At the heels of two massively successful adaptations of Agatha Christie’s detective novels – Sidney Lumet’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974) and John Guillermin DEATH ON THE NILE (1978), Guy Hamilton (GOLDFINGER 1964) is in the driving seat of the third one, and he would follow up with a fourth venture EVIL UNDER THE SUN (1982).
Like the said three, THE MIRROR CRACK’D has a star-stud ensemble including Taylor, Hudson, Novak, Curtis, Lansbury and Chaplin (also features the movie debut of Brosnan, snuggling over Taylor’s bosoms), imagine what a sensation it would be, if it were to be made 15 years earlier when their star power was in its heyday. Yet, unlike the other three adaptations, here, the gumshoe is a woman, Miss Jane Marple (played by Lansbury con brio, who would soon star in the long-running TV series MURDER, SHE WROTE 1984-1996, as the mystery writer-cum-sleuth Jessica Fletcher).
The prologue is the screening of a black-and-white whodunit MURDER AT MIDNIGHT, for the audience in the fictional English village St. Mary Mead, and a glitch occurs right before the inspector (Stock) is about to disclose the murder, and Miss Marple quips with her verdict “the one who seems to be the most innocent, often, is the murderer”, which can be exactly borrowed to the following murder case of Heather Babcock (Maureen Bennett). Babcock is a simple-minded village girl, a big fan of the two-times Oscar-winning Hollywood movie star Marina Rudd (Taylor), who comes across the ocean to shooting her comeback movie about Mary, Queen of Scots, which is directed by her husband Jason Rudd (Hudson), but the producer Marty Fenn (Curtis) wants his wife Lola Brewster (Novak) to play Elizabeth I, Lola and Marina are sworn enemies with some old scores to settle, so can two divas co-exist in the same set? Meanwhile Jason is having an affair with his stolid assistant Ella (Chaplin), thus, when Ms. Babcock drops dead after imbibing a poisoned drink which is supposedly made for Marina, who is the one behind this heinous crime? – yes, it is the one you least suspect.
Frustratingly, the movie is not on a par with aforementioned three mysteries, as Hamilton half-heartedly throws all the red-herrings under a rather blasé condition, arbitrarily dampens the critical scenes which contain significant clues and withholds important information so it is impossible to divine the motivation from an audience’s standpoint (we do want to play detective!), the manipulation is atrociously tactless when you think back about it after the finale and the loose end (about the reasons to dispatch a second victim, just to name one).
But, the cast, a batch of has-beens, duke out as if it were their last chance to be glamorous and taken seriously in front of the screen (which is dolefully true for Taylor, Novak and Hudson in this case), unwittingly casts a pall of melancholy into the act. Taylor’s soul-pulverising “frozen” look, Hudson’s jaded desperation, Novak’s campy showboating, both embarrassing and affectionate in the same time, that’s something eventually salvages the unwieldy vehicle from being an abysmal pablum, so in a way, this time, it is time itself who comes to the rescue.