A policeman (Terry Scott) is pounding the beat in this quiet English village when he walks over to the local pub, taps on the window, and is rewarded with a pint of beer. What he has not noticed is that at a nearby house, a silhouette can be seen in the window of a woman being strangled to death, but after he finishes his drink - and pays - the copper is walking back the way he came when he catches sight of a body strung up in the front room of that house. He rushes in to see a man apparently tying it up to make it look like a suicide, and banknotes scattered over the floor - it's surely an open and shut case, but one of the jurors has other ideas...
That is because one of the jurors is a very sceptical Miss Marple (Margaret Rutherford), who believes there's more to this than meets the eye, resulting in the need for a retrial because the jury cannot agree. Capitalising on this period between trials, she decides to do a spot of investigating of her own, and so begins another mystery to be solved by Agatha Christie's famous sleuth. Well, sort of, as Christie wasn't exactly keen on what the movies did to her characters, but cinema audiences certainly loved seeing Rutherford hustle and bustle about the place, proving herself the smartest person in the room but never being arrogant about it.
This was the third of the Miss Marple movies of this decade, directed as usual by George Pollock, and drew its inspiration from Christie's novel Mrs McGinty's Dead, which not only was not a comedy it wasn't even a Marple story, it was an Hercule Poirot one. But unless you're a diehard Dame Agatha obsessive, there shouldn't be too much to take offence to at this version, as these efforts were more aimed at Dame Margaret fans anyway, and she did shine in them in her indomitable fashion. To add a further layer of irony, her Marple here mixed with some thespians as she joined an acting troupe as her investigations had led her in that direction, so we got to see Rutherford pretending to be an actress.
She was an actress, of course, but here she was an actress pretending to be an amateur performer, making her audition with a rendition of The Shooting of Dan McGrew, a poem by Robert W. Service whose inappropriateness is something to behold, especially with the gravitas that Marple offers it. The reason she's hooking up to this company - it's not the recital that gives her access, it's the fact that she lets slip that she is of independent means and therefore might be able to put up some much-needed cash - is that she works out that the Mrs McGinty who was the victim was in fact a blackmailer, and had been putting pressure on one of the actors to pay up. So which one is the guilty party?
In each of these instalments there was a distinctive character actor to provide a foil to Rutherford, and this time around it was Ron Moody as the pretentious troupe leader and aspiring playwright. Although he's fine, the script doesn't offer him enough idiosyncrasies to emerge as the best of these roles, and too often he is seen to be a little on the meek side when faced with the strength of Miss Marple's will. It was nice to see him in this, however, as he was not out of place in the least, and more memorable than the other suspects who populated the theatre. The locations were a lot more claustrophobic, which did lend an airless mood to the film, but the contrast between real murder and the fictional kind that interests crime buffs was nicely handled, and naturally encapsulated in the Marple character, the ultimate crime buff herself. Music by Ron Goodwin, with that great theme once again making its presence felt.