I'm not the biggest fan of Agatha Christie film adaptations and I'm not sure why. It might be because the few I've seen have been a little too long, far too star-studded and slightly too much in earnest to do more than mildly intrigue me. Or it might be that I don't find Miss Marple a very interesting protagonist and most of the Agatha Christie movies I've read about seem to focus on her so I tend to take a pass. Her other series sleuth Hercule Poirot I have not seen much of on screen. I think I witnessed him once but he was played by Peter Ustinov and I remember little more than a silly accent and much squinting in bright Egyptian sunlight. I'm sure there was a murder or two but......
I became mildly interested in seeing THE ALPHABET MURDERS (1965) because I was informed that it was directed in an inventive style by Frank Tashlin. Tashlin is best known for directing a slew of Jerry Lewis comedies and the Doris Day vehicle THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT (1966) so I wasn't too keen on diving into his lesser well reviewed efforts until I realized he also made one of my favorite lesser known Christmas films SUSAN SLEPT HERE (1954). That film is a little gem of comedy genius even if it has a whiff of the 'creepy uncle lusting after the forbidden niece' layered over the top of the entire tale.
So, with all that in mind, I have to report that THE ALPHABET MURDERS is a blast from start to finish. That's not to say it a perfect film- far from it. But it does have a cool mystery at its center, a strong cast playing up to the story and a breezy sense of light menace that keeps the thing moving along. I think that everyone involved must have had fun making the film on location in England although I wonder what the British actors thought of the very American Tony Randall taking center stage as the Belgian main character. Not that Randall is bad in the role- indeed, he is very good - but I half expected Robert Morley to eventually pause, look to the camera and drolly comment that perhaps he should be playing Poirot instead. I suppose that the only reason such a thought enters my head is that Tashlin starts this film in the radical fashion of having Tony Randall break the fourth wall and address the audience to say that he will be playing Poirot in the movie we are about to watch. I wasn't expecting that! And I'm sure film-goers in 1965 weren't either. Still, it is amusing and certainly effectively sets the tone for what is to come. And did I mention Anita Ekberg as the femme fatale? Oh, my!
Overall this is a fun film and well worth seeing for its stylish direction, silly humor and sly sense fun. It's hard to take very seriously but I doubt anyone involved was attempting to make a pulse pounding thriller so expectations should be dialed down to comedy levels for maximum enjoyment.