Friday, July 27, 2018

CHRISTIE CUTE: The Spider's Web (1960)


Glynis Johns stars as Clarissa Hailsham-Brown in the comedy-thriller The Spider's Web from Agatha Christie's play.

Margaret Lockwood, Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie had great success with her plays The Mousetrap and The Hollow and was preparing for the opening of Witness for the Prosecution when she was approached to write a play for Margaret Lockwood. The actress was looking for something removed from the screen villains for which she had become famous. 

Ms. Christie came up with Spider's Web, a concoction of misunderstandings at a country estate with a touch of voodoo, a dash of diplomatic intrigue, a disappearing corpse, dark secrets and good intentions. The critics were not particularly kind to this entertainment, but it must have found its audience because it ran for 774 performances. Margaret Lockwood reprised the role in a 1955 television production, and Penelope Keith starred in a further TV movie in 1982.

Glynis Johns, John Justin

In 1960 it was Glynis Johns turn to play Clarissa in a screenplay by Eldon Howard and Albert G. Miller directed by Godfrey Grayson for Danzinger Productions. The Spider's Web played as a second feature in Britain and appeared on American television as an episode of Kraft Mystery Theater.

The Hailsham-Browns, Clarissa and Henry played by Ms. Johns and John Justin, have been married for just over a year and a few months ago they settled into the charming country estate of Copplestone Court at a bargain price. Here they have been happily creating a family for themselves and Henry's teenage daughter Pippa played by Wendy Turner. This eventful day begins with Henry being called into the city for his work at the Foreign Office.

Clarissa remains at home to care for Pippa and entertain their guests. Her former guardian Sir Rowland Delahaye played by Jack Hulbert, Hugo, a magistrate played by Basil Dignam, and Jeremy Warrener played by Ronald Howard. There is three staff on hand, the butler Elgin played by David Nixon, Mrs. Elgin played by Joan Sterndale-Bennett, and Miss Peake the gardener played by Cicely Courtneidge. Later, the company will be burdened by the presence of Inspector Lord played by Peter Butterworth and Sergeant Jones played by Anton Rodgers.

Wendy Turner, Glynis Johns

Unexpectedly, Pippa's hated stepfather Oliver played by Ferdy Mayne turns up and then he checks out, after threatening to return Pippa to her mother where she was very unhappy. Pippa believes it was her experiments with dark arts which caused the demise of the odious Oliver. Clarissa doesn't understand the reason behind Pippa's proclamation of guilt but nonetheless vows to keep the whole thing a secret. To that end, she enlists her friends/guests in a plan to hide the body.

Sir Rowland wants to call the police, but beyond protecting Pippa, Clarissa wants to protect Henry. He is arranging for a high-level, hush-hush meeting between his boss Sir John and an important foreign diplomat tonight at Copplestone Court. Well, it just won't do to have a nasty corpse and nastier policemen about when one is about to host high-level, hush-hush diplomatic meetings.

Glynis Johns, Peter Butterworth

Well, take it from there, me hearties. There are sliding panels, secret drawers, and hair-brained plots aplenty until all is set aright. And there is Clarissa! Clarissa is not exactly the girl who cried wolf, but she is a woman of immense and easily accessed imagination. She is always "supposing" something or other and now she needs to call on all of that unusual skill to ferret out a murderer and save the day.

I find a lot of wit and fun in the machinations of the fanciful Clarissa, and the various characters trapped in this web. If you are looking for a little escape or possibly something for next year's community theatre lineup, I suggest you pour a cuppa and relax with The Spider's Web. I found it on the inestimable YouTube and wiled away a pleasant 90 minutes.


In case you don't get that this is all in fun, murder and criminal enterprise aside, take your cue from Tony Crombie's soundtrack. The jazzy score is as bright as the Technicolor and as frothy as Glynis' personality. The album pictured above features Clarrisa's theme, Supposing.










14 comments:

  1. It took me years to find this and I can't say I was bowled over by the film but as you say it's not a bad way to wile away 90 minutes.

    For something that was a feature it had a very TV feeling to it but the cast and especially the always great Glynis Johns worked hard to make something of it. Hardly a classic but well worth seeking out if you're a fan of Glynis or Agatha Christie.

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    1. Agree. It is not in a league with Witness for the Prosecution, but it doesn't purport to be, and for what it is, it is a pleasant example. And if you are a fan of Glynis Johns, she certainly does not disappoint.

      The 1982 version with Penelope Keith has an IMDb rating of 8.7. Only 59 raters, but they all must have really liked it. I hope someone puts that online one of these days. I'll have to give it a look.

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  2. I have never even heard of this one. I thought I knew every Christie book and movie. Sounds like a good antidote to my depressing movies. :)

    You gave me a good recommendation with Out of the Blue which I loved. If you have any more light comedy recommendations, I'd like to hear them.

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    1. Hooray! I'm so pleased you liked Out of the Blue. Ann Dvorak really had a knack for comedy.

      As noted above, The Spider's Web first appeared in the States as part of a television anthology, so that's the sensibility of the film. Not exactly Death on the Nile, but a nice dry wit about it. Who would have thought we'd find a "new" Christie?

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  3. So excited that this is on YouTube! I am both an Agatha Christie and Glynis Johns fan. So even if it's not classic Christie, I am sure I will enjoy it. Thanks for the awesome recommendation.

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    1. My pleasure. I found it a treat. Glynis is so charming. And the rest of the cast certainly knows what they are about!

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  4. Paddy Lee, I was in the same johnnie boat as Margot, in that I had never heard of THE SPIDER'S WEB before your really good recommendation. So, I hustled over to YouTube and took a peek. I'm a longtime fan of Glynis Johns and she never disappoints. Glynis was a delight in this movie. Fact is, the entire cast did a good job. I enjoyed Agatha Christie's cutie. Thank you.

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    1. So pleased you enjoyed it. I like Agatha-lite, when she takes on the adventure boys and funny fellows and beats them at their own game. Loved the characters like Sir Rowland, Miss Peake, and the Inspector. Good fun.

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  5. Oh boy, this sounds good! I love these British films ( and you can't go wrong with a Network release ). It's interesting though that Margaret Lockwood didn't do the screen version if she did the stage one for so long. And isn't John Justin always working for the Foreign Office?

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    1. Ha! And there always seems to be a "Sir John" in charge at the Foreign Office.

      I think Glynis was more the right age range to play the imaginative Clarissa in 1960. We should give everyone a turn.

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  8. I adore Agatha Christie but I do agree this was definitely not her best. It's hard to compare, though, since there have been so many amazing film and TV versions of her books, including the fabulous Poirot series (love David Suchet as Poirot).

    Tam May
    The Dream Book Blog
    https://thedreambookblog.wordpress.com/

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    1. It is not on a par with Christie's finest, but for a bit of fun it works for me with a knowing wit and a willing cast.

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