|Mirror Crack'd, The|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 27 February 2001|
How much you enjoy 'The Mirror Crack'd' will depend a great deal more on your appreciation of this cast and this genre of movie. The movie was directed by Guy Hamilton, who rode his directing 'Goldfinger,' much further than would seem possible, and produced by Richard Goodwin and John Brabourne, who had made Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot into a movie favorite (for a while).
Clearly, they hoped to do the same with Christie's other famous "detective," Miss Jane Marple, elderly spinster of the village St. Mary's Mead, who usually solved murders by comparing the activities of the people in question to the residents of her home town. They put together this terrific cast, their budget was fine, and the resulting movie is modestly entertaining in much the same manner as Christie's novels.
Unfortunately, however, they didn't choose the best possible book to adapt. The mystery is highly guessable, especially as presented in the script by Jonathan Hales and Barry Sandler; it works far better in print than when dramatized -- as the other feature-length version demonstrates equally clearly. That was an entry in the excellent Miss Marple TV series starring Joan Hickson, who is the next-to-the-best Miss Marple of all time. (The best was Helen Hayes in a couple of TV movies; she made Miss Marple tougher and a little more obviously snoopy.)
Furthermore, as entertaining an actress as she generally is, Angela Lansbury was altogether the wrong person to play Jane Marple. She's too robust, too young, and here gives one of her few mistaken performances. She overdoes everything just a shade, and as a result, is never believable. (And it's really quite a shock to see her smoking.) Although Margaret Rutherford, star of a quartet of Miss Marple movies back in the 1960s, was miles upon miles from being Agatha Christie's Jane Marple, she was much more convincing -- and much more entertaining.
Fortunately, however, Lansbury is hardly the whole show, here, and in fact, being stuck at home with a twisted ankle, doesn't turn up as often as you'd expect the central detective to do. Her nephew Delbert Craddock (Edward Fox) and her maid Cherry (Wendy Morgan) act as information-gatherers for Miss Marple throughout the story.
An American movie company has come to St. Mary's Mead to shoot scenes for a very unlikely-looking tale of Mary, Queen of Scots. Famous movie star Marina Rudd (Elizabeth Taylor) has come out of retirement -- brought about by the death of a child years before -- to play Mary for her devoted husband Jason. Neither of them are very happy when brassy producer Marty Fenn (Tony Curtis) has insisted upon casting Marina's old nemesis Lola Brewster (Kim Novak) as Queen Elizabeth I. (Watch quickly for a glimpse of Pierce Brosnan in a scene with Novak.)
Marina is a great star, but she's not a strong person; it's taken her a great deal of strength and courage to return to acting, and to come to a small town in England. A reception is held to welcome the movie crew to St. Mary's Mead; everyone is especially thrilled to meet Marina, including chatty fan Heather Babcock (Maureen Bennett), who insists on telling the patient Marina all about a previous encounter they had had.
Soon thereafter, Heather dies -- poisoned by a drink clearly meant for Marina. Miss Marple tries to solve the crime.
Even though the killer's identity is pretty clear (to us -- not to the characters), the motive isn't, and it takes some doing to uncover that. Hamilton keeps things moving at a rather leisurely pace, but the production values are strong, and there's that great cast.
Taylor and Hudson became good friends when they costarred in 'Giant;' this was the only other time they played opposite each other, and their pleasure in doing so is obvious. There's a real warmth in their scenes together that illuminates the film and, at times, even deflects our interest in the murder plot.
In fact, the entire cast seems to be having a grand time, including Tony Curtis as the world's crassest Hollywood producer. He grabs a phone, bellows "Get me the coast!" Pause. "Whaddaya mean," he asks, genuinely puzzled, "what coast?" Kim Novak, in one of her last appearances as an actor, is clearly delighted to be playing a self-obsessed, awesomely vain Hollywood star with little talent but a very sharp tongue. The script gives her and Taylor some great opportunities for silken, bitchy dialog:
"There are only two things I hate about you, Lola dear," Marina purrs.
"What are those?" replies Lola, smiling for photographers.
"Your face," Marina finishes.
Novak also has a great scene in which she tries virtually to seduce Inspector Craddock, exploding in rage when he's not only having none of it, but tops her.
This stuff is the great fun of 'The Mirror Crack'd:' seeing top Hollywood stars enjoying themselves playing well-drawn Hollywood stereotypes. Yes, the stars were past their prime, but that only adds to our pleasure: they can still crank it up when they want to. It's not great drama, it's only a murder mystery, but at its intermittent best, the film sparkles. It goes on too long, but it's mostly fine entertainment of the kind they literally do not make any more.
It's handsomely produced, with rich photography by Christopher Challis that captures the region very well; the production design by Michael Stringer makes St. Mary's Mead just a bit larger than you'd think from the Christie novels (Jane Marple's house, too), but the 1950s setting is well-captured. It's a glossy, smooth production, a pleasure to watch on just a professional level. Don't expect the Dolby mono sound to be anything more than serviceable.
You have to suspect that Angela Lansbury enjoyed playing Miss Marple, the murder-solving creation of a great mystery writer -- because in 1984, she began her long-running TV series, 'Murder, She Wrote.' In that, she played a small-town woman (a widow rather than a spinster) who solved crimes -- and who was a great mystery writer herself. Maybe she regretted that a series of Miss Marple movies didn't follow 'The Mirror Crack'd.'
This is one of a quartet of Agatha Christie-based mysteries released on DVD by Anchor Bay. They're very good choices for home video; 'The Mirror Crack'd' is actually more fun watched at home than it was in theaters.