The Mirror Crack'd Review
Death On The Nile was a very flawed thriller; splendid fun as camp but decidedly sluggish in the suspense department. However, it looks like a classic thriller compared to The Mirror Crack’d from two years later, which is so bad it’s actually puzzling. The original novel isn’t vintage Christie, coming from 1961, but it’s not terrible and the plotting is pretty ingenious. Nor is the cast an embarrassment - on paper - featuring Liz Taylor, Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, Kim Novak, Edward Fox, Geraldine Chaplin and Angela Lansbury as Miss Marple.
But therein lies the first problem. Miss Marple and international superstars do not mix. The Marple novels, unlike the more expansive Poirot books, rely heavily on dialogue and a cosy village setting, with our indulgence required for the way she plucks solutions out of thin air. Once you add Hollywood to St Mary Mead, the whole delicate mixture becomes wildly unbalanced and ends up collapsing. Would a Hollywood studio really have filmed an Elizabethan Epic on location in an English village, during the coronation of 1953 ? Would they have hired a manor house to film in ? Would they have then expected the stars to live in this house ? Would those stars have willingly mingled with the rather insular locals ? The end result is a total farrago, the Yanks meet Brits story not so much Straw Dogs as Paper Kittens. In the original novel, the actress Marina Gregg (Taylor) is a fading British star, appearing in a British film which tends more towards the B-Movie than the big-budget epic.
It might not matter so much if the film were tautly directed, exciting and well acted. Sadly, none of these exemptions applies. Guy Hamilton, never the most exciting of directors but efficient enough with material such as Goldfinger, plods through the storyline without imagination or style. The set-ups are straight out ofHeartbeat, the camera rarely moving but stopping in one place to record the action as if the end result were a wedding video. It’s shorter than the other films in the series - 102 minutes - but seems longer because every scene goes on a few seconds beyond its natural life. Hamilton opens the film with a spoof version of a cheap 1950’s B-feature Whodunnit which would be a good idea if the actual film wasn’t just as bad as the one intended to be a joke. There is absolutely no tension. The murder - taking place during the middle of a garden party to celebrate the Coronation in the presence of Hollywood stars - is made trivial because we’ve barely had time to register who the victim is and why she’s there. Even when we find out the solution, it’s oddly weightless because the crime isn’t ever made to matter. That’s even if you’re willing to ignore the fact that the victim is far too young. There is another murder, later in the film, which is better staged but, by that time, you just don’t care anymore. Nor is it revealed how this later killing was actually done - is Prussic Acid readily available in a small village chemist, and if it was, wouldn’t someone take notice who was buying it?
Worst of all, the acting is generally mediocre and sometimes laughably awful. The exceptions are Edward Fox, who has an amusing twinkle in his eye and is every inch the stereotype Inspector from the Yark, and Tony Curtis who manages to get some laughs from his yobbish American producer. But Rock Hudson looks drugged throughout, not so much throwing away his lines as having them securely shredded to US government regulations. He’s meant to be playing an important Hollywood director, but is so lacking in vitality that he would have trouble getting a job on a daytime soap. Illness was presumably getting to him so charity is the order of the day but it’s rather sad to see him like this.. As for Kim Novak, she’s dreadful but doesn’t appear too often so is reasonably inoffensive, which is more than can be said for poor Liz Taylor.
Resembling a cross between Betty Turpin from The Rovers’ Return and an accident victim suffering from severe shock, she is so terrible as to be strangely fascinating. We know she can act - take a look at Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and be amazed at how good she once was - but it’s as if she had been told by her doctor to avoid giving anything resembling a performance and she floats around the film as if she were a Dalek levitating upstairs. This in itself makes the film a must for devotees of camp but it’s also a little bit sad for those of us who adore the days of the Hollywod Studios at their zenith.
There’s also the problem of Miss Marple. She was Agatha Christie’s favourite character, we’re reliably informed – she disliked Poirot – but she lacks edge and the viciousness granted to her in her debut, “Murder At The Vicarage”, soon turned into grating fluffiness. However, if you’re going to play her then you should put some graft into it – Joan Hickson just about nailed the character for all time in the 1980s BBC series. Angela Lansbury, theoretically promising casting, walks boringly through scenes, playing Miss Marple as a standard old dear and never becoming anything like as amusing as she was in Death On The Nile. Grotesques are Lansbury’s talent - that film, The Manchurian Candidate, Gypsy on stage - and she is incapable of interestingly playing a relatively normal person.
The direction and acting are not helped by a script which is packed with unspeakable dialogue and various attempts at bitchery which wouldn’t have been amusing even if they weren’t murdered by the hopeless delivery of the leading ladies. Filmed on location in the exotic Home Counties - packed with period detail from, er, 1980 - the film looks flat and Phyllis Dalton’s costumes seem wastefully elegant when draped over actors who don’t have an ounce of style. Some viewers are now reclaiming this film as some kind of camp classic – a kind of British Mommie Dearest - but I really can’t see it myself. Seeing Liz Taylor, once among the most beautiful actresses of her generation, hit bottom isn’t my idea of fun. Fans of Hollywood trivia, however, will be interested to learn two little snippets of gossip; that Natalie Wood was first choice for the role of Marina Gregg; and that the story was almost certainly inspired by an event in the life of that other great screen beauty, Gene Tierney.
Another unexceptional effort from Optimum, available only as part of their Agatha Christie Collection. The film is framed at 1.85:1 and has been anamorphically enhanced. Once again, the image is rather soft – although this is less noticeable than on the other discs – and there is rather a lot of grain. But there seems to be less print damage than was present on the previous R2 disc from Warners. The mono soundtrack is, as usual, perfectly acceptable.
No extras at all and, once again, no subtitles. Why Optimum couldn’t come up with some subtitles on this release is a mystery and reflects badly on their commitment to hard-of-hearing viewers.