Friday, 15 February 2019

Helen Hayes as Miss Marple in Murder with Mirrors

I have been away and watched some current day television. It was rubbish, by and large, but gave me some ideas for posts here. I watched some Murder She Wrote and remembered how I got myself in trouble some time ago by asking if Angela Lansbury strikes Americans as a convincing American. I was hoping for a yes or no answer and didn't get one! So I thought I'd relive it by writing about an American playing Miss Marple.
...who of course isn't a convincing English person to a native speaker, but this film does a good job overall of portraying a cast of mixed nationality as British, while having a good go at dealing with our ridiculously complicated social stratification, and the film ends up very watchable. I would be interested in how they sound to US viewers.
In general I shouldn't like this film, because it is a festival of big names, in addition to Helen Hayes we have Bette Davis and Leo McKern. They are such good actors that their presence isn't distracting. I see that both Davis and Hayes were over 80 when they made this and Davis had been terribly ill in the preceding year. I hope I can take on new things at their age!
I have seen all four of the adaptations of this book (Murder Ahoy was based on it, but Christie wasn't impressed) and like this one best. IMHO the premise of this Christie is rather dissatisfying - the fact it takes place in a house running with delinquents muddies the water too much, but I feel this adaptation feels more like a conventional country house murder, and Miss Marple rightly spends the majority of the time investigating the relationships of the people who aren't delinquents. This is exactly the sort of investigation Marple excels at.
There is one part where it goes slightly wrong, where Miss Marple talks to the American character, despite being American herself. I like Helen Hayes a lot as Miss Marple. I like the way the little old lady act is portrayed as just that, in fact I think she is the perfect compromise between fluffiness and incisiveness of Marple.
My absolute favourite bit is where the police officer, who had been warned by a colleague, tells Miss Marple to stop pretending to be a doddery little old lady!
I don't really have any criticisms, unusually for me. I just wish Hayes was better known for playing Marple here. Her portrayals of Miss Marple are of course available in region 1 DVDs and in German region 2 releases. I have no idea what language the latter are in so buy at your own risk!

2 comments:

Mike Doran said...

Chicago Calling (History Time!):

In the early '80s, the CBS network in America swung a deal with producer David Wolper, Warner Bros- TV, and the Agatha Christie Estate to adapt a bunch of Christie stories for the US audience.

These were American productions, at least at the producing end.
There were eight of these TV-movies all-told: three Poirots starring Peter Ustinov, two Marples with Helen Hayes, and three standalones with mainly US stars working side-by-side with reasonably well-known Brits.
The behind-the-camera talent was also mainly American, while the actual film production was split up between Hollywood and GB.

In the case of Murder With Mirrors, which was one of the later films in the cycle, the writer-producer, George Eckstein, and the director, Dick Lowry, were Yanks; that CBS and WB were willing to spend the bucks on a full location production in England (with a mostly British cast that largely wasn't well-known in the States) speaks to the general Anglophilia of the time.

About accents:
Helen Hayes was long-known as "The First Lady Of The American Theater", which in the minds of many Yanks made her at least proto-British (the lady herself was more amused than anything else at this; she often joked that she'd received that tony title from a US radio sponsor).
In her later years she became proficient at what was called a "Mid-Atlantic" accent, which many expat British performers developed to get movie and TV work in the US.
(Or so the story goes - correction welcomed if needed.)

The CBS Christies can be found on US DVDs, if you're willing to look for them.
They're a mixed bag, to say the least; I don't know how (or if) they played on your side of the pond.

Comes to that (off-topic), I've sometimes wondered how the British TV audience really felt about John Hillerman as Higgins on the original Magnum, P.I. (you know, the good one).
I mean, was it common knowledge that Hillerman was a native of Denison, Texas?
Just askin', is all …

You know, I thought I'd made it clear all that time back that Angela Lansbury's long-term residence in the USA had sufficiently blurred whatever Britishness may have been in her speech long before her TV stardom - and her Hollywood and Broadway stardom before that.
Recall that all those award nominations she'd gotten were for American characters, like the monster mom in Manchurian Candidate, or Mame on Broadway, and like that there.

I'm a bit dry at the moment; we can pick this up later, if you wish.
All the best from the Great (?) Midwest!

John said...

Ah, thank you Mike. I didn't suss what you meant about Angela Lansbury.
I didn't know there were other CBS Christie's, and will look them up. The Ustinov Poirots are better known here...