When troubled war veteran Jerry Burton and his sister Joanna relocate to the quiet little village of Lymstock in order to allow Jerry to recuperate from injuries received in what he claims is a motorcycle accident, they are expecting nothing more than country sleepiness and tedium. Much to their surprise, however, they find themselves embroiled in the middle of scandal and secrets; someone is sending vicious poison-pen letters to the residents. A local dignitary has already taken his own life over the letters, and it's not long before local gossip Mona Symmington also commits suicide after receiving a letter. But when the letter-writer apparently resorts to murder, Jerry finds his curiosity stoked despite himself, and he's not the only one; Miss Jane Marple is also in Lymstock, and she's decided that it's long past time someone got to the bottom of this unpleasant business.Written by
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it. From The Rubiyyat of Omar Kayyam See more »
Though the movie is set to happen in year 1952, one of the letter arriving to Symmington's before Mrs. Symmington's death bears a 1/3 stamp which was issued in 1958. See more »
I liked this production a lot. And that's in spite of it being one of Christie's lesser works. She usually plays one big game per story, some fundamental innovation in the form. This time, its the removal of Marple as the primary detective. Usually the form is we have Marple, who we follow. She's the detective and there is a second, "official" detective in the mix, usually no more than background noise.
In this case, we have a troubled war veteran, suicidal. Its him we follow, as he deduces and discovers, and part of what he watches is what Marple is up to. By this time in Marple's career, the charm had gone out of the series, so far as reliance on the primary character. So we have here the two body problem of the two amateur detectives, the three body problem adding in the police, and the many-body situation since everyone in the village is hunting for the note-writer.
Oh. The guy who's our detective? Two years previously he played a shockingly modernized Sherlock Holmes!
And we have three attractive women circling around our hero: his quirky sister (here the designated redhead), a sexy earth mother, and an innocent waif (who in the final, transformative scene is lit so her hair is red).
So the story is structured less around episodes and more around observation than usual. That's why this adaptation works so well. Viewers seem to get upset when the plot is adjusted in the translation from word to image. So they like this one because in that respect it "follows the book." I guess they missed that it radically changes the narrative stance the most important part in detective fiction. Oh well, I suppose there are bigger blind spots in the world.
What the filmmaker has done here is shoot visions at us with relentless speed. We have long sequences with less than a second to two second shots. Sometimes they do jump briefly to perspectives that would normally be called "arty" but in this case it constructs a many-eyed world. Its darn effective, and shows some understanding of what detective fiction and film is all about. Its too good for TeeVee, at least this one is.
One small touch that I liked was the way the notes were handled. These were letters (presented to us as images) constructed by taking letters out of books. Its an incidental thing in the book, but in this film which does select the big letters to paste together for us it matters, a sort of side annotation, a tiny meta-narrative. These books are the ancient texts that seem to be the focus of the vicar, who is an obvious red herring as he wears gloves and is reflexively judgemental.
He's played by by Ken Russell, and that alone is the biggest hoot of my moviewatching week. Watch "Lair of the White Worm" and then this to see what I mean.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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