DATELINE: Poirot Dandy!
We took in an old TV chestnut from almost twenty years ago, Evil Under the Sun, from the eighth season of the off and on series of David Suchet as it attempted to film every Agatha Christie episode.
This one had the delight of Poirot being sent off to a health spa in Devon to recover from his obese condition.
Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran) insisted that Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) accompany him. The classic regulars of the show are here in their element, perhaps beyond their element. Miss Lemon is sent by Poirot all around the countryside to do legwork for the case. Usually, Miss Lemon claims to have filing to do—and must decline any other assignments.
The other stand-up regular is Chief Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) more respectful of Poirot in later seasons. Though he and Hastings are now semi-regular dinner companions, they are always murder investigators.
The health spa is filled with suspicious and dubious figures who claim the place is the opposite of health. Its torturous steam boxes and daft clientele are perfect candidates for murder and murder victim.
It becomes increasingly obvious to Poirot that the place is ripe for crime, even as he is served various vegetable drink concoctions.
Sometimes murder flows trippingly on Christie’s contrived plots, though this one clunks to a finish, it is still fun to behold. We can see the roots of disgust in Poirot at the human condition, though this low-budget, low-star power TV version is a delight compared to the overblown movie with Peter Ustinov as Poirot.
Most of this is the result of a delicious ensemble cast and a deep dedication to the color scheme of Art Deco.
Gathering all the suspects in the hotel dining room for a big Reveal loses none of its luster for mystery fans. It’s a gem.
DATELINE: New Version of Classic Tale
Amazon Studio has produced a 2019 remake of the ABC Murders by the foremost crime novelist. Alas, this version of the classic story is libel against the author and defamation against Hercule Poirot.
Go back to watch last century’s episode with David Suchet.
This time we have John Malkovich with shaved head and imperial beard. This is not as offensive as the handlebar mustache of Kenneth Branagh recently in Murder on the Orient Express. It is, however, the victim of Just for Men: yeah, Hercule colors it, sometimes.
This mystery is in three parts that grow increasingly distant from the Christie canon. You may well ask who is meant to be audience for such a tale: it offends the millions of diehard fans who know what to expect, and it misleads new younger fans from what Christie is all about.
There is no humor, no clever twists, no plot maneuvers. here. By the third episode, you may well drift away. Worse yet, this is an aging Poirot in 1933 who has no Inspector Japp, no Miss Lemon, and no Captain Hastings, to help him.
Indeed, he must deal with a new Scotland Yard detective who is unsympathetic and hostile. Disrespect of a senior who was once glorified for his achievements may be an interesting idea, but not here.
The cast features Eamon Farren who has impressed us in previous roles as a most peculiar bad guy. Here, he is either suffering a brain tumor, or has played NFL football. It’s the 21st century—and you know what excuses murder nowadays.
We had no idea that there was so much kinky-dinky stuff in Agatha Christie, and neither did she.
Also aboard is Rupert Grint, though he has aged worse than Malkovich’s Poirot.
This Poirot is not fastidious, prissy, or clever. One character notes that he walks like he has sore feet, though we never see that foible.
What a disappointment, or do we mean travesty of the original story?
DATELINE: A Worthy Series
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.
DATELINE: TV MASHUP
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.
DATELINE: TV MASHUP
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.
DATELINE: TV MASHUP
We don’t like many TV shows.
So, when two of our most favored go off into the sunset on the same week, we are about to suffer severe withdrawal symptoms.
After seven seasons of up and down dead people, the HBO vampire show called True Blood is about to send people to the real eternity: cancellation at the end of August, 2014.
And, over on the other side of PBS, the epical rendering of all Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot is coming to a close after 13 seasons over 25 years. It happens the same week as the ending of the vampires.
The two shows dealt with death in quite different ways. At first Hercule Poirot handled stylish murder cases with all the aplomb of a game show host. Over the years, he grew a little nauseous from all the murder—and he took upon a decided cynical attitude toward human nature.
On the other hand, True Blood began as a scary idea of dead people tormenting a small Louisiana town. Over the years, these dead people became oversexed corpses who seemed to have more life than living people. Necrophilia was never so attractive, and the show turned into a romper room for seeing dead people.
Both shows started with a core cast that usually ended for the supporting players with a fading from the scene. On True Blood, being dead never helped much: they could always bring you back. On Poirot, the beloved sidekicks went off the map as the detective became a more solitary and depressed character.
Now the only ones who will be depressed are the legion of fans.
We suspect True Blood will be able to have offshoots and sequels, returns and resurrections. Alas, for David Suchet’s Poirot, the end is final. The actor managed to film all the Christie stories. There are no more second acts.
In both shows, the protagonists aged rather markedly. Poirot looked more tired after 25 years. The aging vampires also looked like the crypt was closing on them.
We hate to think how much we have changed over the lifetime of these shows. We always felt like we had stayed the same while the series aired. Now we know that time has passed and the enjoyment of those classic episodes will be a memory without new episodes.
DATELINE: TV MASHUP
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.