Poirot Classic Crimes Collecti
The incomparable David Suchet reprises his role as Agatha Christie's indefatigable Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot in this collection of four A&E teleplays. Poirot is older now, and mostly solo in solving his crimes, without his previous sidekicks Hastings and Japp. Yet the world-weary Suchet is as compelling as ever to watch, surrounded by the decadent rich who seem to find murder an easy solution to life's inconveniences. The Mystery of the Blue Train, for instance, features a young, and suddenly very dead, heiress, with a dissolute husband, an overprotective father (a fabulously blustery Elliott Gould), greedy cousins, and all sorts of scheming money-owing hangers-on--all cocooned and coddled on a luxury train on the French Riviera. Indeed, one of the many pleasures of this collection is its very high production values; sets, costumes, and locations are detailed and opulently believable. (Though one annoying tic from the films' TV roots inexplicably remains: some "naughty" words, like the "God" in "God-damned," are edited out; surely we home viewers could handle a teensy bit of upper-crust rough talk?) The supporting casts are rich and varied, and the suspects deliciously numerous. And at the center of it all is the ever-refined, driven Poirot, who will not rest until the evil-doers are exposed. Extras include biographies of Agatha Christie and of David Suchet. --A.T. Hurley
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Before delving into the four new titles, please note that this glossy A&E series thus far does not resemble the earlier British-produced TV episodes and films of the 1990's that David Suchet starred in as Poirot. These newer A&E films move seemingly at a much brisker pace and employ some flashy camera techniques, but retain only a modest helping of the traditional British flavor that made Suchet's earlier Poirot efforts feel so genuine in representing the 1930's and 1940's England. Still, no matter your opinion of which style is superior (the British productions vs. A&E), Suchet's timeless portrayal of Hercule Poirot makes both imminently entertaining for mystery lovers of all ages.
First up in this collection is "The Mystery of the Blue Train," as Poirot delves into the baffling death of a young heiress aboard a train bound for the French Riviera.
Next is "After the Funeral," in which a wealthy patriarch has been murdered, but Poirot's subsequent investigation only leads to yet another fiendish murder with possibly more to come.
"Cards on the Table" (a personal Christie favorite of ours) pits four of Christie's famous detectives (Poirot, Inspector Battle, Colonel Race, & Ariadne Oliver) in a race against time vs. four 'perfect' murderers that leads them from the bridge table into a deadly game of wits as the villain won't be content with just one victim.
Lastly, there comes "Taken at the Flood," where Poirot encounters a young, enigmatic widow who has become entangled in a web of deceit, blackmail, and murder after her husband has been killed in the London Blitz.
The bonus features evidently include a bibliography of Christie's Poirot novels, as well as some standard biographical information about the author and actor David Suchet.
At its current sale price, this collection of Suchet's latest Poirot films, appropriately enough, is an absolute steal!
Although the time period is approximately the same, the mid-to-late Thirties, Hercule Poirot is noticeably older and stouter. Suchet, who was 43 when he began Poirot in 1989, is now 60. No longer part of the stories are Captain Hastings, Miss Lemon and Inspector Japp. Captain Hastings and Miss Lemon gave Poirot opportunities to express affection and gentle amusement. They in turn, by their devotion to him, gave us a chance to see him through their eyes as not simply a person confident about his little grey cells, but as a somewhat eccentric individual we could like. Japp showed us how the police could come to respect and even defer to this brilliant, prim and unselfconsciously egotistic little foreigner. Poirot, now with no friends, seems at times a lonely figure. The mysteries remain intricate, but they sometimes lack warmth and a friendly insouciance. There is a heavy-handedness about the production which takes some getting used to.
As usual, Poirot spends much of his time catching murderers among Britain's upper crust, which gives us many opportunities to see how our betters live, behave and dress. His deep outrage over privileged people who believe murder is simply a way to deal with life's inconveniences remains strong. With little opportunity for small touches of humanity and friendship, however, the series now seems a bit glum. The trademark conclusion to each Poirot mystery, where all the suspects gather together (usually in a drawing room) and listen while Poirot dissects the case, explains the implacability of his logic and then one by one rules out the innocent until only the guilty party is left squirming, is still an effective dramatic device.
The new Poirot mysteries work as elegant puzzles. They may be a bit rougher at times with strong language now and then and some sexually-motivated plots, but they are well-written and well-acted. David Suchet is still a wonder at being Poirot; he inhabits the role and is great fun to watch. But perhaps this older, more serious Poirot is just a little too self-contained. He needs a friend or two.
The mysteries in this collection include murder on an elegant train, murder in an elegant country home, murder in another elegant country home and murder in an elegant town house. Amongst the characters working with Poirot to solve the town house murder is one played by Zoe Wanamaker. She's a first-rate actress and her pungent performance gives Suchet some real competition.
The DVDs all have great looking transfers. Each of the four mysteries runs approximately 1' 40" on separate discs. The extras include biographies of Agatha Christie and David Suchet.
The new series diverge from the old in a number of ways. They concentrate on Christie's novel-length works rather than her short stories. Far more important to Amazon reviewers, though, seems to be the change in casting. The dim but endearing Captain Hastings, the hyper-efficient Miss Lemon and that stolid plod, Chief Inspector Japp are all gone. We find Poirot alone in his new, smaller, gloomier, distinctly less impressive flat--although he's apparently still in the same building. Some reviewers note that the new scripts make references to modern sexual sensibilities in ways that certainly, unquestionably, indubitably did not appear in Dame Aggie's writings. Typical reactions among those who mention this change involve one or all of dismay, disgust and disdain. Others have drawn attention to production values for the new series. One reviewer put it this way: "[T]he production value of the films has gone through the roof. Simply put, these are the best looking Poirot films made so far, particularly with regards to `film moment' shots and the use of color in regards to theme." Finally, there has been the obvious effect of all-devouring time; the now portly Suchet is sixty-ish and he looks it.
Let's consider that point, the older Poirot. In 1920, Hercule Poirot appeared in Agatha Christie's first book, "The Mysterious Affair at Styles," a novel set in the middle of the First World War. Captain Hastings, wounded on the Western Front, is on leave to recover back in England. He happens to meet an odd little man named Hercule Poirot (a name plainly impossible for any self-respecting Englishman to pronounce correctly.) Poirot is described as an elderly Belgian refugee who is a retired policeman. Considering the events that took place in Belgium in the late summer of 1914, it must be assumed that he retired no later than the first half that year. If Poirot retired at sixty--Christie writing at age 30 would probably have considered that to be elderly--he was born no later than 1854. If at sixty-five, then 1849. The earlier his retirement, the earlier his birth date.
Poirot's career in England stretched from the horrors of the Western Front to what he and his creator clearly regarded as the only slightly less baleful era of rock 'n roll. For convenience, the original series was notionally set in 1935. 1937 seems to be the date for this series, considering that the name of a certain Mrs Simpson appears in the newspapers. In 1937, Hercule Poirot must have been at least 83 years old. All things considered, David Suchet was and still remains entirely too young for the part.
In 1916, Agatha Miller Christie was thinking about writing a book for pin money. (Monetary considerations aside, her older sister had made a bet with her that she couldn't do it!) She and her dashing husband Archie Christie were bright young things, but on their beam ends financially. She once wrote a self-pitying letter in which she complained she could afford only two servants. She decided to write a mystery. At the time, there was only one true pattern for a detective and its name was S. Holmes, still very much a living literary figure, with twelve stories of his Canon yet to be written. After collecting a set of galling rejections, Agatha's first book, "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" and Hercule Poirot finally saw print in 1920.
Holmes had a biographer named Watson, plodding colleagues at Scotland Yard, beginning with Inspector Lestrade, and a landlady-housekeeper, Mrs Hudson. Following the set pattern, Christie gave Poirot his biographer in Captain Hastings--the complete boob that Watson NEVER was--and he introduced Inspector Japp. Later, Poirot would find his London flat and enjoy the ministrations of Miss Lemon, a background figure in all but a single short story.
In the older TV series, Hastings got into everything. Miss Lemon's role expanded beyond anything in Christie's writings. All police detectives combined into Chief Inspector Japp. All this, I presume, to humanize the little Belgian detective and to ease the endless task of explaining plot points.
In 1926, Christie hit the big time with her seventh book, "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd." She was acknowledged as the great successor to Conan Doyle. But Hastings wasn't even in "Ackroyd." She realized that she had no need to follow Holmes anymore, so she sent the now-tedious Hastings off to molt in some remote South American exile, bringing him back only on a rare sentimental occasion.
In this Hastings-, Lemon- and Japp-free series, the new producers have done no more than follow Christie's lead. Nevertheless, I miss them. The producers really ought to bring the trio back for at least one show in each season.
Regarding post-Christie sensibilities on sexual matters, heaven knows it's mild enough stuff in these productions, but why do they bother? The stories are set in 1937, not 2007 or even 1977. Whatever people were doing then, they certainly were not talking about it freely, as here. (And yes, I am aware of such people as Sackville-West and Trefusis, but that was a juicy scandal, not a casual aside, as in "The Hollow" in the companion series.)
Finally, there are the production values. Some reviewers are impressed. I am not. Whatever the current producers are paying, they are not getting their money's worth. The old series was a well-designed gem. Remember those opening graphics? And that annoying but unforgettable theme music? The old series showcased Art Deco artifacts and architecture. The Deco movement peaked, then fell away in hardly more than a decade--two at most. I am convinced the old series showcased every good example of Art Deco architecture to be found in all of Britain. By contrast, the new series is flat, uninteresting. Instead of bright, clean-lined Art Deco, we see nothing but the same-old-same-old Masterpiece Theater/A&E Presents visuals blahs that turn up a dozen times a week on PBS. Even worse is the rhythm of the new series. With the regularity--not to mention the soul of a stopwatch, everything periodically comes to a lurching halt. (Why they do not display a black card saying "Insert Commercial Here" I cannot imagine.) And the music! That old tune is still there, but almost inaudible in the background. What a waste! Let's not even talk about the opening credits.
In summary, these are acceptable productions of (sometimes VERY) loose adaptations of Christie's mid-career novels. They're good enough, but not the visual treats they used to be. On the other hand, even mediocre Poirot is better than no Poirot at all.
Four stars wit' ze little grey cells.
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