3 October 2005 | rmax304823
Anomalous dark Christie romance/mystery
How old was Agatha Christie when she wrote this? Pushing 70? She was pretty old, about my age, and that might account for the tragic emotional tonus of this story.
You wouldn't know this was a Christie story if it weren't so advertised. True, there are some of the usual themes -- British class distinctions, extreme wealth, jealousy, poison -- but they are submerged by a love story that seems at first to be going nowhere fast. The story lacks any of the novelist's usual subtle wit.
No point in spelling out the plot in any detail. A poor chauffeur-for-hire meets a blond sylph and they fall for each other. He discovers that she is the sixth richest girl in the world, her coming-of-age party having been covered in the newspapers, and he rejects her because, as he says, "I have my pride." (The audience may be forgiven for a few muffled chuckles at this point.) She dies under mysterious circumstances while riding. In these circles, "riding" is taken to mean horseback riding. He inherits the money. And things thereafter go a little berserk without there being a hell of a lot in the way of motivation.
The film is narrated by the young man, Michael (Bennett). At first his story seems perfectly reasonable and he is presented as a fellow of principle if not money. Hayley Mills is introduced in a filmy white dress, her long blonde hair wafted by the breeze as she capers alone in a meadow, slender limbs, radiantly healthy, and -- well, you know the type. Eminently edible. But Michael's story, though it begins normally enough, describing the approach-avoidance conflict from which he suffers, being in love with Mills and yet resenting her wealth, gradually changes.
He becomes less and less reasonable, and less nice. He's impolite to Greta (Eklund), Mills' tutor and possessive friend. Greta is often described as "bossy" but frankly her supposed obsession with power isn't well shown. There is just one argument -- a slightly bitchy one -- between Greta and Michael over the placement of a more than usually ugly statue of a cat. What evidence we see of her bossiness is rather weak tea. If they're going to have a domineering German nurse, couldn't the nurse and Hayley Mills have had a little consensual flagellation or something? The climax seems to come out of thin air. A sudden unmotivated reversal of the character of Michael.
It's not a bad movie though. Romance, yes, but a romance filled somehow with uneasiness and a gradually growing sense of dread. And when I first watched this and heard the first few notes of the score, I thought, "OMG, the composer is ripping off Bernard Hermann note for note." It turned out to BE Hermann, and a very effective Hermann at that, full of an eerie melancholy.
Maybe the reason it leaves a viewer feeling sad is that Christie seems to be stretching her talent so much trying to achieve "significance." And for the first time I'm aware of, we actually care about the character who dies, whereas in previous stories the victim was nothing more than a stereotype who, once gone, was forgotten. The death was only a pivot on which the remainder of the story could turn. Here, it's really too bad.