In 1953, an American film crew arrives in a small English village to shoot a historical drama. When a woman is poisoned at a cocktail party held in honor of the movie’s main star (Dame Elizabeth Taylor, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), a Scotland Yard detective asks (Edward Fox, The Day of the Jackal) his aunt, Miss Marple (Dame Angela Lansbury, The Picture of Dorian Gray), to help him solve the baffling crime.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“I’m here about a minor matter of murder.”
Having struck gold with a couple of Agatha Christie movies, Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and John Guillermin’s Death on the Nile (1978), British producers John Brabourne (Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet) and Richard Goodwin (David Lean’s A Passage to India) decided to strike while the iron was hot.
Brabourne and Goodwin’s The Mirror Crack’d was meant to launch a series of movies featuring Christie’s sleuth Miss Marple, but the film underperformed at the box office and that was the end of that. The cast, mostly composed of older actors, was to blame for low ticket sales. But that’s exactly why the movie is fun to watch — it’s really cool to see ’50s movie stars in a story that revolves around the film industry in the ’50s.
Based on Christie’s 1962 novel The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, The Mirror Crack’d is more low-key than Brabourne and Goodwin’s previous Christie adaptations, but that doesn’t mean the film lacks entertainment value. The movie is delightfully self-aware: The story begins with Miss Marple attending a screening of a murder-mystery and this sequence cleverly alludes to the meta aspects of this fun whodunit.
The movie’s self-mocking attitude perfectly complements its uncomplicated plot. “The whole thing is really quite simple, isn’t it?,” the cunning Miss Marple declares, and she’s absolutely right. You don’t have to be good at solving puzzles to figure out who the killer is, or why he/she committed murder. British director Guy Hamilton — of Goldfinger (1964) Diamonds Are Forever (1971) fame — doesn’t do much to hide the clues either.
Even if you get ahead of Miss Marple, there is a good chance that you’ll enjoy the movie’s endless jabs at old Hollywood. People well versed in film history, in particular, will immediately notice the inspiration for each character — it’s clear that Christie modeled the fictional characters after real-life Hollywood wheelers and dealers. And judging from the tongue-in-cheek performances, I’m sure the actors were in on the joke.
Speaking of the actors, I was happy to see that Dame Angela Lansbury avoided the comical Jane Marple made popular by Dame Margaret Rutherford in four British movies. While not as good as Joan Hickson (my favorite Marple), Lansbury does a fine job here, a sort of “dress rehearsal” for Lansbury’s sleuth Jessica Fletcher in the hit TV series Murder, She Wrote — Miss Maple and Fletcher are sisters under the skin.
Elizabeth Taylor, in her last lead role in a theatrical movie, is great as an actress attempting a comeback. Taylor has, of course, great chemistry with Giant (1956) co-star Rock Hudson, who plays Liz’s protective husband. Kim Novak (Vertigo) is hilarious as Taylor’s old nemesis — Novak and Taylor exchange witty insults! Tony Curtis (The Defiant Ones) plays a movie mogul, Geraldine Chaplin (Doctor Zhivago) plays Hudson’s assistant, and in a bit part, Pierce Brosnan (GoldenEye).
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
After reading some scathing reviews (Chicago critic David Kerr referred to the film’s direction as “unbelievably slack and monotonous”), I didn’t expect to like The Mirror Crack’d as much as I did. Although nowhere near as good as Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, The Mirror Crack’d nevertheless has plenty to offer to all whodunit aficionados in general. Color, 105 minutes, Rated PG.