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Sunday, April 18, 2010

MISS MARPLE . . . 6.5 (1961 - 200?)

Agatha Christie’s redoubtable spinster sleuth has not lacked for interpreters. Margaret Rutherford’s eccentric blunderbuss was good fun on its own terms and certainly better than Helen Hayes’ treacly busybody. Angela Lansbury’s no-nonsense Marple was more like a warm-up for her role as tv’s Jessica Fletcher, but that great bawd, Elsa Lancaster, earns a half-credit for her well-observed near-Marple turn in Neil Simon’s pastiche/parody MURDER BY DEATH. She got a lot closer to the mark than the current ITV series! This is a flat-out botch with rejiggered storylines and two clueless Marples (twinkly Geraldine McEwen & tweedy Julia McKenzie). No, in the end, there’s only one Jane Marple on film, that deceptively modest character actress Joan Hickson who brought impeccable comic timing, Zen-like concentration, Old Testament severity & believable knitting skills to her assumption. The stories are taken just seriously enough to resonant with surprising force in the well-chosen ‘50s environment where murder seems abetted by the social upheaval of post-WWII England. It goes too far to say that Hickson’s Marple looks forward to these crimes, but she is pleased to find her opinion of human nature confirmed. Other Marples solve cases, Hickson’s Marple uncovers human foibles. SLEEPING MURDER is the rare episode that largely misses the mark, and a few tend to be on the poky side, but most are delectable (more so as you get to know Jane), and there are lots of fine guests. The best include A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED, MURDER AT THE VICARAGE, AT BERTRAM’S HOTEL and Christie's moving finale, NEMESIS.

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