Friday, August 21, 2009

To Marple or not to Marples, Is Not The Question. Which is?

By Pat Gulley

And so PBS Masterpiece Mystery has finished another version of Miss Marple, though why they had to redo so many of the stories the previous two had already done escapes my reasoning. Of course, why they add Poirot and Miss Marple to stories that were never theirs to begin with is also a big question, but that’s for another time.

Which Miss Marple is your favorite? Mine is Joan Hickson because to me she looks the most like the one Agatha Christie created and wrote about. Fluffy, small, frail looking, and blustery in speech, though she always seemed to make herself clear—maybe not to the detectives—but certainly to us. She looked like every little old lady everyone looks at once or twice in their lives and thinks: senile, dim, gaga, helpless, or desperately in need of our assistance moving across the room. And as we soon learned when reading Miss Marple stories: Dump, fool us! And though Joan didn’t play her to the end when she was forbidden any kind of heavy activity like her gardening, we knew she’d get there with that clever mind of hers still as sharp as ever.

I should clarify my statement by saying I never saw Barbara Mullen or Grace Fields, and I don’t expect there will ever be a way of seeing Barbara’s performance, though maybe, just maybe Netflix might come up with a copy of the 1956 version of A Murder Is Announced with Gracie Fields from Goodyear Television Playhouse. It could happen. Googling Goodyear Playhouse brought up a lot of facts, but no pictures or a place to see the adaptation preformed.
Margaret Rutherford’s characterization was either her own idea or some scriptwriter’s idea of what the ignorant public expected. The dim witted sidekick doing all the grunt work apparently was mandatory because the only detectives we would recognize was in the Sherlock Holmes vain. Angela Lansbury and Helen Hayes did fair jobs, but they were offered as elderly women of the time, with all that went with the current sensibility, not to mention what suited the style and looks of the actress.

Geraldine McEwan did a pretty good job, though the back story added to Marple’s past stunk to high heaven for me because Agatha told us about Jane’s upbringing and there was no love affair. Probably in keeping with the current assumption that insists the ignorant public requires some sex in every story they see on TV or in the movies. And though adding Tommy and Tuppence in later life into one of Geraldine’s stories was interesting, I’m sure you are all aware of the fact that it is Miss Marple who was actually added into that Tommy and Tuppence story. So, while we are at it, just why did Geraldine’s stories all seem to be a combination of two books? Who gives free reign to writers to do that? Or is it the production company that makes them do it? Inquiring minds want to know! At least major Agatha fans do. (See another time above.)

And now we have Julia McKenzie. She looks straight out of the 50s, in her tidy hat and tweed suit, but much younger than the Jane Marple of the books. The thing that bothered me about most of Julia’s stories is that she seemed to have been dropped into them out of the blue. No rhyme or reason for her to be there in the room or stay there. In one, she was hiding behind a shutter and sneakily listening. And the fact that the stories chosen were all ones we’ve seen several times before, we knew they could have been done better. So they weren’t exactly fun to watch. Agatha wrote some good stories for the 50s and 60s (she took her stories straight out of the headlines of the day, you know) so McKenzie should be able to do a tolerable job for the times. I wish they’d do Third Girl—it’s about roommates—definitely one of my favorites because it reminds me of my time in NYC with roommates. So we’ll see, but she isn’t replacing Joan Hickson anytime soon for me.

Here’s a list of the Marples.
Julia McKenzie 2009
Geraldine McEwan 2004
Joan Hickson 1984-1992
Gracie Fields 1956
Helen Hayes 83 85
Angela Lansbury 80
Margaret Rutherford early 50s?
Barbara Mullen 1949, so said Mystery Scene Magazine.

Which is your favorite, and why?


Joyce said...

This may be a bad thing for a crime fiction writer to say, but I've never seen any of these!

Wilfred Bereswill said...

This is hilarious. Neither have I Joyce.

As I read Pat's post I thought, "Well, I'll be the only one who hasn't seen any of these..."

Jennie Bentley said...

I watched the most recent batch, and while I didn't think they were bad, or that Julia McKenzie did a terrible job, I have to say that Joan Hickson *is* Miss Marple to me.

Yeah, I've never understood the need to mess with a good thing, either. On the other hand, they keep making movies/TV episodes of these, which is great considering that Lady Agatha has been gone for quite a while now, but her work clearly lives on and stands on its own and isn't showing any signs of losing popularity. And that's encouraging, don't you think?

Patg said...

Bad Joyce, bad Wilfred, good Jennie.
Very Good Patg

Anonymous said...

Hi Pat,
I'm impressed by how much you
know about the various women
who played Miss Marple. I haven't
seen them all, so it wouldn't be
fair to vote, but I definitely
think it should be someone older
who appears a little befuddled
as most younger people seem to
picture anyone older. I'm usually
disappointed in any movie representation after I've read the book. Gloria

Anonymous said...

Yes, Miss Joan is my favorite also! Oh to wish a Miss Marple in every village; such fun, such crime!! :)

Jo P
Westlake Village