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This is a made-for-TV movie starring Helen Hayes as Miss Marple and
features several prominent stars - Bette Davis, John Mills, Dorothy
Tutin and Leo McKern.
Miss Marple is asked to visit an old friend, Carrie-Louise Serrocold (Davis) by her stepson who is concerned that his stepmother is being slowly poisoned. Once Miss Marple arrives at the English country estate, she soon discovers that all is not as it seems.
The location scenery is lovely, however the story is set in the 1980's, losing the authentic period atmosphere so closely associated with Agatha Christie.
Helen Hayes gives a decent performance, although Bette Davis is under-used and looks visibly frail. John Mills is good, as always, and Dorothy Tutin gives a sympathetic turn as Davis's down-trodden daughter. Leo McKern portrays the police inspector with relish, including several entertaining exchanges with Miss Marple.
The plot keeps you guessing, complemented by the usual red herrings supplied by Agatha Christie. Overall, an enjoyable film.
In what turned out to be Helen Hayes's farewell role, she reprises the
role of Agatha Christie's famous spinster sleuth Jane Marple in Murder
Is Easy. This also gives Hayes the once in a lifetime opportunity to
work with another legend, Bette Davis who is the prospective victim of
a poisoning plot.
Helen's solicitor is worried about some strange goings on at his stepmother Bette Davis's place and is in fear for her safety. It turns out that the solicitor is the murdered party, shot while everyone else is seemingly accounted for. It's a typical Agatha Christie setup and of course there's the ever helpful Jane Marple to aid the police, in this case in the person of Leo McKern. Two more deaths occur before the mystery is solved.
It's a delight to see both Hayes and Davis together and that's what the film is designed primarily to do. But frankly it's one of Agatha Christie's weakest plots. If you cannot figure out who did the crime almost immediately after the deed is done, you have not seen too many of these films. It's really rather obvious.
Still for fans of Helen and Bette, it's not to be missed.
If "A Caribbean Mystery" (1983) was the traditional "murder at an exotic resort during the holidays" story, "Murder with Mirrors" (1985) is the traditional "murder in a huge English countryside manor" story. It was the second and last appearance of Helen Hayes as Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, and it's a shame she didn't make any more: she is a very wily yet very human Marple, and acts quite youthfully for her 80+ years. The films themselves are better than the TV movies with Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot that were made around the same time, mainly because they don't overplay the comedy. Although the big names in the supporting cast are an old Bette Davis and a young Tim Roth, if anyone stands out it's the beautiful redhead Liane Langland and Leo McKern as the inspector on the case. The story contains the typical AC false assumptions and crafty illusions, and I, for one, did not have a clue what was going on until Miss Marple and the inspector revealed it. A good solid outing for fans of the genre. (***)
One of Agatha's easier mysteries to solve begins with some decent location atmosphere and solid characters then soon nosedives, like most Christie adaptions, into the silly. I agree that Dame Bette looks sadly old here and is basically wasted, so Helen Hayes makes up for a lot as the nosy Miss Marple. The funniest part of unintentional giggles, next to that exploding car crashing thru the gate, which never happened in book form, is seeing Tim Roth as a so called delinquient teen. He's a riot here and helps the disappointment factor from jumping too high. It's also nice to see Leo McCern from Rumple of the Bailey in a token, gruffy, voice-of-the-law role which plays off the Hayes cuteness level without too much strain. Too bad the plot wasn't as meticulously handled as the scenery...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Having really rather enjoyed Helen Hayes' first outing as Miss Marple
in 'A Caribbean Mystery' I was looking forward to this, her second and
last. Unfortunately it doesn't work so well. Again, the adaptation
follows the original novel quite closely (apart from the silly business
with the Anton Rogers character and the cutting of a couple of
characters) but the script is rather mediocre and plods along slowly.
Updating the action to the eighties doesn't actually hurt the story
very much - once we are at Stonygates we could be in any decade from
the forties onwards.
Despite a wandering accent, I like Hayes' Marple and she's probably the strongest thing in this. Unlike 'Caribbean Mystery' however she has rather a weak supporting cast this time. It's a pity to see such strong actors as John Mills, Dorothy Tutin and Frances de la Tour given so little to do and such 'cardboard cut-out' characters to play. Bette Davis is surely there for her name alone - it's sad to see this performance only ten years or so after her cracking Miss Van Schuyler in 'Death On The Nile'. I quite liked John Laughlin and Liane Langland as the young marrieds but that was about it.
This film is not terrible and is worth a look; it's done with affection and is really quite faithful. To be fair the book is not one of Christie's strongest and even the Joan Hickson version is not all that great. After her adventure in the West Indies though, this Helen Hayes Marple remains disappointing.
The only reason I saw this was for Bette Davis. She was frail as a
bird, yet beautiful in her old age. Love that she's wearing big false
eyelashes!!! Otherwise this Agatha Christie movie was so DULL! With so
many missed opportunities for some entertaining mystery!
It was badly filmed and cheap-looking and virtually suspense-free! The murder scene when the people are in the drawing room was botched by the director. No atmosphere at all!!!!
Almost no fun dialog that said much about the characters. The only good actors were the woman playing Mildred and John Mills. Helen Hayes was really shaky as ms. Marple. Her American accent came through much too much -and she was supposed to be a great stage actress!!!! Leo McKern was the only one adding some personality to his character. The young actors were terrible but the American guy was at least not wearing underwear under his jeans...!!!!
This is certainly NOT one of the classic Agathas and does not deserve to be mentioned!
This film is interesting for a number of reasons - not so much as a
sharp pot-boiler that will keep you guessing to an enthralling climax
while being stylishly stuffed full of Joan Hickson-esque quintessential
old world charm - but more so because of when and how it was made, and
who appears in it.
The 1980's embraced the TV Movie, and the major studio players from the 30's, 40's and 50's, were still to be found appearing on screen in them, some times looking ridiculously out of place and, quite frankly, far too old and somehow exercising a diminished talent. But often still giving assured and classy performances, showing that to 'The End' (quite literally) they maintained their professional ability and standing. One can only look at Helen Hayes - The First Lady of the American Stage as she was referred to (I suppose this is why she begins quoting Shakespeare when she is seen on stage in this film) - and revel in her warm and intelligent final film appearance, and then recall poor Joan Crawford, an Oscar winning actress who thrilled and chilled in many movies, iconic in fashion and style for most of her adult life, whose final film appearance was the appalling 'Trog', where she looks old, embarrassed, and barely able to act at all. (Mind you, in fairness, she is romping about for most of it with a man in a dodgy gorilla suit grunting and moaning - the gorilla, not her.) The TV Movie could be regarded as a safe house cum retirement home for the once famous. (Channel Five daytime scheduling entertains quite a few, and you will often find an ex-Charlie's Angel or Dynasty cast member crying a lot, usually over the abduction of a child or diagnosis of an incurable disease). The plot lines and characters within a lot of these types of 'based on actual events' or biographical stories are almost echoes of some of the dramas being made on film by the big studios (particularly Warner Brothers and Universal) in the 40's and 50's. If they were shot in black and white, the short and sharp narratives, and economic style of shooting and limited camera work, could almost put them in to the B-movie Film Noir category. They are modern day (or 80's into 90's into today) versions of the pulp fiction and magazine serial type stories of times gone by.
As a film fanatic, with a great love of actresses of the 30's and 40's, I cherish a movie like Murder With Mirrors. It seems crazy to have Margo Channing from All About Eve, the nurse from Farewell to Arms (the character name escapes me - I could have said one of the nannies from One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing, but great as that movie is, it is not Miss Hayes's finest celluloid moment),Miss Jones from Rising Damp along side Rumpole of the Baily, the husband from Fresh Fields and a 'teenage' Tim Roth. There's a kind of Sunday night 'bath and hair-wash and finishing off your homework' type of cosiness about this movie as well.
It does lack humour, especially compared to Ustinov's Poirot, and it is not at all charming in the lavender water scented fashion that seems to go hand in hand with Hickson or even Margaret Rutherford's Marple (the contemporary setting has a lot to do with that - no one even speaks in a faux country bumpkin accent until the police constable opens his mouth!), but it zips along in a pacey soap opera kind of way, and Leo McKern is laid back and commanding while Dorothy Tutin is extreme and commanding.
Bette Davis was in pain for much of the shoot (according to her book 'This 'n That') and she doesn't seem to be enjoying herself much. But the short scenes she shares with Mills and Hayes are so solid and well acted (she is so frail and laden down with make-up, it is a wonder she doesn't actually topple over forwards!) that it is a blessing to see her still working.
This film is not so much about the story or the style, it is about cherishing the starry cast who all contribute as best they can and somehow, make you feel engrossed by and sympathetic to their altogether quite flimsy characters.
Amateur sleuth Miss Marple visits London, is asked by an old friend to drop in on an elderly woman acquaintance whose life may be in danger. Despite Helen Hayes as Jane Marple, and Bette Davis in one of her final performances, this television-made Agatha Christie yarn is colorlessly cast, poorly written and directed, creaking and dreary the entire way through. Our introductions to the square, galumphing characters are impossibly awkward, and Hayes doesn't give her famous character the fresh spin required. Still doing what she did in 1970's "Airport" (and most likely beyond), Hayes slips around corners with 'cute' wide eyes and disagreeable looks, like a perturbed squirrel. Davis, John Mills, and Leo McKern (reunited with Hayes from 1977's "Candleshoe") try somewhat to inject a little bounce into the scenario, but it's a leadweight affair with no particularly inventive denouement.
In the last role of her career, Helen Hayes gives a fine performance as
Jane Marple, in this Agatha Christie whodunit, set mostly at an English
estate. Although not one of my favorite Christie puzzles, the story is
still pretty good, and worth watching, once. Character relationships
are a bit complex, but the suspect pool is still manageable at seven or
With breaks where the commercials would be, and cheap, nondescript background music, the film has a very made-for-TV look and feel. Some of the dialogue in the first ten minutes can be easily misinterpreted, so you must listen carefully or you will be led astray. As usual, clues are pleasantly subtle. Once you figure out the main clue, identifying the killer is easy.
In addition to Helen Hayes, actor Leo McKern, as the gruff inspector, also gives a nice performance; he seems like he's enjoying his role. Other performances tend to be perfunctory or stagy. Bette Davis, looking embalmed, has little to do; mostly she just sits or stands, as she mouths her few lines, and makes facial expressions suitable to the scene. I suspect she was brought in only for her star power, to draw in viewers.
"Murder With Mirrors" will appeal mostly to viewers who like whodunits, especially Agatha Christie whodunits. Although the story is a somewhat generic murder mystery, it does have entertainment value.
Based on Agatha Christie's They Do It With Mirrors, this TV film is entertaining if rather too obvious at times. I will admit though, the book isn't Christie's best, but it is an interesting read. Here, the mystery is updated, and does deviate from the book. I will admit, although the Joan Hickson version wasn't that faithful to the book, I admit I do prefer it. Back to Murder With Mirrors, the adaptation does have some nice camera-work, some lovely locations, and the costumes while nothing fancy were pleasing to the eye. Helen Hayes, in her swansong, gives a very enjoyable performance as Miss Marple, and is quite cute too. Out of the supporting actors, Leo McKern comes out on top, with a gleefully gruff portrayal of Inspector Curry. Nice turns also from Dorothy Tuton and Tim Roth. However, Bette Davis and John Mills, two fine actors, and two of the three main reasons why I wanted to see this, the other bring I love Agatha Christie, have very little to do in their roles. But my main problem with the film, other than the rather contrived final solution, was the screenplay. I thought every character was badly underwritten, and most of the plot changes are badly underdeveloped. Also, Miss Marple's speech before she is almost killed in the theatre, was very poorly written, but maybe that's just me. All in all, entertaining but could have been better. 6/10 Bethany Cox
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