The Mirror Crack’d (1980) was adapted from Agatha Christie’s 1964 novel, The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side. The film boasts some of the most famous actors of the 1950s and 1960s, Elizabeth Taylor, Tony Curtis, Kim Novak, Angela Lansbury, and of course, Rock Hudson. This would be Rock Hudson’s second last theatrically released film, made five years before his untimely death. He is reunited with Elizabeth Taylor almost thirty years after their pairing in Giant, and they play a married couple once again, except this time instead of oil fields, there’s murder.
Christie’s novel was reportedly based on the tragic experience of Gene Tierney, who detailed in her biography that whilst at a tennis party, a fan revealed that despite being under quarantine for German Measles, she had sneaked out and gone to the Hollywood Canteen where Tierney was volunteering. Unbeknownst to the fan, this had caused Tierney to contract rubella, and her daughter, Daria, was born mentally and physically disabled. Tierney recounted that she had listened to the fan’s gushing without comment before turning and walking away. “After that I didn’t care whether ever again I was anyone’s favourite actress” explained Tierney. Despite Tierney’s biography being written some years after Christie’s novel, Daria’s disabilities and the circumstances of Tierney’s contraction of rubella were known before then.
The Curse is come upon me
The film begins with the villagers of St. Mary Mead watching a murder mystery film. The projector suddenly overheats and the film melts before the culprit can be revealed. But Miss Marple has already solved the mystery due to her extraordinary powers of deduction, which she reveals before leaving the hall.
The famous, but reclusive film star, Marina Gregg-Rudd (played by Elizabeth Taylor) and her film director husband, Jason Rudd (played by Rock Hudson) are renting Gossington Hall, because they are making a film about Mary Queen of Scots, in which Marina is playing the titular role, and Jason is directing. This film is to mark her comeback after a protracted absence from the screen. The reason for which is clouded by much supposition and rumour.
A reception is held at the hall, which Lola Brewster (played by Kim Novak), a long time rival of Marina’s, “crashes”. She and Marina exchange verbal barbs. Jason is furious that Lola is there, as he is worried that this will be the impetus for another nervous breakdown on Marina’s part. Marty N. Fenn (played by Tony Curtis), the film’s producer, whose middle initial stands for nothing, is dismissive of Jason’s concerns, and is adamant that he wants to generate publicity for the film by having his two leading ladies seen together.
Whilst speaking to Heather Babcock, one of the village busy bodies, Marina suddenly freezes, attracting the attention of the other guests. But she soon recovers and suggests that Heather have one of Jason’s special daiquiris. Sometime later, Heather is discovered dead in one of the armchairs.
Miss Marple (played by Angela Lansbury) is convalescing at home after sustaining a sprain at the fête held before the reception. Her maid, Cherry, relays the events to Miss Marple, and tells her that Heather seemed to have disliked the daiquiri Jason gave her. Miss Marple immediately suspects that Heather was poisoned. At the inquest, the coroner does indeed rule Heather’s death as having been caused by a massive barbiturate overdose, due to the ingestion of a lethal amount of phenobarbital. Her death is then ruled a murder.
Miss Marple’s nephew, Inspector Dermot Craddock (played by Edward Fox) visits her, and is amused by his aunt’s interrogation of him over the case, which he is investigating.
Jason is then shown disposing of Marina’s medication by washing it all down the bathroom sink.
Cherry then tells Miss Marple and Dermot about Marina momentarily freezing at the party and staring at a painting depicting a mother and child. Miss Marple then recites Tennyson’s Lady of Shallot.
Out flew the web and floated wide. The mirror crack’d from side to side. “The curse is come upon me”, cried The Lady of Shalott.
Cherry then adds that after Heather spilt her drink, Marina gave her her’s, and Miss Marple and Dermot deduce that Marina may have been the intended target and not Heather.
Dermot goes to Gossington Hall, where he interviews Elia (played by Geraldine Chaplin), and reveals himself to be a great fan of Marina’s. Upstairs, Jason soothes Marina over Lola being in her film and playing Queen Elizabeth I, and Lola trying to steal the film from Marina.
During Dermot’s interview of Elia, it is obvious that she does not like Marina, and is very jealous of her marriage to Jason, who Elia worked for before he and Marina were married. Jason comes downstairs and mistakes Dermot for a reporter, before telling him that he still won’t allow him to see Marina even though Dermot is from Scotland Yard and trying to solve a murder that took place in the Rudd’s house. Jason then tells Dermot that Marina is under a lot of pressure because this is supposed to be her comeback, as she hasn’t worked since her child was born mentally and physically disabled some years before.
When Dermot tells Miss Marple about his interview with Elia, she thinks that Elia is a prime suspect due to her devotion to Jason and dislike of Marina. Dermot isn’t so sure, and teases his aunt about her trying to solve the case before he does.
Lola is being difficult onset, demanding all of Jason’s attention. Dermot interviews her, and becomes rather flustered by her flirting and sexual innuendos. Lola tells outrageous lies about Marina, before Dermot reveals that he knows that Lola tried to shoot and kill Marina some years before because Lola and Jason were once involved, and Marina “stole” him from Lola. Lola goes ballistic as Dermot leaves her dressing room.
Miss Marple sees Elia making a phone call, despite the phones at Gossington Hall working, in a phone box near Miss Marple’s cottage. It is then revealed that Elia phoned Marty and accused him of trying to poison Marina, which Marty responds to by putting down the phone.
Dermot interviews Marty, who also badmouths Marina (as well as everyone else in show business) before rushing Dermot out of his office. Dermot then returns to Gossington Hall and finally speaks to Marina. He is quite awestruck by her, before asking her if she has any enemies. Marina becomes extremely upset and panicked, and insists that she knows that someone is trying to poison her. However, Dermot realises that she is in fact acting out a scene from one of her films, Danger in the Dark, and is unimpressed by Marina’s lack of sincerity. Marina then admits that she has been receiving anonymous poison pen death threats, and the intense fear she feels, and has always felt, due to her fame.
Lola ruins a scene that Marina is filming, and Jason comforts his wife, but Marina then becomes convinced that the coffee Elia has given her has poison in it and she runs off the set. Elia then phones someone and tells them that she knows that they are a murderer.
Back at the Hall, Jason accuses Elia of trying to murder Marina with arsenic, but recants. Elia then dies from sulphuric acid that was substituted for saline solution in her nasal spray. This causes Marina to try and leave Gossington Hall, but Jason stops her and promises that they will check into a hotel the next day.
At Miss Marple’s cottage, she and Dermot discuss Heather and Elia’s murders. Miss Marple knows that Marina’s frozen look during the reception is vital because of the importance of association. She recounts a story whereby a man hung himself from a meat hook using a cube of ice to stand on, and how his wife couldn’t ever bear to look at ice afterwards. Miss Marple tells Dermot that they need to know what Heather said to Marina because it triggered some kind of damaging association.
Back at Gossington Hall, Jason makes Marina hot chocolate before bed. She tells him she loves him, and he replies that he loves her, too, before leaving the room, as they sleep separately.
That night, Miss Marple has an epiphany, and goes to see Marina the next day. The butler (played by Charles Gray) tries to get her to leave, but she refuses. Jason is furious when he discovers her in the upstairs area where Heather was murdered, and asks she and Dermot, who arrived shortly after his aunt, to leave.
Miss Marple then explains that she knows that Heather gave Marina measles, because she broke quarantine and went to go and see Marina perform for the troops during the Second World War. After the show she asked Marina for her autograph and kissed her on the cheek. This caused Marina to contract rubella and give birth to a child that was mentally and physically disabled. When Heather unknowingly revealed that she had infected Marina and caused her to undergo such a personal tragedy, Marina looked at the painting of mother and child by Bellini, and resolved to murder Heather by purposely switching her drink, which she had poisoned with her own phenobarbital, with Heather’s. Miss Marple ascertains that Jason realised that Marina had murdered Heather because of the death threats, which Marina had sent herself, and has poisoned his wife in order to protect her from public humiliation.
But when Miss Marple and Jason go to Marina’s room, she has not touched the poisoned hot chocolate, and seems to have killed herself in order to avoid Jason having to live with the guilt of killing someone he loved.
The Mirror Crack’d is a very enjoyable film. Although it was a box office disappointment and did not receive good reviews at the time, it is a film that competently adapts Christie’s novels in the same way that its production company, EMI, adapted Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun.
Even though much of the main cast are acting out parodies of their own star personas, none of them give a bad performance. And Angela Lansbury is a very subtle and witty Miss Marple, entirely different in her portrayal to Margaret Rutherford, who Guy Hamilton, the film’s director, said was a wonderful clown.
Rock Hudson is lovely as Jason Rudd. Although it would have been easy for him to be subsumed by Elizabeth Taylor’s tragic and manic performance, and Kim Novak’s entirely overstated, but thoroughly enjoyable, diva cameo; he manages to make his role very memorable. His love for Elizabeth Taylor’s character is entirely believable, especially at the end of the film when he looks utterly defeated at the knowledge that he has lost the love of his life forever. He breaks down into sobs before he and Angela Lansbury enter the room to discover that Elizabeth Taylor’s character has committed suicide. But his sobbing makes you feel such sympathy for him, and you are convinced that his character has really experienced the worst tragedy that a husband could.
There is nothing overstated about Rock’s performance throughout the film. Although he is playing a variant of himself at his prime as the Hollywood heartthrob, several female characters remark on how handsome he is; he imbues his character with an indelible sadness, as if despite he and his wife’s equal beauty, they have experienced much tragedy. In this way, Rock seems to give the viewer an insight into his own life as a superstar of the Hollywood Golden Age, and how he had to maintain a certain facade despite personal disappointments and tragedies.
Even though his character seems to be impacted by events that were and are beyond his control, he never appears pathetic, and his performance is never nauseatingly self pitying. Throughout the film he makes it clear, through wonderfully subtle acting, that he is trying to carry on with his life and support a wife who has been emotionally damaged for a very long time. And although he is cast as a washed up director who is passed his prime in terms of both his career and his physical appearance, he does not give a hammy performance.
It is very interesting to watch his performance in this film, because he is not the young heartthrob of Magnificent Obsession or the witty lothario of Pillow Talk. Despite still being very handsome, he is older, and somehow I think that adds to his portrayal of Jason Rudd. Rock almost imperceptibly shows how tiring ageing is, because by the end of the film, his character is utterly defeated: red eyed and sobbing, he is a man done in by years of professional and personal pain. Despite absolutely adoring Angela Lansbury, I cannot agree with her assertion that The Mirror Crack’d is a dreadful film, because Rock, Elizabeth Taylor and Lansbury herself, all show why they are considered some of the greatest actors of their era or any other through their performances in the film. It may not be an Academy Award worthy film, but Rock’s performance in it is not to be missed, especially if you want to see him give one that is mature and memorable.
Putting the pieces of the mirror together
The film was originally going to star Helen Hayes as Miss Marple, but when the rights to the film moved from Warner Borthers to EMI, Angela Lansbury was cast instead.
Although Angela Lansbury’s Miss Marple is supposed to be quite some years older than Rock’s Jason Rudd, they were both born in 1925, as was Tony Curtis.
One of the producers, Dyson Lyell, decided that because the film was set in 1953, it would be ideal to use actors who were associated with that era, and so Rock, Taylor, Curtis and Novak were cast in supporting roles.
The film’s publicity department inadvertently revealed the ending of the film by promoting that it starred an actress who had never before played a murderess.
Natalie Wood was originally cast as Marina Gregg-Rudd, but left the project over salary, billing and character depiction disputes.
A very young and uncredited Pierce Brosnan appears in a non-speaking role as Marina’s Mary Queen of Scots’ lover.
In one scene, Marina says, “bags, bags go away. Come back on Doris Day”, and Jason frowns, as Rock Hudson and Doris Day appeared in three films together.
This post is my entry for The Rock Hudson Blogathon, which is being hosted by The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Love Letters to Old Hollywood So please check out their blogs for more information and to read everyone’s contributions!