Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who is the murderer among them all?
Agatha Christie’s amateur sleuth, Miss Jane Marple, has been well served on both the big and little screens over the years. Margaret Rutherford portrayed her in five memorable British films in the early 1960s (Murder She Said, Murder at the Gallop, Murder Most Foul, Murder Ahoy, The Alphabet Murders) and later, Joan Hickson dawned the mantle for 12 British television movies (beginning with The Body in the Library  and concluding with The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side ).
In between, there was one lone portrayal by Angela Lansbury in 1980. This appeared during a run of Christie stories on film following a pattern established with the 1974 British release of Murder on the Orient Express. The pattern? Murder occurs in some exotic locale peopled with a bevy of individuals played by well-known actors and actresses, all of whom appear to have some motive for the killing. The puzzle is solved by one of Agatha Christie’s well-known detectives, usually Hercule Poirot. With the exception that the locale was not quite so exotic, Angela Lansbury’s portrayal of Miss Marple in The Mirror Crack’d fits this pattern quite closely.
Anchor Bay has now released The Mirror Crack’d on DVD in a basic, but not unpleasing edition.
Miss Jane Marple is delighted to find that her picturesque English village is to be the sight of a movie shoot featuring a couple of glamorous Hollywood actresses, Marina Rudd and Lola Brewster. It is soon apparent, however, that the two loathe each other. At a welcome reception, Marina is engaged in a lengthy conversation with a long-time fan, Heather Babcock, when she is apparently distracted momentarily by Lola Brewster’s arrival. Soon afterward, Heather collapses and dies, and it turns out that she has been poisoned by a drink intended for Marina.
Inspector Delbert Craddock of Scotland Yard arrives to investigate and as he does, suspicion attaches itself to many of the cast and crew involved in the movie shoot. Inspector Craddock avails himself of the assistance of his aunt, Miss Jane Marple, and the surprising murderer is finally revealed.
The Mirror Crack’d begins with a marvelous short black and white movie-within-the-movie called “Murder at Midnight” in which the famous Scotland Yard detective explains whodunit to an assembly of suspects in an old dark house. Too bad, the rest of the film doesn’t measure up to this beginning.
I always enjoy Angela Lansbury’s work. She’s been a pleasure to watch in films for over half a century now. Of course, now we’re very used to seeing her as a detective with her lengthy run as Jessica Fletcher in television’s “Murder She Wrote,” but in 1980, that sort of a role was somewhat of a departure for her. Her Jane Marple in The Mirror Crack’d should be the glue that holds the whole thing together, but she doesn’t really manage to create any sort of memorable character out of the role. She looks like exactly what she is, a younger woman made up to look old, and with that distraction, we’re never completely convinced that she has the wisdom and intellectual capacity to figure out the crime as she does. One can see the beginnings of Jessica Fletcher in the Marple role and she gradually made that character believable, but The Mirror Crack’d suffers because one has to see Miss Marple as a comfortable old shoe, so to speak, and Lansbury was not yet relaxed in such a role.
Fortunately, we do have Edward Fox as Inspector Craddock. He does seem quite comfortable in that part and he provides a good deal of the limited pleasure to be derived from the film. He plays Craddock in the tradition of many great such British police inspector parts — giving an outward air of apology and diffidence — but one can see the wheels turning behind the smile. An enjoyable aspect of his character is the fact that he’s a classic film buff.
One of the pleasures of the film is the English village setting. Parts of the films were shot in Kent and the English country setting looks marvelous in the film. Murder occurring in such idyllic settings has been a staple of the British Scotland Yard novel for decades and it’s great to see it rendered to such good pictorial effect here.
Anchor Bay has delivered a pleasing-looking DVD of The Mirror Crack’d. The presentation is 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, utilizing 27 scene selections. The image is quite free of blemishes and pleasing enough — colours are rendered accurately and fairly sharply. There are occasional instances of softness and also occurrences of excessive edge enhancement, but overall, it’s a pretty reasonable effort. The sound is Dolby Digital mono and is quite satisfactory for what is basically a dialogue-driven film.
Extras are limited to the original theatrical trailer, a couple of TV spots, and rather brief bios for the main cast member — not a lot, but about what the film merits. There is a rather informative four-page insert that provides a good profile of Agatha Christie’s life.
I mentioned above that these films had a pattern, one aspect of which was the assemblage of well-known film stars playing many of the suspects. Here we have Elizabeth Taylor as Marina Rudd, Rock Hudson as her movie-director husband, Kim Novak as Lola Brewster, Geraldine Chaplin as a production assistant, and Tony Curtis as a Hollywood agent. With the exception of Geraldine Chaplin, I think they all agreed to do the film just so they could have a nice visit to Britain. Basically, they’re ghastly. They either overplay ridiculously (Taylor, Novak) or are disinterested (Hudson). Tony Curtis’s agent is played as such an exaggerated stereotype that he’s embarrassing to watch. I wonder how much money they got paid? Even scale would have been too much.
The Mirror Crack’d is one of the lesser entries in the genre of Agatha Christie mystery films. Depending on one’s mood, at best one would find it to be an amiable time passer. Discerning mystery film lovers will be disappointed in both the lead Miss Marple portrayal and the Hollywood star suspects. Anchor Bay’s DVD effort in terms of transfer quality, although not reference level, is probably still more than the film deserves. How about giving the same effort to the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple films of the early 1960s?