Murder at the Gallop

At the Exeter through October 25

Margaret Rutherford, the nemesis of criminals and criminal chasers alike, has returned to battle, in Murder at the Gallop she stomps and stumbles her way to a new triumph, scattering obstacles like tenpins. The process is something to behold.

Like most mysteries, this adaptation of Agatha Christic's After the Murder contains a family of suspects, any one of whom could plausibly be the criminal; and as in most mysteries, these people are thrown together in an implausible situation. After the death of old Mr. Enderby and the murder of his sister, the surviving relatives gather at nephew Hector's hotel for a riding holiday - just the thing to perk one up after two dreary funerals.

But even this contrivance can be overlooked; Miss Rutherford's uproarious detecting saves all. She early flings her gauntlet to the official investigator, Inspector Craddock, (When he refuses to admit that old Enderby may have been done in, Miss Marple swings her cloak 'round her shoulder like a Caesar crossed and announces imperiously, "I shall have to investigate this myself!") and does not retrieve it until the last bit of evidence--symbolized by the plaster of paris mold she carries in her pocket--has fallen into place.

Her antics as she tracks her quarry, delight and amuse: if you think 200 pounds of Margaret Rutherford atop a slender mare is funny, wait until you see her do the twist in an evening gown. Ron Goodwin's music adds greatly to her mammoth charm; its ponderous bounce exactly matches Miss Rutherford's own inimitable gait.

Murder at the Gallop has other notable characters and one--Robert Morly as Hector--even proves worthy escort for Miss Marple. But Margaret Rutherford is a mountain of reassurance all by herself, and in an age of Cosa Nostra it is comforting to enter at least one world in which crime can never pay.


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