that shrouds the house like the mist that encroaches from the surrounding gardens. When she greets Rutherford's Marple for the first time at the front door, she looks her up and down, before saying dismissively, "The new maid? Well you look old enough to know better!". The film's assistant director, a certain Douglas Hickox, may also have had a hand in creating this foreboding atmosphere. A decade later he would give life to one of the most underrated horror films to come out of Britain (or any other country form that matter), the classic Theatre of Blood.

Christie herself, wasn't the greatest fan of Rutherford's interpretation of the spinster sleuth. Though not so about another member of the cast. Rumour has it that upon meeting Joan Hickson on set she said, "You are my Miss Marple!". Prophetic words indeed!

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Other articles in The Fright of Your Life - by Cleaver Patterson

Dead of Night 14 December 2011

Corruption 14 November 2011

The Thirteenth Reunion - Hammer House of Horror 14 October 2011

Cat Amongst The Pigeons (The New Avengers) 14 September 2011

Tales From The Crypt 14 August 2011

The Ghoul 14 July 2011

Murders In The Zoo 11 May 2011

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