MISS MARPLE: A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED

Delilah the Cat Unmasks a Murderer

“Just a silly joke” it was supposed to be, waitress Myrna (Liz Crowther) tells Inspector Craddock (John Castle) about her Swiss beau’s, hotel receptionist Rudi Scherz’s hold-up at elderly Miss Blacklock (Ursula Howells)’s home Little Paddocks. And it had begun just as planned: After Rudi’s startling anonymous advertisement in Chipping Cleghorn’s village gazette – “A murder is announced and will take place Friday, October the 5th, at Little Paddocks, at 7PM” – half the village had converged on the cottage, bursting with curiosity, and on pretexts from “just passing by” to “wondering whether Miss Blacklock mightn’t be interested in a kitten.” At 7PM sharp, the lights had gone out and Rudi had entered, adorned with mask and cape, dazzled the assembled group with a torch and commanded: “Stick ’em up!”

But then shots had rung out, and when the lights had finally been turned on again, the person lying dead had been Rudi himself. “Some joke,” Myrna comments bitterly.

Inspector Craddock’s and Sergeant Fletcher (Kevin Whately)’s task is complicated by the witnesses’ disagreement whether Scherz had aimed his torch (and revolver?) at one person in particular, and their disagreement over his reasons for the hold-up. But even though Miss Blacklock herself dismisses the idea as ludicrous, her sweet, somewhat scatterbrained companion Dora Bunner (Renée Asherson) insists that Scherz’s true intention must have been to kill her. Yet, that seems out of character for the young man, whose record merely reveals him as a petty con artist and, in Miss Blacklock’s words, “picker-up of unconsidered trifles.” Unless … well, unless someone put Rudi up to his scheme. And pressed by Inspector Craddock after a consultation with Miss Marple, who happens to be staying at the hotel that is Myrna’s and Rudi’s workplace, Myrna admits that indeed, someone had paid Rudi to do what he did. What is more, Miss Blacklock is to inherit a considerable fortune from her former employer, millionaire Randall Goedler, after the imminent death of his invalid wife. And while the main beneficiaries in the case of her own death are her young relatives Patrick and Julia Simmons (Simon Shepherd and Samantha Bond), currently members of her household alongside her theatrical and not always truthful maid Hannah (Elaine Ives-Cameron) and a lodger, a somewhat distant Mrs. Haymes (Nicola King), in the event Miss Blacklock predeceases Mrs. Goedler, the financier’s fortune goes to the children of his sister Sonia … whom Miss Blacklock only knows as “Pip” and Emma and who, like their mother, haven’t been heard from since before WWII.

Written 1950 and adapted for TV 1985 (the second of the BBC’s “Miss Marple” adaptations starring Joan Hickson), A Murder Is Announced reflects on the changes brought about by the war in English village life; with rationing, foreign refugees and other strangers moving to the countryside, and associated xenophobia. For before the war, people knew each other well, and new arrivals carried tokens of introduction from someone familiar to the local population, vouching for the newcomers’ trustworthiness. That, however, is gone forever, as Miss Marple explains to Inspector Craddock; you just have to take people at face value, along with their ration books and identity cards … “and can you really trust a ration book and an identity card?”

Originally airing on TV between 1984 and 1992, the BBC’s adaptations of Agatha Christie‘s twelve Miss Marple novels featured Joan Hickson in the title role; quickly establishing her as the quintessential Miss Marple even in the view of the creator of the grandmother (or rather, grand-aunt) of all village sleuths and “noticing kinds of persons,” Dame Agatha herself. (In fact, after seeing Hickson in a stage production of her Appointment With Death, as early as 1946 Christie had already sent her a note expressing the hope she would one day “play my dear Miss Marple.”) Prior versions, partly involving rather high-octane casts, featured, inter alia, Angela Lansbury and Margaret Rutherford, but were decidedly less faithful to Christie‘s books. While Lansbury holds her own fairly well in 1980’s “Hollywood does Christie” version of The Mirror Crack’d (and that movie’s ageing actresses’ camp showdown featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak is a delight to watch) the four movies starring Rutherford are only partially based on Christie‘s books: Dame Margaret’s Miss Marple, although itself likewise a splendid performance, has about as much to do with Agatha Christie‘s demure and seemingly scatterbrained village sleuth as Big Ben does with the English countryside, and of the scripts, only Murder, She Said is at least loosely based on an actual Miss Marple mystery (4:50 From Paddington), whereas two of the others – Murder at the Gallop and Murder Most Foul – are, instead, inspired by Hercule Poirot stories (After the Funeral and Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, respectively), and Murder Ahoy is based on a completely independent screenplay.

A Murder Is Announced is one of the stand-out features in the BBC series; not only because, like all installments, it takes great care in maintaining the tone and atmosphere set by Christie herself but also because of its stellar supporting cast, which includes Ralph Michael and Sylvia Syms (opinionated Colonel Easterbrook and his airheaded wife), Matthew Solon and Mary Kerridge (young leftist writer Edmund Swettenham and his silly mother), Paola Dionisotti (stout pig farmer Miss Hinchcliffe), Joan Sims (Miss Hinchcliffe’s simple-minded companion Miss Murgatroyd), and David Collings and Vivienne Moore (Reverend and Mrs. Harmon, Miss Marple’s niece and nephew-in-law, with whom the old lady spontaneously invites herself to stay close to the investigation: after all, “a policeman asking questions is open to the gravest suspicion, but an old lady asking questions is just an old lady asking questions,” as she points out to Inspector Craddock.) The episode also features some truly delightful editing; as such, Craddock’s soothing comment to Mrs. Haymes (“It’s not a bad thing being sensible”) is directly followed by Mrs. Swettenham’s overly dramatic reenactment of the murder, and Mrs. Easterbrook’s admiration for her husband’s self-assured but dead-wrong excursion into criminal psychology is succeeded by the snorting of a pig on the Hinchcliffe/Murgatroyd farm.

“Especially in an English village – turn over a stone, you have no idea what will crawl out,” Miss Marple tells Inspector Craddock during their first meeting over tea and crumpets. But not before some feline mischief by the Harmons’ cat Delilah does she realize who is responsible for Rudi Scherz’s murder – and those of Miss Bunner and Miss Murgatroyd, who’ve been killed in order to silence them. And therefore, “I won’t have a word said against that remarkable cat,” Miss Marple insists. Which decidedly makes her my feline partner in crime’s favorite detective …

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: BBC (1985)
  • Director: David Giles
  • Producers: Guy Slater & George Gallaccio
  • Screenplay: Alan Plater
  • Based on a novel by: Agatha Christie
Cast
  • Joan Hickson: Miss Jane Marple
  • John Castle: Detective Inspector Craddock
  • Kevin Whately: Detective Sergeant Fletcher
  • Ursula Howells: Miss Blacklock
  • Renée Asherson: Dora Bunner
  • Samantha Bond: Julia Simmons
  • Simon Shepherd: Patrick Simmons
  • Nicola King: Phillipa Haymes
  • Elaine Ives-Cameron: Hannah
  • Ralph Michael: Colonel Easterbrook
  • Sylvia Syms: Mrs. Easterbrook
  • Matthew Solon: Edmund Swettenham
  • Mary Kerridge: Mrs. Swettenham
  • Paola Dionisotti: Miss Hinchcliffe
  • Joan Sims: Miss Murgatroyd
  • Vivienne Moore: Mrs. Harmon
  • David Collings: Reverend Harmon
  • Liz Crowther: Myrna Harris
  • Tim Charrington: Rudi Scherz
  • Joyce Carey: Belle Goedler

 

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