DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP
We offer two reviews for one on a remake and an original.
The second of the final season movies for Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) is another of the more cynical murder novels by Agatha Christie. This one is Dead Man’s Folly, and again Poirot is roped into a solving a murder that his old friend Ariadne Oliver (Zoe Wanamaker) thinks is about to happen at a lovely English garden estate.
The photography is grand and lovely, making even unpleasant areas of the estate (like the murder scene) seem beautifully presented. Alas, as Poirot notes, the wicked killers are about as unpleasant as you can get.
Worse, the victims are more innocent and more cruelly dispatched. No wonder Poirot (and Christie) was starting to lose the taste for solving the murder game. Even his writer friend (a Doppleganger for Christie herself) disparages the writing process for murder mysteries. It’s a task to do it.
The film features some of the best British actors in suspicious roles—from Sean Pertwee to Martin Jarvis. Sinead Cusak is among the most striking characters as she plays Mrs. Follat.
This story falls into the latter period of Suchet versions of Poirot in terms of the darker side of human nature. Indeed, even Poirot himself seems to be losing his dapper nature and politesse in the face of increasing deadly apathy.
We can see why the series, after 25 years, is running to its inevitable closure. It mirrors Christie’s own mixed feelings about the lark of being a murder mystery writer.
Nevertheless, for devotees of the genre, this cannot be missed and won’t be disparaged here. We too realize the clock is running down on the Poirot stories—with their art deco, 1930s classy style.
Nearly 30 years ago Peter Ustinov took up the characterization of Hercule Poirot in a grandfatherly, quaint depiction. There was none of the effete snobbery and disdainful condescension you would find soon in David Suchet’s version.
In 1989 Suchet’s mincing little man with the little gray cells came on television as an accurate shadow of what Agatha Christie created. Ustinov did a few feature films and took his Poirot to the bank.
Safe and almost cuddly, the first movie production of Dead Man’s Folly suffers from the insufferable entertainment of Poirot. Murder is indeed a game in this Christie tale (as myster writer and nemesis Ariadne Oliver creates a murder hunt for the idle rich to play).
This time to insure a few guffaws, Jean Stapleton limns Ariadne, the bubble-headed mystery writer, less severe than Zoe Wanamaker’s acidic Christie imitation. And the early version throws in Captain Hastings for comic relief to a comic figure.
Suchet’s later mysteries eshew the humor and stress the wicked unpleasantness of murder.
The Ustinov version has a few gems in it. Just back from the Raj, Tim Piggot-Smith and Susan Woodridge team up after their artistic work in Jewel in the Crown. Here they seem to be slumming as Sir George Stubbs and secretary.
As in many remakes, we wish we could pick and choose a la carte from the two movies to make one better film. Each movie has its merits and its detractions. Yet, we must side with Suchet’s series where overall movie productions transcend made-for-television entertainment. Yet, Christie’s wit and clever plotting remain unparalleled.