The Mirror Crack'd

The Mirror Crack'd is a 1980 British mystery film directed by Guy Hamilton from a screenplay by Jonathan Hales and Barry Sandler, based on Agatha Christie's Miss Marple novel The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side (1962). It stars Angela Lansbury, Kim Novak, Elizabeth Taylor, Geraldine Chaplin, Tony Curtis, Edward Fox, Rock Hudson and Pierce Brosnan. Scenes were filmed at Twickenham Film Studios, Twickenham, London and on location in Kent.

The Mirror Crack'd
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGuy Hamilton
Produced byJohn Brabourne
Richard Goodwin
Screenplay byJonathan Hales
Barry Sandler
Based onThe Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side
by Agatha Christie
StarringAngela Lansbury
Elizabeth Taylor
Kim Novak
Rock Hudson
Edward Fox
Geraldine Chaplin
Tony Curtis
Music byJohn Cameron
CinematographyChristopher G. Challis
Edited byRichard Marden
EMI Films
GW Films
Distributed byColumbia-Warner Distributors
Release date
  • 19 December 1980 (1980-12-19) (United States)
  • 6 February 1981 (1981-02-06) (United Kingdom)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$5.5 million[1]
Box office$11 million[2]


In 1953 in the English village of St Mary Mead, home of Miss Jane Marple, a big Hollywood production company arrives to film a costume drama about Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I with two famous movie stars, Marina Rudd and Lola Brewster. The two actresses are old rivals. Marina is making a much heralded comeback after a prolonged "illness" and retirement (due to what was really a nervous breakdown when her son was born with severe brain damage). She and her husband, Jason Rudd, who is directing the film, arrive with their entourage. When she learns that Lola will be in the film as well, she becomes enraged and vents her anger. Lola then arrives with her husband, Marty Fenn, who is producing the film.

Excitement runs high in the village as the locals have been invited to a reception held by the film company in a manor house, Gossington Hall, to meet the celebrities. Lola and Marina come face to face at the reception and exchange some comically potent insults, as they smile and pose for the cameras.

At the reception Marina is cornered by a gushing, devoted fan, Heather Babcock, who bores her with a long and detailed story about having actually met Marina in person during the Second World War. After recounting the meeting they had all those years ago, when she arose from her sickbed to go and meet the glamorous star, Heather drinks a cocktail that was made for Marina and quickly dies from poisoning. Everyone is certain Marina was the intended murder victim. Not only has Marina been receiving anonymous death threats made up of newspaper clippings, once shooting begins on the film she discovers that her cup of coffee on the set has also been spiked with poison, sending her into fits of terror. The police detective from Scotland Yard investigating the case, Inspector Dermot Craddock, is baffled. He asks his aunt, who happens to be Jane Marple, who recently injured her foot at the reception and is therefore confined to her home, for help. The suspects are Ella Zielinsky, Jason's assistant who is secretly in love with him and would like Marina out of the way, and the hotheaded actress Lola.

The main suspect, Ella Zielinsky, after going to a pay phone in the village where she telephoned and threatened to expose the murderer, is then killed by a lethal nasal spray substituted for her hay-fever medication.

Miss Marple, now back on her feet, visits Gossington Hall, where Marina and Jason are staying, and views where Heather's death occurred. Working from information received from her cleaning woman, Cherry Baker, who worked as a waitress the day of the murder, Marple begins to piece together the events and solves the mystery. By that time, however, another death occurs at Gossington Hall, which explains who was the killer: Marina Rudd has apparently died by suicide.

Miss Marple explains that Heather Babcock's story was Marina's motive. Heather suffered from German measles, a rather harmless disease to most adults, but dangerous for a pregnant woman. Heather innocently infected Marina when she met her during the Second World War while Marina was pregnant: she had caused Marina's child to be born with mental retardation. Upon hearing Heather cheerfully tell this story, Marina was overcome with rage and deliberately poisoned her. She then spread the idea that she was the intended victim, concocting the death threats and poisoning her own coffee. Ella, who in fact made phone calls to various suspects from a phone box, accidentally guessed correctly, prompting Marina to murder her. As Marina is now dead, she will not be brought to justice. Jason confesses to Miss Marple that he had put poison in his wife's hot chocolate to save her from being prosecuted; however, the drink has not been touched. Marina is nonetheless found dead, seeming to have poisoned herself.


In addition, Anthony Steel, Dinah Sheridan, Nigel Stock, Hildegard Neil, John Bennett and Allan Cuthbertson are among the actors who appear in Murder at Midnight, a black and white 'teaser' movie shown at the beginning of the film. Natalie Wood was originally chosen to play the role eventually played by Elizabeth Taylor.[3]

Margaret Courtenay later appeared in the BBC TV adaptation The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side starring Joan Hickson as Miss Marple.

Production notes

The novel was published in 1964. In 1977 Warners announced that Helen Hayes would play Miss Marple in adaptations of A Caribbean Mystery and The Mirror Crack'd.[4]

Film rights for Mirror passed to John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin, who had previously produced adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Death on the Nile (1978). In 1979 they announced they would make the film starring Angela Lansbury who had played a support role in Death on the Nile and was appearing on stage in Sweeny Todd. Production would be put on hold until Lansbury finished her run in the musical.[5]

In August 1979, Braborne suffered leg injuries in a bomb blast that killed his mother, son, and father-in-law, Lord Mountbatten. But he proceeded with the picture.[6][7]

Guy Hamilton was given the job as director. He told the producers he was not a fan of Agatha Christie's novels and they said that is what would make him ideal for the film. Hamilton described the script as "awfully funny".[7]

Producer Dyson Lyell said since the film was set in the 1950s "it seemed like a good idea to use stars from that era."[7] . Rock Hudson, Kim Novak, Tony Curtis and Elizabeth Taylor signed to play support roles. Taylor took over from Natalie Wood. Curtis made the film after being fired from the Broadway play I Ought to Be in Pictures.[8]

It was Taylor's first film in three years. She said: "I have said for two years now that I would not go back to films unless it was something that absolutely intrigued me, and something that would not take me away from my husband for too long. I have found just that in The Mirror Crack'd and am longing to work with some very dear friends again."[9]

There had been a series of Miss Marple films in the 1960s starring Margaret Rutherford. Hamilton said Rutherford "was a divine clown but she was no more Miss Marple than... fly to the moon. We are doing Miss Christie's Miss Marple, a more serious person, a gossip, a bit of a snob. And she doesn't fall off her bicycle into the village duckpond."[1]

Lansbury said she played the part of Marple "absolutely straight. I'm trying to get at the woman Agatha Christie created: an Edwardian maiden lady imbued with great humanity and a mind of tremendous breadth. She's very exactly described in the books as tall, pale-complexioned, with twinkling blue eyes and white hair - not a fat galumph of a creature at all. I base my performance on that. Also on the fact that she has tremendous alertness and curiosity allied to a great appetite for murder."[10]

Lansbury signed a three picture deal, meaning the intention was to make two more Marples.[10]

Filming locations

St Clere Estate, in Heaverham, part of the Sevenoaks District of Kent, was used as the grand home of Marina Rudd (Elizabeth Taylor) and her husband Jason (Rock Hudson). Ye Olde George Inn and a Bridge on Church Street in Shoreham are both noticeable in the production, doubling as part of the village of St Mary Mead. The village of Smarden and St Michael's Church are also used to double as the village of St Mary Mead. Also throughout filming the 'Thatched House' cottage in Smarden was used as Miss Marple’s cottage. Smarden is located in the Ashford district of Kent, and the traditional thatched houses and village shops made it a perfect filming location.[11]

Filming dates

Filmed on a ten-week shooting schedule from May 12[12] to July 18, 1980.[13]

"It was fun," said Curtis. "A piece of cake. I didn't have to get all sweaty like in Spartacus' and I had a good time."[14]

"I never had so much fun making a movie," said Novak. "It may not be my greatest role, but I didn't have a studio executive breathing down my neck, dictating my every move."[14]

Novak added she and Taylor "both had a lot of funny, bitchy lines to say to each other. In real life, that bitchiness rarely exists on a movie set, but actresses have certainly thought about it a lot. But they've never said it. That's why this movie was so much fun." However her return to filmmaking was only temporary. "Doing something once in a while, like The Mirror Crack'd, is fine and it makes me feel like Cinderella at the ball. But as a steady diet - no way."[15]


The title - shortened from the one used for Christie's book - is part of a line from "The Lady of Shalott" by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

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.

Inspiration theory

Biographers theorise that Christie used an incident in the real-life of American film star Gene Tierney as the basis of the plot of The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side.[16][17][18] In June 1943, while pregnant with her first daughter, Tierney contracted German measles during her only appearance at the Hollywood Canteen. Due to Tierney's illness, her daughter was born deaf, partially blind with cataracts, and severely developmentally disabled. Sometime after the tragedy surrounding her daughter's birth, the actress learned from a fan who approached her for an autograph at a tennis party that the woman (who was then a member of the women's branch of the Marine Corps) had sneaked out of quarantine while sick with German measles to meet Tierney at her only Hollywood Canteen appearance. In her autobiography, Tierney related that after the woman had recounted her story, she just stared at her silently, then turned and walked away. She wrote, "After that I didn't care whether ever again I was anyone's favourite actress".

The incident, as well as the circumstances under which the information was imparted to the actress, is repeated almost verbatim in Christie's story; Tierney's life experience had been well-publicized.


The film was considered a box office disappointment in the United States.[19] Lansbury never reprised her performance as Miss Marple.


  1. The exorcism of Miss Rutherford. The Guardian. 12 July 1980: 9.
  2. "The Mirror Crack'd (1980)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  3. The Mirror Crack'd at Trailers from Hell
  4. book notes: If Arab oil drained into Israel... Lochte, Dick. Los Angeles Times 9 Oct 1977: q2.
  5. 'Warhead' Back Again With 007 Mann, Roderick. Los Angeles Times 8 May 1979: f17.
  6. How Paintings Made a Picture: MOVIE NEWS Mann, Roderick. Los Angeles Times 13 Dec 1979: f33.
  7. MIRROR' FLATTERS '50S STARS Mann, Roderick. Los Angeles Times 15 June 1980: o38.
  8. DEBORAH'S GREAT ESCAPE: DEBORAH RAFFIN Los Angeles Times20 Mar 1980: h1.
  9. briefly Liz Taylor to star in mystery film The Globe and Mail 14 Mar 1980: P.13.
  11. Kent Film Office. "Kent Film Office The Mirror Crack'd Film Focus".
  12. Daily Variety Magazine; May 16, 1980; Page 10
  13. Daily Variety Magazine; July 30, 1980; Page 8
  14. Three stars look back at what were often bad days ... Boston Globe 4 Jan 1981: 1.
  15. At the Movies; AFTER 11 YEARS, A FEATURE FILM FOR KIM NOVAK Klemesrud, Judy. New York Times 26 Dec 1980: C.6.
  16. Osborne (2006). Chronicle Books. Leading Ladies. p. 195."
  17. "Biography". The Official Web Site of Gene Tierney. Archived from the original on 7 February 2012. Retrieved 12 January 2008.
  18. Tierney and Herskowitz (1978). Wyden Books. Self-Portrait. p. 101.
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