THE MIRROR CRACK’D - DVD of the Week
THE MIRROR CRACK’D
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: This Agatha Christie adaptation, despite the plans mentioned in the review below, marked Angela Lansbury’s one-and-only performance as Miss Marple, but there’s little question that it also provided the inspiration for her enormously successful TV series, ‘Murder, She Wrote,’ which began four years later. And this one holds up pretty well, especially for fans of Old Hollywood stars, who were ‘Old Hollywood’ when this film came out some 40 years ago. Now it’s been given a revival in Blu-ray form by Kino Lorber. My review was published in the Deseret News on Dec. 25, 1980.
There is more ham in “The Mirror Crack’d” than you’ll find on any pig farm — a drawback that wounds but fails to kill this latest Agatha Christie cinema adaptation.
The pork performances are provided by a handful of Hollywood has-beens who play a handful of Hollywood has-beens, some of them so broadly that you may feel the urge to toss a few tomatoes or eggs their way.
But fortunately, a few professional-minded actors are on hand to raise the level of its quality, headed by Angela Lansbury as none other than the intrepid Miss Marple.
Miss Jane Marple is Christie’s aged amateur sleuth, first brought to the screen in the early 1960s, played with splendid aplomb by Margaret Rutherford. Though B-grade in budget, Rutherford’s four films were A-quality throughout and the Marple character adhered to the template of Christie’s novels.
Which points to the biggest flaw in “The Mirror Crack’d”; there’s simply not enough Miss Marple.
In a film that should be dominated by Lansbury, who is made up to be 20 years older than she is, the movie inexplicably concentrates on the American actors who are supposedly “guests.”
It’s a major setback because Lansbury is delightful in the role and deserves more time on screen. Instead, Marple spends most of the film laid up in her home with a twisted ankle while the camera follows other, much less interesting characters.
From left, Angela Lansbury, Rock Hudson, Edward Fox, 'The Mirror Crack'd' (1980)
The story has an American film-production crew descending on St. Mary Mead, the little English country village that is the home of Miss Marple and her fellow villagers.
Rock Hudson is a second-rate director married to the star of this new production, an important comeback for a two-time Oscar winner who hasn’t’ worked since a breakdown (played by Elizabeth Taylor).
Geraldine Chaplin plays Hudson’s assistant, and just to complicate matters, an old screen rival of Taylor’s (Kim Novak) is on hand, along with her brash, crass husband (Tony Curtis), who just happens to be the film’s producer.
The crew is going to make “Mary, Queen of Scots’ in the little hamlet, much to the delight of several villagers, including the local gossipmonger (Maureen Bennett).
Last, but certainly not least, is the Scotland Yard inspector (Edward Fox) who is Miss Marple’s nephew, and who investigates a murder that occurs during a reception for the film crew and villagers.
Now, will they all step into the drawing room, please?
The murder victim is Bennett, who sips from a fatal drink as she is boring Taylor to death with a story about their having met during the war when Taylor entertained the troops. But you don’t kill someone because she is a boring chatterbox, Miss Marple concludes at one point. Therefore, it appears that the drink was intended for Taylor, who has more enemies than an American politician.
So, of course, the question becomes, “Who done it?”
I like a good murder mystery and they seem to be supplied almost exclusively by British imports these days. And “The Mirror Crack’d” is a good one.
This is the latest in Christie mystery movies produced by John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin, who gave us “Murder on the Oriental Express” and “Death on the Nile,” two Hercule Poiret stories with Albert Finney and Peter Ustinov, respectively, in the detective’s role. Both were crackerjack tales and both were well produced, though the overpopulation of guest stars was distracting. They also overdid the flashback-to-the-scene-of-the-murder technique, a sort of trademark that is stamped on all these films.
Happily, the flashbacks are fewer and shorter and more to the point in “The Mirror Crack’d,” though the guest stars remain a problem. And since the focus is more on them than Marple, the problem is front and center. (Lansbury has signed on for two more Marple films so there is hope for the future.)
The worst hambones are Kim Novak and Tony Curtis, not necessarily in that order. Their extremely broad performances might not be so obvious if everyone here were doing the same, but Hudson, Taylor and Chaplin seem positively subdued in comparison.
And Lansbury and Fox are so smooth and professional, so relaxed in their characters, that they almost appear to be performing in a different movie. Fox is fine, by the way, as an avid movie buff smitten with the idea of interviewing all the Hollywood folk in the course of his investigation.
And director Guy Hamilton, who turned out some of the better James Bond flicks (“Goldfinger,” “Diamonds are Forever”), has managed to keep the flow even and has us wondering throughout who the murderer is. Whether Hamilton or the actors should be blamed for the imbalance in performances isn’t quite clear but it only temporarily impairs the fun.
Overall “The Mirror Crack’d,” rated PG for some language, is fun. From the opening black & white old-fashioned movie mystery to the fadeout, it does what the movies do best – it entertains.