Friday, October 4, 2019

Margaret Rutherford Goes for a Ride at the Gallop Hotel

Margaret Rutherford.
The best way to approach Margaret Rutherford's four "Miss Marple" films is to forget that she's playing Jane Marple. Rutherford's films are comedies with a little mystery and her character bears only a slight resemblance to Agatha Christie's spinster sleuth. The best of Rutherford's movies may be the second one, Murder at the Gallop (1963), which boasts a charming setting, a strong supporting cast, and a decent mystery. Surprisingly, the plot is adapted from a Hercule Poirot novel called After the Funeral.

It opens with Miss Marple and her friend Mr. Stringer (Stringer Davis) witnessing the death of a wealthy eccentric named Enderby. The police quickly conclude that the old man died of natural causes. However, Miss Marple suspects foul play based on finding a cat lurking around Enderby's residence. The old man had a deathly fear of cats. Thus, his heart attack could have been triggered by the sudden appearance of a feline.

Robert Morley as a suspect.
An eavesdropping Miss Marple learns that Enderby's fortune will be split among four relatives. Well, make that three because one of them is murdered shortly after the reading of the will. Now determined to find the culprit, the elderly sleuth checks into the Gallop Hotel, which is run by Enderby's nephew Hector (Robert Morley). The hotel's other guests include the remaining relatives who will share Enderby's fortune. Surely, one of the them must be the killer--but can Miss Marple expose the murderer before there's another homicide?

The villain's identity seems pretty obvious, though the mystery does incorporate one of Agatha Christie's patented tricks. It just strikes me as odd that the producers chose not to adapt one of the Miss Marple novels. There's even one that takes place at a hotel (At Bertram's Hotel).

The Gallop Hotel.
Still, the English countryside settings exude quaint charm, even in black-and-white. If there was really a Gallop Hotel (it was actually a farm in Aldenham, Hertfordshire), I'd certainly be interested in booking a holiday there--murderer or not!

As for Dame Margaret Rutherford, her performance is a matter of taste. I'm not a big fan, but I have film friends who find her delightful. For non-fans like me, at least her antics are nicely balanced by Stringer Davis, Rutherford's real-life husband, whose quiet presence provides a calming contrast. Robert Morley tops the supporting cast, though James Villiers and Katya Douglas have fun as a distrustful couple.

If you're in the mood for a crackling Agatha Christie mystery, then Murder at the Gallop will not be your cup of tea. However, if you're just seeking out a light comedic mystery with a short running time, then you may find it amusing. Of course, you'll need to be able to tolerate the irritating, "playful" Miss Marple music that crops up every few minutes. Unfortunately, it seems to be a staple throughout all four of Margaret Rutherford's Marple movies.


  1. I have come to adore Margaret Rutherford's "Jane" over the years. Or Jane's gruff cousin Joan, as I used to compartmentalize.

    I'm sorry to hear you are not a fan of Ron Goodwin's Miss Marple theme. I have adopted it as my theme song and (in my head) it plays when I enter a room.

    1. Bahaha! That is hilarious! I love the theme song, too; it's so peppy.

      As for Margaret Rutherford, I adore her as Miss Marple. However, this is coming from someone who has never read a Miss Marple mystery.