So … is See How They Run celebrating or dissing the whodunit formula?
See How They Run Synopsis
The thoroughly obnoxious Leo Köpernick is murdered during the 100th performance celebration of The Mousetrap. As jaded Scotland Yard Inspector Stoppard soon discovers, many in the production crew harbour good reason to want the American director dead, one has even openly declared so. The murder might also have something to do with Agatha Christie, the playwright and very simply, England’s most celebrated whodunit writer.
In several posts, such as my Death on the Nile review, I shared how much I used to love Agatha Christie book. I wouldn’t go into that again.
Instead, I’ll just say the Dame’s name continues to be a huge draw for me, whether for movies, drama series, games, or even travel. When I first visited London in 2000, watching The Mousetrap was one of my top must, must-dos.
And I did go, on my final night in the bustling capital. I also thoroughly enjoyed the play, cliché as its traditional whodunit formula is by today’s standards.
See How They Run thus had a lot of appeal to me. Having experienced it in other movies such as Knives Out, I was certain I would also enjoy the modern comedic injections. On that, well, I think Mark Chappell’s script heartily mocks the more ludicrous elements of the genre, and taken in the right spirit, this can be amusing, even to die-hard whodunit fans. All characters in the show are furthermore caricatures of standard murder-mystery characters and the way they reflect the events of The Mousetrap is to me, mischievous and ingenious.
On the other hand, the mystery at the heart of it all just doesn’t sink in. Despite extensive interrogations and flashbacks, and one genuinely creepy “revelation” moment, the flurry of information and names and twists just ends up being very discombobulating. The interlude that swerved the story into a whole new angle, then unceremoniously returns it to the whodunit isolated house premise also felt discordant. Seems to me that it was an over-zealous attempt to upheave classic tropes, one that wasn’t given enough time and lines to flesh out?
My summary: I enjoyed the lighthearted elements but the mystery just didn’t connect the way I hoped for it to. And the latter was disappointing.
The way the story unfolded, there also feels to be a certain indecision. Was the movie paying homage to or dissing Agatha Christie and the genre inseparable from her?
Or was it aiming for a mix of both? A satirical examination of sorts that ended up being too messy?
Some titbits and trivia about See How They Run, for the interested
- The Mousetrap was based on Christie’s Three Blind Mice, a short story that featured the most classic whodunit premise. The movie, of course, uses the second verse of the nursery rhyme for its title. At certain moments in the movie, you’d also hear the tune.
- Sam Rockwell’s Inspector Stoppard is mostly likely a nod to Sir Tom Stoppard, the director of Brazil, Empire of the Sun, etc. In the early 1960s, Sir Tom wrote a short play titled The Real Inspector Hound, which featured two theatre critics watching and getting involved with the nonsensical events of a whodunit.
- Historically, the West End performances of The Mousetrap began at the Ambassadors Theatre before shifting next door to the St Martin’s Theatre in 1974. The building facade shown in the movie is actually that of St Martin’s, not the Ambassadors as mentioned in the movie.
- The movie mentioned the “Rillington Case” twice. This refers to 10 Rillington Place, the home and favourite murder spot of British serial killer John Christie. The movie adaptation of the case also features one of Sir Richard Attenborough’s most disturbing screen performances, with a bloodless murder scene that is the absolute stuff of nightmares. (Sir Attenborough is, of course, the first male lead of The Mousetrap)
- As of 2022, The Mousetrap has run for 70 years. The only time performances were temporarily halted was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. And yes, as See How They Run highlighted, no movie adaptation of the play is contractually permitted till the West End run has ended for over six months. I advise all not to hold their breaths for a movie version.
Check out my other snappy movie reviews.