Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Movies that I’ve stared at recently on TCM #57

Murder Most Foul (1964) – Although this is the third film in M-G-M’s wonderful series chronicling the misadventures of Agatha Christie’s legendary literary creation Miss Jane Marple, it was the only series entry that I hadn’t recorded to keep in my collection—so I was pleased to see Turner Classic Movies show it yesterday (the channel also scheduled Murder at the Gallop [1963] and the final Rutherford Marple vehicle, Murder Ahoy [1964]—my favorite of the Marple “quartet”). Based on the Christie novel Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, Foul finds our favorite sleuthing spinster investigating the murder of an actress/barmaid (the man accused of the deed is given a reprieve when Miss M is the lone holdout on the jury in his case) by going undercover in a repertory theatre company overseen by H. Driffold Cosgood (Ron Moody).

The Marple character has been played by many fine actresses, among them Joan Hickson, Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie—but Rutherford remains my favorite of them all, and I’ve always thought it was a pity that they stopped the series at just four entries (though Rutherford makes a cameo as the character in 1965’s The Alphabet Murders), particularly since they were such entertaining little divertissements, deftly blending comedy and mystery (I also love the infectiously catchy theme music, spotlighting violins and harpsichord). Charles “Bud” Tingwell is back as Miss Jane’s friendly cop nemesis Inspector Craddock—and though you may not believe this, it wasn’t until recent that I learned that Stringer Davis—the actor who plays Marple’s trusty male confidante Jim Stringer—was married to his co-star; no wonder they had such marvelous chemistry together! Foul is also one of the more entertaining Marple vehicles because it spotlights so many wonderful British character actors, like Moody and Megs Jenkins; comedian Terry Scott—who was a household name to audiences as the co-star of the Britcom Hugh and I and who would later be a Britcom institution alongside June Whitfield in Happy Ever After and Terry and June—plays the constable who discovers the murder and you’ll also notice Windsor “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum” Davies (as Craddock’s assistant) and Likely Lad James Bolam among the cast as well.

Romance on the High Seas (1948) – I just finished watching this splashy Technicolor-drenched musical about an hour ago; Jack Carson and Doris Day (in her film debut) team up for the first of their three cinematic songfests in a story that finds Dodo pretending to be Janis Page’s character on board a cruise ship—because Page is busily spying on husband Don DeFore back in New York. Carson plays the detective hired by DeFore to keep an eye on his “wife.” Predictably, Jack and Doris fall madly in love with one another—and things become temporarily complicated when Day’s platonic boyfriend Oscar Levant arrives on the scene.

I decided to watch Romance based on my previous familiarity with It's a Great Feeling (1949), the last of the Carson-Day team-ups (Feeling also adds Dennis Morgan to the mix) and while I wasn’t completely bowled over by the film I can’t say it wasn’t a pleasant way to spend an hour and forty minutes. Carson and Day do have a great chemistry (they had a brief romance off-screen) and I liked her character here than in some of her other vehicles because she appears to have been around the block a time or two (as for Carson—well, it just doesn’t seem right when he gets the girl at the end). To be honest, I thought Page was a lot sexier than Day—and I chuckled when they joked that her character was incapable of carrying a tune (Page starred in The Pajama Game on Broadway, the musical that became a feature film in 1957…with Day as the female lead).

Levant’s participation is worth the price of admission alone (he gets a chance to use the “I lied about my age” punchline, oft-heard on The Kraft Music Hall with Al Jolson), and there’s contributions from TDOY faves like S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, Eric Blore (as a ship’s doctor), Franklin Pangborn (“What if there is bloodshed in 314? We're going to do the whole third floor over anyhow...”), Sir Lancelot and an uncredited Grady Sutton as the ship’s radio operator (also appearing without much fanfare are Barbara Bates, Tristam Coffin, Gino Corrado, Bess Flowers and Sandra Gould). Day’s musical number It’s Magic—written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn—was nominated for an Oscar as Best Song (as was Ray Heindorf’s musical score); it’s probably the most memorable tune although I’m also fond of Put 'em in a Box, Tie 'em with a Ribbon (and Throw 'em in the Deep Blue Sea) (sung with the Page Cavanaugh Trio). Directed by Michael Curtiz (though Busby Berkeley choreographed the musical numbers) and scripted by the Brothers Epstein (Julius and Philip)…with an assist from future Billy Wilder collaborator I.A.L. Diamond.

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ClassicBecky said...

"Murder Most Foul" is my favorite of Margaret Rutherford's Miss Marple movies. Isn't she a great old dame! Love her!

panavia999 said...

All of the Rutherford / Marple movies are fun, but Murder Most Fould is my personal favorite. I love Love LOVE Rutherford's theatre audition piece: The Murder of Dan McGrew. Apparently, that was her favourite recital piece. On the TCM commentary on this movie, it says that she had to be dissuaded from reciting this chestnut when she visited a woman's prison. She thought it would be a good idea - I don't know why it was considered ill advised - I think she would have made a lot of inmates happy that day.