Thursday, October 4, 2012

Seven Years' Bad Luck for the Cast's Careers: "The Mirror Crack'd" (1980)

Based on the mystery by Agatha Christie, director Hamilton brings together an outstanding cast but flubs the film with what looks like a television movie budget.

After a film breaks, and Miss Marple (Angela Lansbury) solves the climax for the clueless audience, a real live film crew arrives in St. Mary Mead to film a movie about Mary, Queen of Scots. The year is 1953, and has-been star Marina (Elizabeth Taylor) is looking to make a comeback in the title role in a film directed by her husband Jason (Rock Hudson). Jason's assistant, Ella (Geraldine Chaplin), has the thankless job of rallying the local villagers to show their love for Marina at a staged event. There, Miss Marple falls and sprains her leg, missing the film's first murder.

Most excited about meeting Marina is Heather (Maureen Bennett), who met her years earlier during World War II. During the party, as Heather is talking Marina's ear off, rival starlet Lola (Kim Novak) and her producer husband Marty (Tony Curtis) blow in. The catty dialogue between Lola and Marina is hilarious, but the discovery that Heather has been murdered puts a damper on the day's festivities. Marple's cleaning girl, and a party waitress, Cherry (Wendy Morgan) tells Miss Marple everything, and the fact comes out that Heather was poisoned with a drink meant for Marina. Cue Delbert (Edward Fox), Miss Marple's favorite nephew and Scotland Yard inspector.

The suspects are in line as Delbert begins talking to the cast and trying to track down the killer. Ella knows, making a phone call to Marty and accusing him. She is then poisoned as well, and the list of suspects begins to get smaller. More Marina poisonings are attempted, but Miss Marple finds out the identity of the real killer, and almost everyone lives happily ever after.

Since this is a murder mystery, too much cannot be given away. However, this film rivals "Murder on the Orient Express" and "Evil Under the Sun" in star power alone. The professional stars all play Hollywood phonies well against the genteel back drop of this slow English village. Lansbury is simply perfect as Marple, better than Hayes, Leighton, or Hickson. I wish this film could have spawned a series of new Marple features, not the horrendous "Murder She Wrote." Taylor is both beautiful and bewitching as fragile Marina. She plays some good scenes here. Hudson is often forgotten as a great actor, his final scenes in the climax are worth watching. Novak is an appropriate airhead starlet, and she gets the funniest lines. Curtis is sleazy as Marty, and Chaplin does a lot with her limited time onscreen. Fox is very fun as a star struck inspector, his scene interrogating Marina (and another with a half naked Lola) while trying to remain professional, are great.

Hamilton's direction is reliable since Hamilton has done tons of films before. I do wish the film had been bigger,"Murder on the Orient Express"-bigger. This effort played like a network TV movie with cussing. John Cameron's lovely musical score is played against some shoddy set ups and cheap looking costuming.

I read the novel years ago, and I knew how this would turn out, but the movie was still fun enough to sit through. I would put this under "Murder on the Orient Express" (the '70's version, not the 2001 TV abomination) and my personal fave Christie- "Evil Under the Sun." Avoid "Appointment With Death," it is terrible. The film is harmless, and look for an unbilled Pierce Brosnan being held against Taylor's bosom in one scene. I also think I saw Victoria Tennant in the film's opening audience but I cannot be sure.

"The Mirror Crack'd" is not perfect by any means, but the cast seems to be up for the fun. I only wish the film's screen writers and director had been able to match the enthusiasm. (* * *) out of five stars.