Poirot’s Murder Most Foul, Justice Most Brutal

DATELINE:  Another Remake on the Horizon

best orient express

Best Version of Murder on the Orient Express

The David Suchet version of Murder on the Orient Express is a completely different movie than the glitzy Hollywood all-star version of the 1970s. It is utterly dark. And it is far more cynical than the Christie novel, but is faithful next to the newest star-cartoon vehicle coming out soon with Kenneth Branagh as an unconvincing Poirot.

The teleplay version created a stunning, dank and dark 1930s. Perhaps this was what Agatha Christie intended in far more subtle manners.

From the opening scenes of  Belgian detective  Hercule Poirot being blood-splattered by a suicide to witnessing a stoning of an unfaithful wife in Turkey, the adapted version is far more than an entertaining murder mystery. It is a chilling morality play. It’s a play against films like Twelve Angry Men with a twist.

The Suchet version plays far more on the American nature of the melting pot of train travelers on the Orient Express. As one who defends the justice system, Poirot becomes alarmed, then horrified by the story’s unraveled mystery.

You won’t find the big names of the Albert Finney-Poirot movie. Here you will find Barbara Hershey, Toby Jones, and Hugh Bonneville, if you like name stars, but actors like Brian J. Smith as the victim’s secretary carry a heavy load.

Poirot loses all faith in humanity, and Suchet’s suffering face drives home the horror. In fact, his mustache does not turn off at the ends as much as the earlier shows.

A new version is forthcoming, directed by Kenneth Branagh who plays a flinty version of Poirot, rather unfaithful to the novel. Branagh’s mustache of Poirot is deplorable!

In the protracted series, the Orient Express episode was from the 12th season when the Belgian sleuth seemed bereft of all hope, as if a lifetime of dealing with murder finally sapped him of purpose and optimism. The original tale took its core from the Lindbergh kidnapping case, but became something else in the hands of Dame Agatha.

This compelling little Suchet film is brilliant, but a cold indictment of cruel justice among civilized people. The stark white snow drifts that stall the train on its journey contrast with the dark inner lives of the passengers.

If you want escapist fare, turn to the Hollywood version of Christie’s Orient Express. If you want catharsis, turn to David Suchet’s incisive portrayal of despair.

 

This blog entry is another in a series on Agatha Christie.

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Agatha Christie’s ABC Murders with Suchet’s Poirot

DATELINE:  A Worthy Series

ABC

Suchet as the inimitable Hercule

David Suchet’s bravissimo performance over two decades as Hercule Poirot might be appreciated many times. This week we took in The ABC Murders again.

The climactic murder scene takes place in a cinema where Hitchcock’s Number Seventeen is on the screen as a backdrop for the serial killer. We suspect the Master of Suspense would approve.

The Agatha Christie story became the first full-length movie episode from the delightful TV series. For that reason alone, the plot is clever and intriguing. Christie uses a device that brings together the grieving family of the serial ABC serial killer as Poirot’s band of intrepid sleuths.

The notion that the victims’ family would want to take an active role in catching their beloved one’s killer is compelling, even if Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) is exasperated by his friendly nemesis with the mincing steps, and obsessive neatness.

Poirot’s demeanor as a private investigator remains firm in its resolve, but already we begin to see in the nuances of Suchet’s performance that Poirot is beginning to become jaded and horrified by the endless murders he deals with.

Indeed, this serial killer sends Poirot a series of letters, challenging him to stop the carnage. It becomes so personal that the Belgian detective is more distracted by his moral repugnance.

As his aide-de-camp Captain Hastings, Hugh Fraser matches Suchet as the obtuse man of action—as they both seem weary from four seasons of sadistic killers. Pauline Moran’s Miss Lemon, Poirot’s dedicated secretary, is absent from this episode.

Christie had such brilliant creativity in finding ways to develop characters and contrive plots that are truly mysteries to entertain an audience.

Over the length of the Poirot series, bringing all the stories to film (something the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series could not do), is a monumental achievement, matching the flavor of the literature of the Christie stories with film plays. A large debt is owed to Suchet, the driving force behind the detective.

 

 

Christie Pulls the Curtain on Hercule Poirot

 DATELINE: TV MASHUP

 Big Four- 25 Years of Poirot!

Agatha Christie’s posthumous novel about the end of Poirot fits the long-running series with David Suchet.

Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case is a disturbing and cynical finish to the great detective whose use of “little gray cells” so enchanted murder mystery fans.

Over the years, the detective (perhaps like his creator) had grown tired of the evil and murderous ways of sociopaths. So, Christie had Poirot in his ill health tackle the ultimate serial killer in the location where he had solved his first case thirty years earlier.

Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) returns for a last hurrah—and turns out to be nearly as dangerous and suspicious as any other suspect.

Confined to a wheelchair and looking exhausted with his heart condition, Poirot seems less the agile crime solver in 1949. He seems doomed, likely a victim as much as the detective he always epitomized.

Indeed, Poirot’s anguish over his own role in murder has driven him to religion—as he grips his little rosary beads, fearing killers had driven him to do their bidding.

Nevertheless, the little Belgian has a few tricks up his sleeve as he will stop a serial killer from continuing his cruel murders that misled police to arrest and courts to convict the wrong people.

As a moral man, Poirot may be more distressed over what he must do than his audience. He feels his showboating style has returned and for that he is most guilty.

The final case for Hercule Poirot is brilliant, and he is equal to the task. Older and wiser than when he made his trips down the Nile or on the Orient Express, Poirot came to the end Agatha Christie wanted. She saved her best for the last.

Laborious Cases for Hercule

 DATELINE: TV MASHUP

Big Four- 25 Years of Poirot!

In the penultimate movie about Hercule Poirot, the creators and David Suchet try to cram a dozen stories into one film.

Based on The Labors of Hercules, the stories meld into one over-plotted extravaganza that has too much weight on the back of its aging detective.

You still cannot do better than having Agatha Christie mixing wit and wiles into a concoction that is a mixologist’s dream cup of hemlock.

The stories originally meant to serve as epical parallels by Agatha Christie to the demigod Hercules and her personal little man, Hercule. Instead the murder weapon is an “objective correlative,” according to one villain, mocking T.S. Elliot and literary pretense in a crime novel.

Christie even takes on Sherlock Holmes with a dog that does not bark in the night at a would-be rapist.

The movie remains stylish, set in a 1930s Swiss hotel cut off by avalanche, trapping murderers, victims, and Poirot, in a dizzy dance of death amid the sumptuous setting and bad paintings (a clue, not a red herring).

Keeping with the tenor of the previous seasons and movies, Poirot is nothing short of suffering myasthenia gravis: depressed more than usual at the death of a client he failed to protect.

The cynicism about killers and the human race seems to be pushing Poirot closer to his end of career case, coming up next. Psychopathic villains in this tale bait Hercule for his ego and his inadequacy. Poirot may well have been at the murder game far too long.

The climax almost comes across as a Marx Brothers comedy (think Go West) with every bad guy holding a gun on a hostage at the same time in the same room as Poirot tries to explain the crime and how it was accomplished.

Devotees of Belgian gray cells will savor every moment.

Poirot’s Two Follies

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.

 

 Ustinov's Poirot

 

More Folly

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.

Hercule Poirot’s Final Season

 DATELINE: TV MASHUP

Big Four- 25 Years of Poirot!

                                Our Big Four After 25 Years!

After 25 years and thirteen seasons, Hercule Poirot’s final five episodes will come across American television on Acorn Network.

David Suchet has played the iconic Agatha Christie detective for every episode—every short story and novel has been dramatized. In the past decade the tales became far more pessimistic as Christie also seemed to find murder less entertaining than her earlier tales.

Also for the past decade, Poirot’s charming gallery of supporting characters did not enter the proceedings.

Now, in The Big Four, Miss Lemon (devoted secretary), Captain Hastings (his sidekick), and Inspector Japp (his Scotland Yard contact), all return for a last fling. They also gather for his funeral.

It is perhaps amazing that after 25 years the actors are all still around and able to resume their roles. They look fairly well for their advanced age. Even Suchet as Poirot has gone from youthful to obviously an elder on the lines of old Miss Marple.

Of course, Poirot is timeless—and always dyed his hair and looked fairly rotund and dapper. So, Suchet has held firm in that regard.

The final movie versions of the Christie stories are perhaps not the best of Christie mystery, but her remarkable ability to tantalize has been well met by a brilliant production, worthy of feature film. Alas, the audiences of a generation ago are no longer interested in this kind of murder mystery sophistication.

This is a character tale, set before World War II, and the storyline is not particularly credible, but what a joy to have all the characters re-unite at the end of the run.

We wouldn’t have changed anything and accepted gratefully what David Suchet and company gives us. We have been there for a long journey, reaching the end destination. It is sad and joyful.