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  • Stefan Riedlinger

The Miss Marple movies - Ron Goodwin - Soundtrack Review

When you ask people who are not film music enthusiasts: “Who is Ron Goodwin?”, you normally get a reply such as “I have no idea”, but you tell them he is the composer of the music for the Miss Marple films with Margaret Rutherford, they immediately remember the song and the famous theme. Ron Goodwin’s music to these movies is a big part of my childhood. We had to wait until 2012 to finally get a good CD with the famous music, and I was happy like a little child when I finally hold this CD in my hands. Let’s start with some basic comments about the author, the movies and the music.

Author Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie (1890 –1976) is famous for her 66 detective novels and especially for creating the two very popular detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. She also wrote “The Mousetrap”, the world's longest-running play, a murder mystery that is still played in London, and I watched it years ago. At the end of the play, the actors ask the audience to keep the secret of the murder, so other people can enjoy the play.

The Guinness Book of World Records lists Christie as the best-selling novelist of all time. Her novels have sold roughly 2 billion copies, and her works come third in the rankings of the world's most-widely published books, behind Shakespeare's works and the Bible. Christie remains the most-translated individual author, having been translated into at least 103 languages, and “Then There Were None” is Christie's best-selling novel, with 100 million sales to date, making it the world's best-selling mystery ever. Most than thirty feature films have been based on her work.

For all fans of Agatha Christie’s movies, here is another very popular theme, again by Ron Goodwin for “The Alphabet Murders” (1965). The movie starring Tony Randall as Poirot and is more a parody than a real crime movie. Goodwin’s main theme is the best part of it.

The Miss Marple movies with Margaret Rutherford

Although Miss Marple was portrayed by other actresses (e.g. Angela Lansbury and Helen Hayes), Margaret Rutherford’s performance became the most popular one.

The character of Jane Marple in the first Miss Marple book “The Murder at the Vicarage” is different from how she appears later. This early version is a gleeful gossip and not an especially nice woman. Miss Marple was never married and has no close living relatives except of a nephew. Miss Marple may later be considered as a female version of that staple of British detective fiction, the gentleman detective.

Although popular from her first appearance in 1930, Jane Marple had to wait thirty-two years for her first big-screen appearance, starring Margaret Rutherford. These were very popular light comedies, but were disappointing to Christie herself. Nevertheless, Agatha Christie dedicated the novel “The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side” to Rutherford. Rutherford presented the character as a bold and eccentric old lady, and also insisted that her husband, Stringer Davis, played a role in the movies, so he was becoming Miss Marples Dr. Watson.

“Murder, She Said” (1961) was the first of four British MGM productions starring Rutherford and always directed by George Pollock. This first film was based on the novel “4:50 from Paddington” (U.S. title “What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!”, 1957), and the changes made in the plot were typical of the series. In the film, Mrs. McGillicuddy is cut from the plot. Miss Marple herself sees an apparent murder committed on a train running alongside hers.

The other films were “Murder at the Gallop” (1963), based on the Hercule Poirot novel “After the Funeral”, “Murder Most Foul” (1964), based on the Poirot novel “Mrs McGinty's Dead”; and “Murder Ahoy!” (1964). The last film is not based on any Christie work, but displays a few plot elements from “They Do It With Mirrors”.

The music by Ron Goodwin

Ron Goodwin (1925 – 2003) was an English composer, known for his film music for over 70 films, in a career lasting over fifty years. His most famous works included “Where Eagles Dare”, “Battle of Britain”, “633 Squadron” and “Operation Crossbow”. He even worked with Hitchcock on “Frenzy” (1972) and replaced a score by Henri Mancini.

The Miss Marple theme became one of his most popular ones, and it took soundtrack companies until the year 1992 to finally release an album with the score. Goodwin composed the music to all four Miss Marple films with Margaret Rutherford, and he used the famous theme for all four films with slight variations. This main theme in a Rococo-style has a distinct 1960s feel to it and is known to be a highly complex piece of music due to the quick playing of the violin and the cembalo. Goodwin was approached by Pollock after he had heard about him from Stanley Black. Black had worked with Pollock on "Stranger in Town" (1957) and had used Goodwin as his orchestrator years ago.

When I was a teenager and watched the movies, I connected my tape recorder to the TV set and recorded the title theme, that was one of my first experiences with amazing movie music. For the suite on the CD, Goodwin has to recreate the music because the original sketches were destroyed as a lot of other sketches from that time.

The new recording is very nice and very close to the original ones. The percussion is more dominant for that recording. Goodwin uses mostly material from “Murder Ahoi” and “Murder at The Galop” (the hunting theme with the horn). The other suites on the CD, I normally skip, features music for “Lancelot and Gulnevere” and “Force Ten From Navarone”, the sequel to the very popular “Guns from Navarone”.

Ron Goodwin’s music for these four Miss Marple movies is a great example of timeless movie music. Even though the tone is mostly light such as in comedy music, Goodwin was able to create haunting and suspense music for the series and underscores the dramatic scenes quite well. The main theme though is the most popular music and this theme became one of the most popular scores in film music history. I highly recommend to buy the CD and listen to the music.

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2016, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.


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