Miss Jane Marple (Dame Margaret Rutherford) is riding on a train. Through the window of another passing train, she sees a woman being strangled by a man. The man’s back is to her so she can’t see his face, but she has a description of the woman. She reports the murder to the ticket collector. He believes she fell asleep and dreamed the incident, but he reports it to the station master.
A few days later Inspector Craddock (Charles Tingwell) comes by Miss Marple’s home to give her an update. The conclusion is there was no murder. No body was found anywhere along the tracks and no one on any train fit the description of the woman Miss Marple saw. Incensed that the inspector would think she was a dotty old spinster Miss Marple heads to the local library. The librarian, Mr. Stringer (Stringer Davis) is a friend of Miss Marple. She solicits his help in walking the railroad track looking for clues. She finds and area where it looks like a body may have rolled down the hill from the track. At the bottom of the hill is a large stone wall. On the other side is the Ackenthorpe estate. Miss Marple believes the body was later hoisted over the wall and taken away by someone on the other side. To prove her theory, she needs to be able to access the grounds of the estate.
Miss Marple gets a job as a housekeeper at Ackenthorpe Hall. The patriarch of the family is a rather rude curmudgeon named Luther Ackenthorpe (James Robertson Justice). Living with him is his harassed daughter Emma (Muriel Pavlow) and his grandson, the precocious Alexander Eastley (Ronnie Raymond). On hand are the creepy gardener Hillman (Michael Golden), Luther’s doctor Paul Quimper (Arthur Kennedy) and the housekeeper Mrs. Kidder (Joan Hickson). Miss Marple finds out that the day she saw the murder the house was full of relatives. Now her suspect pool has increased to add Luther’s sons Cedric (Thorley Walters), Harold (Conrad Phillips), Albert (Gerald Cross) and his son-in-law Brian Eastley (Ronald Howard).
Snooping around the grounds Miss Marple finds the body of the woman she saw on the train hidden in a carriage house. With proof that someone is actually dead Inspector Craddock can no longer chalk her off as crazy. Fully involved in the household workings Miss Marple puts her amateur detective skills to work ferreting out the killer and the killer’s motive for murder. But not until another murder points her in the right direction.
“Murder She Said” was released in 1961 and was directed by George Pollock. It is a comedy murder mystery and is based on Agatha Christie’s 1957 novel “4:50 From Paddington”. It is also the first of four films starring Dame Margaret Rutherford as Christie’s detective Miss Marple.
Margaret Rutherford and Stringer Davis, who plays Miss Marple’s friend and confidant Jim Stringer, were married in real life. His character was not part of Agatha Christie’s original story but was written in specifically for him. There were several changes made in the film including the added comedic tone. Agatha Christie was reportedly unimpressed with the film; however, she did dedicate her book “The Mirror Crack’d” to Dame Rutherford “In admiration”.
Rutherford takes the Miss Marple character and makes it her own. All of the Christie movies with Rutherford are fun and playful. Although she may look unassuming and prim, she is in fact razor sharp and well versed in murder and all its forms. Adaptable to almost any situation she worms her way into the middle of a case and charges headlong until she solves the crime. If you commit murder, you don’t want Rutherford’s Miss Marple to know of it.