Monday, April 27, 2015

"THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY" (1984) Review

        
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"THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY" (1984) Review

As far as I know, there have been two adaptations of Agatha Christie's 1942 novel, "The Body in the Library". I have already seen the latter version that aired on ITV in 2004. Recently, I saw the earlier version that aired twenty years earlier. And I must say that I was taken by surprise by the differences in the two versions.

I now realize that I should not have been taken by surprised. The screenwriter for the 2004 made numerous changes to Christie's novel. However, screenwriter T.R. Bowen was a lot more faithful to the novel in the adaptation that aired in the 1980s. Most people would see this as a sign that 1984's "THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY" was the superior version. Well . . . they would be entitled to that opinion. But it is not one that I would share.

"THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY" beings when the dead body of a young blonde woman is found inside the library of Gossington Hall, the home of Colonel Arthur and Dolly Bantry of St. Mary Mead. While Mrs. Bantry enlists the aid of their friend and neighbor Miss Jane Marple to investigate the crime; Detective Inspector Slack first suspects Colonel Bantry and later, another local named Basil Blake as the murderer. However, the police is finally able to identify the body as Ruby Keene, a local dancer at a resort hotel called the Majestic, in the nearby seaside resort of Danemouth. Her cousin, another dancer named Josie Turner, had identified the body. And according to Josie, Ruby had been missing for some time. Worried over the investigation's impact upon her husband, Mrs. Bantry suggests that she and Miss Marple spend a few days at the Majestic Hotel. There, they learned about Ruby's connection to a wealthy invalid (and old friend of the Bantrys) named Conway Jefferson, who was planning to leave a considerable amount of money to Ruby.

During the first three years of "MISS MARPLE", the episodes usually aired over two or three nights. In the case of "THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY", it aired over three nights, resulting in a running time of 156 minutes. And that is a hell of a long time for a story like "THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY". It was simply too long. And it felt like it, thanks to the slow pacing. One, the story's setup - namely the discovery of the body, Miss Marple's recruitment into the case, the introduction of the police - seemed to drag forever. I found myself wondering when Miss Marple and Mrs. Bantry would finally make it to the Majestic Hotel. And it seemed as if T.R. Bowen and director Silvio Narizzano were determined to include every detail to Christie's novel. I might as well say it. I am not one of those who demand that a television or movie adaptation of a novel be completely faithful to its source. It depends on whether or not being faithful served the production in the end. I do not feel that this faithful adaptation did great service to a novel that was never a particular favorite of mine in the first place. I really had to struggle to maintain my interest in this television movie.

I have one other major complaint. I noticed that Christie's novel, along with this movie, tried to include as many suspects as possible in the murder of Ruby Keene. But once the story shifted to the Majestic Hotel and Conway Jefferson's family, the number of real suspects seemed to whittle down to two - Jefferson's son-in-law and daughter-in-law, Mark Gaskell and Adelaide Jefferson. Even worse, Bowen failed to create a balanced portrayal of the pair. One ended up receiving more attention and screen time over the other.

I had no problems with most of the movie's production. I thought it did a serviceable job in re-creating St. Mary's Mead and a seaside resort circa 1955, thanks to the work of production designer Austin Ruddy. John Walker's photography struck me as serviceable. But like most productions that featured Joan Hickson as Miss Marple, it is obvious that the movie was shot on inferior film that managed to fade over the years. I enjoyed Jan Wright's costume designs. But they did not blow my mind. I do not know who did the actresses' hairstyles. But whoever worked on Sally Jane Jackson's hairstyle did a very questionable job - as seen in the images below:

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What in the hell happened?

At least the performances for "THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY" were up to snuff. The television movie marked Joan Hickson's debut as Jane Marple. And she did an excellent job in setting up the numerous first-class work that eventually did for the next seven to eight years. The movie also marked the debut of David Horovitch as Inspector Slack, the police detective featured in most of Hickson's Miss Marple productions. I found his performance rather interesting, considering Slack's hostile attitude toward the elderly sleuth in compare to later movies. Three other performances also caught my attention. Moray Watson (from 1980's "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE") did a very competent job in portraying Colonel Arthur Bantry's growing sense of isolation from his neighbors' suspicions that he may have been involved in Ruby Keene's death. Anthony Smee gave a very entertaining performance as St. Mary Mead's new resident, the colorful Basil Blake. And I was very impressed by Trudie Styler's portrayal of the victim's pragmatic, yet reserved cousin Josie Turner. The movie also featured competent support from Andrew Cruickshank, Ciaran Madden, Gwen Watford, Ian Brimble, Raymond Francis and Jess Conrad.

I am not saying that "THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY" is a terrible movie. I thought that director Silvio Narizzano and screenwriter T.R. Bowen did a solid job in adapting Christie's novel. And the movie featured excellent and solid performances from a cast led by Joan Hickson. But . . . two hours and thirty-six minutes struck me as too damn long for an adaptation of a novel that has never struck me as extraordinary. And quite frankly, the long running time and the slow pacing nearly put me to sleep.

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