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Murder She Said (1961) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • Old miss Marple is on a train ride when she witnesses a murder in a passing train. She reports it to the police but they won't believe her: since no body can be found there can't have been any murder, right? As always, she begins her own investigation. The murder was committed while passing Ackenthorpe Hall and miss Marple gets herself a job there, mixing cleaning and cooking with searching the house for clues.

  • Miss Marple witnesses a man strangling a woman through the window of a passing train. However, when police cannot turn up any evidence of the homicide, they dismiss the amateur sleuth as a dotty old woman. She enlists the help of Mr. Stringer, the village librarian and a kindred spirit, to trace the exact point where the body was thrown from the train. After the location is pinpointed at Ackenthorpe Hall, she is able to insinuate herself into the manor house disguised as a maid. Although the lord of the manor is a stingy but likable curmudgeon, Miss Marple suspects the body and the murderer can be found on the premises.

  • On a train home after a shopping expedition, Miss Jane Marple sees a woman being strangled on another train that is traveling alongside her own. She reports it to the conductor and the police investigate but can find no evidence of foul play and no body. Along with her friend Mr. Stringer, she determines that if the body was thrown off the train, it would have to be in the vicinity of Ackenthorpe Hall. She wrangles a post as cook at the hall and soon becomes quite friendly with the youngest of the family, Alexander. Working there gives her plenty of time to search the grounds and despite the crusty old Ackenthorpe's complaints - he's under the care of the local Dr. Quimper for any variety of ailments - she finds the woman's body hidden in one of the outbuildings. Having established that someone was killed, it's left to Miss Marple to determine who she is and who wanted her dead.

  • While traveling back home by train, the spinster Miss Jane Marple witnesses a woman being strangled by a man in another train. She reports the murder to the police. However Inspector Craddock does not find any corpse or evidence of the reported murder and discredits the old lady believing that she is senile and fan of detective stories. Miss Marple decides to investigate the crime and she concludes that the corpse was dumped at the Ackenthorpe Hall and she gets a job of housemaid, cleaning and cooking for the Ackenthorpe family. Soon she learns that they are a dysfunctional family and the heirs are like vulture of the selfish patriarch Luther Ackenthorpe waiting for their inheritance. Therefore all of them may be the culprit for the murder... or not?

  • When Miss Marple reports witnessing a murder through the window of a passing train, the police dismiss her as a dotty spinster when no trace of the crime can be found.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • This is based on the Agatha Christie book "4:50 from Paddington" and the opening locale is Paddington Station in London. The movie starts with Miss Jane Marple (Margaret Rutherford) being escorted with her bags, by a porter, onto a train car. While traveling through the countryside another train slowly overtakes and Miss Marple sees a murder being committed -- a man whose face she can't see choking a woman in her thirties.

    She reports the murder to the porter and although he is disbelieving, he reports it to the authorities at the next station, Brackhampton. At her home, she is interviewed by Inspector Craddock, C.I.D. (Charles Tingwell). He is skeptical, too, as they have done a search for a body and found nothing. Miss Marple informs him she is going to do her own investigation.

    She enlists the aide of her friend Mr. Stringer (played by Stringer Davis, Margaret Rutherford's real-life husband), the local librarian, and they do a search along the railroad line. There they find a piece of the fur from the murdered woman's fur collar at the top of a masonry wall that separates the rail line from a private estate, which Mr. Stringer identifies as Ackenthorpe Hall Estate. They have to take cover from a groundskeeper walking a fierce-looking dog and Miss Marple concocts a plan, which she subsequently carries out, to take employment at the hall to further investigate, for she is convinced that the murdered woman's body is on the hall grounds.

    As she arrives by a car driven by Mr. Stringer at the hall (which appears to be right on the edge of town), we see it as past its best days but still nice. It sits on grounds of five or ten acres. We see the staff which consists of Mrs. Kidder who comes in three times a week to do the "rough work" and some cooking, a gardener and groundskeeper, Hillman, and now Miss Marple as the main house-keeper and cook. She is greeted by the daughter, Emma, of the owner, Mr. Ackenthorpe (James Robertson Justice) . Also living there is Emma's nephew who is visiting while on school holidays. Mr. Ackenthorpe is an irascible old man, an invalid who spends most of his time in his room. He sneaks cigars and booze against doctor's orders. There's a verbal exchange and Miss Marples gives as good as she gets.

    Settling in, she meets the nephew, fourteen year old Alexander Easley, a good natured but mischievous kid. He describes the future heirs to Mr. Ackenthorpe's estate: "Uncle Harold, stinking rich and just as mean." "Uncle Albert, deadly dull, poor fellow." "Uncle Cedric who paints, but not for art's sake." "There was an Uncle Edmond who was killed during the war." and then there's Alexander's father Brian Eastley, "the WWII fighter ace". His mother is dead.

    The other major character is Mr. Ackenthorpe's house-visiting physician, Dr. Quimper,who it is apparent has a romantic relationship with Emma.

    Next day on the job, she investigates the grounds under the guise of practicing golf. We learn she won the "Ladies Open Handicap in 1921". Alexander accompanies her as she explores the outbuildings. Inside are old carriages and buggies, and a room which contains some Egyptian artifacts. They also find a music compact, which we later learn had fallen from the murdered woman's clothing. "Jane" claims it as her own. Hillman arrives and runs them off before they can explore the Egyptian room. That night Jane sneaks out to the Egyptian room and finds the murdered woman's corpse hidden in a sarcophagus. She has Mr. Stringer anonymously inform the police.

    As Inspector Craddick and his Sergeant are investigating the scene, the doctor arrives and suggests that the woman is French because of the clothes she is wearing. Miss Marple tells the inspector in private that she is the one who found the body, and now she has his respect.

    A day or days later, we see the heirs at dinner, as they are visiting for a weekend. There are the four men plus Emma. We learn each of the sons and son-in-law has some intrigue going on. There's also speculation that the murdered woman could have been "Martine" a French woman they've never met who supposedly married the son who was killed during the war in France. Emma had earlier received a letter from this Martine saying she was going to visit. If this Martine had arrived and shown proof of the marriage, she would have been entitled to a share of the estate, thus each heir would have had a financial incentive to murder her.

    Next we learn that the compact has been stolen from Jane's room and thus it is believed that this was done by the murderer and her life may be in danger. It also turns out that old Mr. Ackenthorpe had had an attack of indigestion some months prior. The doctor had had some suspicion of arsenic poisoning but hadn't mentioned it to the police. Emma takes the letter she received from Martine to the police.

    That night, after supper, several of the members of the family get seriously ill, and one, Albert dies.

    The next night, Harold is found dead with a shotgun wound, on the grounds.

    The compact is found -- young Alexander has taken it -- thus ending that line of investigation but Miss Marple announces she thinks she knows who the killer is, and has a plan to catch him, which she gives to Inspector Craddock, but which is kept from us.

    That night, everyone is gathered in the drawing room, and Alexander comes in showing off the music box, which he says belongs to Miss Marple, and which he had borrowed and will drop off with her on the way to bed. Later, Miss Marple is in her bedroom, knitting, when the killer enters -- it is Doctor Quimper. He had a plan to marry Emma and acquire a share of the inheritance but he was already married (unknown to everyone), so he had murdered his wife. His suggestion that the murdered woman was French was just to throw off the police and direct suspicion on the rest of the family. Miss Marple gets him to confess as he doesn't intend to let her live, but the police are in hiding and prevent the murder. Doctor Quimper is placed under arrest.

    The next day, Jane is giving her notice to Mr. Ackenthorpe and he proposes marriage, which she declines.

    The movie ends with Mr. Stringer taking Miss Marple home in his car. Alexander has affixed a bunch of cans on strings to the rear bumper along with a "Just Married" sign to the rear trunk deck. Alexander laughs and waves as he runs after the car.

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