Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Mirror Crack'd

I've always been a heavy reader, and I tend to go through phases.  I went through a dinosaur book phase, a true crime phase, a biographies phase, a noir phase, and a scientific jargon phase, but the one genre that I have never truly had enough of is the murder mystery.  I'm not sure why that is; some are good, others obviously less so, but I think they serve as a palette cleanser for my reading habits.  Not surprisingly, I return to the works of Agatha Christie on occasion.  As much as I have liked her books --- and I read the crap out of them when I was ten --- I have never thought of them as being terribly cinematic.  The stuff of public television movies?  Sure, why not?  But actual cinema...that just never struck me as a great idea.  I found The Mirror Crack'd on Netflix and decided to give it a shot for a few reasons.  First, I wanted to see how accurate my instincts on Christie movies is.  Second, the cast looked pretty solid.  Most importantly, I have never read the book (or completely forgot about it if I have), so I could theoretically enjoy the mystery.
Like she can theoretically respect the privacy of others

The Mirror Crack'd is a Miss Marple mystery.  That means that the crime (murder) will occur in the small British village of St. Mary Mead (thus, limiting the suspect pool dramatically) and will be solved by an elderly spinster, Miss Marple (Angela Lansbury), thanks to her remarkable insight into human nature.  For this plot, a movie company has decided to film a period piece in St. Mary Mead.  The star of the picture is Marina Rudd (Elizabeth Taylor), but her Hollywood rival, Lola Brewster (Kim Novak), was cast in a supporting role, seemingly just to spite Marina.  A party is thrown to appease the townsfolk and allow them to mingle with the filmmakers, and that is when tragedy strikes.  A local, Heather Babcock, dies after drinking a cocktail intended for Marina.  It is unquestionably murder, since the drink was mostly poison, but who would want to murder the star of the picture?  Many people, apparently.  Once again, it looks like it is up to a spinster to bring justice to the lawless streets of St. Mary Mead.
No, Rock.  She was poisoned, not karate-chopped to death.

When watching The Mirror Crack'd, the first thing you will notice is the high-profile cast.  Angela Lansbury is pretty decent as the all-knowing Miss Marple, even though she has obviously been artificially aged to play the part.  Miss Marple is a tough role to play, because she doesn't actually do much except explain the mystery at the end; Lansbury did a fine job, but it is hard to overcome the inertia of the character.  Interesting side note: this Miss Marple smokes.  You don't often see movies where sweet, elderly women smoke cigarettes any more.  Elizabeth Taylor was surprisingly good as a major actress, past her prime.  I thought she played her delicate moments quite well, but I absolutely loved it when her character was only acting upset.
I also enjoyed her fake smiles
Kim Novak was fun to watch as a foil to Taylor; the two traded quips and barbs throughout the film, and Novak's over-dramatic performance matched her character perfectly.  The supporting cast is pretty high-profile, too.  Rock Hudson played the movie director/husband to Marina Rudd; Hudson was suitably stoic, but nothing remarkable here.  Similarly, Tony Curtis played a slimy producer, but didn't seem to put much effort into it. 
Geraldine Chaplin has a supporting role, as well, although she managed to add some depth to her otherwise bland character.  You can spot a young Pierce Brosnan with a non-speaking role in one of the film-within-a-film scenes; he's little more than a prop with silly hair, but it's still fun to point him out.

The film was directed by Guy Hamilton, who is best known for his contributions to the James Bond 007 franchise.  I haven't seen a whole lot of his work outside of Bond, but I think it can be agreed that a cerebral spinster mystery is a change of pace from his more famous works.  Personally, I wasn't crazy for Hamilton's direction.  Sure, it was competent enough, but a lot of the film just felt too stagey to me; I felt like I was watching a teleplay or a theatrical reenactment.
Because a real Hollywood actress wouldn't look like a Chia pet
On the other hand, I was definitely impressed by the performances he got from Taylor and Novak --- maybe I was just underwhelmed by the non-Hollywood supporting cast members.

My biggest gripe with this movie is with Agatha Christie.  I recently did a little research on Gene Tierney after I reviewed Laura, which naturally led me to learn of her highly publicized tragedyThe Mirror Crack'd took obvious inspiration from Tierney's life, to the point where I figured out the mystery immediately.  And that is saying something, since Christie mysteries always wait until the last few pages to reveal crucial plot elements.  This felt more like a ripped-from-the-headlines Law & Order episode than a proper movie because it was so obviously based on such a famous mishap.  If you don't have a mild obsession with Tierney, then the mystery will undoubtedly baffle you in the traditional Christie fashion.  Unfortunately for me, I seem to have inherited my grandfather's affection for her, which is admittedly a little unsettling.
Not "death threat" unsettling, but still creepy

I am willing to credit the two leading ladies for their performances and solid storytelling mechanics from the director and the principal supporting cast of The Mirror Crack'd.  Had I not been familiar with the true-life story the plot is based on, I am sure I would have appreciated it more.  As it stands, though, I saw the twist coming from a million miles away, and that ruins the fun in any mystery.


  1. Dude, what if at the end of the movie it turned out all the characters lived inside a serial killer's head? Then, just when you think you finally understand what's going on a little boy shows up and murders Amanda Peet. Bet you wouldn't see that coming.

  2. Remember when John Cusack was in good movies? I can even remember justifying a break-up because a girl didn't want to watch High Fidelity. Man, I feel old.