Elderly spinster Miss Jane Marple (Margaret Rutherford) is travelling back home on the train, and to pass the time she is reading a mystery paperback. Soon she drops off, but is awakened by the sound of another train passing by and she idly watches the carriages to see the other passengers - suddenly she is horrified to see a young woman being strangled. The train moves on, and when the ticket inspector enters the carriage Miss Marple tells him what she's seen, but he is sceptical when he notices her choice of reading and suggests she's had a dream. However, she is adamant so when two days later she is visited by a policeman, Inspector Craddock (Charles 'Bud' Tingwell), to tell her that no body has been found and there will be no following investigation, Miss Marple decides to start an investigation of her own...
Agatha Christie reputedly wasn't too keen on this adaptation of her celebrated Miss Marple books with Dame Margaret in the lead, and they had obviously been tailored to their star's talents rather than be made faithful to their sources, but they were undeniably popular (and Christie had evidently changed her mind a couple of years later, dedicating a Marple novel to the performer). Murder She Said, the first of the series, was written by David Pursall and Jack Seddon from David Osborn's adaptation and set the pattern: the indomitable protagonist discovers a murder, and sets out to solve it where the police have failed. This may not have been Christie's Marple, but if you don't worry about that and enjoy the efforts of one of Britain's favourite character actresses then it's an enjoyable and amusing mystery.
As often with Rutherford's films, her husband Stringer Davis was in the cast, and here he is the local librarian Mr Stringer (must have taken them ages to come up with that name) who just happens to be Miss Marple's best friend and confidant. She asks him to accompany her to the side of the railway tracks where she believes the body has been dumped, despite what the police have said, and they find themselves at the perimeter walls of Ackenthorpe Hall. After noticing a small scrap of fur which came from the victim's coat, Miss Marple makes the deduction that the body was pushed out of the train and picked up later to be hidden somewhere. Perhaps in Ackenthorpe Hall? There is only one way to find out, and that's for her to go undercover and get a job at the place as a maid.
And so she does, as possibly the world's oldest maid, and is shown around by the daughter of the owner, Emma (Muriel Pavlow) who warns her about her father, played by James Robertson Justice at his most irascible and an excellent foil to Rutherford's busybody. Then there's the precocious boy nephew (Ronnie Raymond), who I thought was the murderer due to his superior attitude, but I guess you can't be right all the time. Rounding out the cast is American import Arthur Kennedy as the local doctor who tends to the invalid Ackenthorpe, but the suspects don't stop there as Miss Marple indulges in some snooping and uncovers the body she has been looking for in the stables and the rest of the family are called on. The plot depends on the body being found, which makes you wonder why the killer hid it in the first place, but rest assured Miss Marple has it all worked out and if the film is too lighthearted for real tension, Rutherford is at her most endearing and Murder She Said is quaintly satisfying. Seriously catchy music by Ron Goodwin.