It is 1953 in the small village of St Mary Mead, the home of aged spinster Miss Jane Marple (Angela Lansbury) who has a neat line in deductive reasoning, as exhibited by her ability to fathom the solution to the mystery movie the vicar is running for the villagers when the film breaks. As usual, she is right as she packs up her things and leaves without waiting to see, but the world of movies is about to intrude on the sleepy hamlet as a film based on the life of Queen Elizabeth is to be shot there. The villagers are all very excited, especially due to the appearance of some genuine megastars in the cast, but soon a dark cloud of intrigue is hovering overhead...
After the success of the Hercule Poirot films for EMI, another Agatha Christie detective was recruited to step up to the big screen, and she was Miss Marple, a character who had been a great success in British films during the sixties when Margaret Rutherford took the role. Now it was the eighties, and just before a more faithful interpretation of the character was essayed on television when Joan Hickson played the part, there was the Lansbury version which was more obviously in Rutherford's debt. Or she would have been if she had taken centre stage, as here Marple looked to be very much a supporting character in her own movie.
Wearing a ton of unflattering old age makeup, Lansbury makes for a skittish sleuth, though allows her keen wits to show through at the instances she is not being tripped over by a dog, for example. But the producers were evidently more impressed by the hasbeen stars they had secured the services of, therefore they enjoyed the lion's share of the screen time as the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson rubbed shoulders with the type of British actor more likely to be seen in a sitcom or tasteful TV drama. Taylor plays one of the stars, Marina Rudd, in no way typecast except she seems to be playing herself though no one ever made an attempt on her life whole she was making a film.
When Marina is at a do to welcome the cast and crew, one of her fans has the daquiri meant for her and ends up dead, poisoned, but who could have been the culprit? Going by the maxim that it's always the person you least expect means that you should guess it in no time, so with that out of the way if you're feeling indulgent you can bask in the sheer bad taste of the enterprise. Lovers of camp will appreciate Kim Novak's appearance as a rival star who gets into a bitchy slanging match with Marina, and thereafter does her best to sabotage her career by standing in her eyeline, and just about sabotages her own when she acts violently towards Edward Fox's police inspector as the possibility of her guilt arises.
Who would have thought Kim, looking great for her age, had it in her to go this far over the top? She's not the only one as Tony Curtis plays up the dodgy producer to the hilt, or twitchy Geraldine Chaplin who unwisely goes about phoning those she suspects. The film's view of moviemaking is one that appears hopelessly jaded to the extent that murder is an occupational hazard and everyone is a potential troublemaker in the way of getting the production underway. Although this was a British film, it presents England as quaintness personified as if aimed at an international audience who wouldn't know this was set in 1953 if they had not been told at the start, thus rendering this slightly hilarious for those in the mood. It really is tacky, and for many that lack of class makes for the best reason for watching as the total absence of suspense and the overwhelming naffness can be fairly entertaining in itself. Music by John Cameron.