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The Agatha Christie Hour - Set 1
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How can "happiness expert" Parker Pyne return a wayward husband's affections to his wife? Will a chance encounter on a train transform the life of a jobless investment broker forever? And why does a vision in a mirror mean misery for a beautiful bride-to-be?
In these stories, the lesser-known Christie heroes and heroines solve crimes of the heart as well as puzzling cases of larceny and murder. With just the right mix of danger and deception, romance and revenge, innocence and intrigue, these classic adaptations are Christie at her best, now on DVD for the first time.
The top-notch ensemble cast includes John Nettles (Midsomer Murders), James Grout (Inspector Morse), and William Gaunt (No Place Like Home) and features Maurice Denham (Behaving Badly) as the incomparable Parker Pyne.
A quintet of short stories by the unparalleled mistress of crime fiction are turned into one-hour mysteries in The Agatha Christie Hour, Set 1. What's most interesting about these episodes is that none of them are murders (well, one of them might be…); instead, they range from intriguing character portraits to whimsical comedy in a P. G. Wodehouse vein. Two feature one of Christie's lesser-known recurring characters, Parker Pyne, a retired statistician who's turned his gift for finding patterns in data to solving the problem of unhappiness. Both cases involve folk whose lives have gone flat--one, a middle-aged wife who fears her husband has eyes for his young secretary, the other a retired military officer who finds civilian life bland and tedious. With the aid of his secretary Miss Lemon and the author Ariadne Oliver, both of whom went on to appear in some Hercule Poirot tales, Pyne orchestrates adventures for his clients.
The other three stories are one-off tales, all unusual in the Christie canon: In a Glass Darkly has an outright supernatural element, as a young man has a vision in a mirror of a strangling--but only after surviving World War I and marrying the woman in his vision is the truth revealed. The Girl in the Train is a sprightly comic pastiche, a spin on spy stories like The 39 Steps, in which a hapless young gentleman gets a small parcel from a mysterious young woman and ends up foiling smugglers. But the most intriguing episode of all is The Fourth Man; a troubled reporter (John Nettles of Midsomer Murders) tells a psychiatrist, a priest, and a lawyer the story of two girls whose personalities are intertwined in a strange, metaphysically sadomasochistic relationship. Christie fans in particular will find these fascinating side trips, but you don't have to be a mystery reader to enjoy these stories. --Bret Fetzer
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Top Customer Reviews
Each of these one hour movies are so old, ..and that was a bit of a shock to me!
I was not expecting that.
At least one of them had sound problems (because of age) And one was grainy in quality.
No, this is one review I cannot give a thumbs up to.
Neither can I in all honestly recommend.
Very disappointing indeed.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The complaint that I have is with the marketing here in America. There were actually 10 dramatizations done for The Agatha Christie Hour. This set contains only five for, at this writing, $28.99. The British set contains all 10 stories and is labeled as "the complete set". It was released only about a month ago with the same cover art (a five disc set, two stories per disc), so it's not as if our American set is a re-release or a re-think. So, again as of this writing, the British set containing all 10 stories is available from Amazon.co.uk (in case the site name is deleted, it's this site's sister site in England) ~ at a price of $31.35 after conversion to dollars from pounds and adding shipping and handling.
Our American release is saying "Set 1". Let me tell you that Acorn, the distributor, is notorious for bringing out the first part of a series and never bringing out the rest. So, assuming that they do eventually bring out "Set 2", if it is priced like set one the total price for all 10 will be $57.98. That's a far cry from the $31.35 that the Brits are paying for their region 2 release.
This pricing practice seems to be the norm (I daresay that the Brits also pay a premium for our shows). If you love British fare, as I do, you are paying a high premium when you buy their discs in region 1 format ~ and unfortunately many of their tv shows and movies are never released in region 1. When the tv shows are released here in America they are often done piecemeal like this Agatha Christie Hour release. Quite often, only the first year or so is ever released.
If you feel as I do that this practice is unfair, do yourself a favor and purchase a region free dvd player. There are many available here at Amazon, some for under $60~ or just google and find one. It will pay for itself with just a few purchases of region 2 discs. I have not only saved a lot of money by purchasing region 2, but I am also able to buy dvds of shows that are not available here in America and I am often able to enjoy British shows at least a year before they are released here in the USA.
The true question for this series is not Will Christie's stories be good?; but Will the acting be up to script level? Are the actor's worthy? They are. The series is cast with several British members of high achievement and fame. The 5 episodes give us interesting mixes from romance to crime. They come alive, enchanting at times, suspenseful at other times.
"Case of the Middle-Aged Wife": London's Parker Pyne (Maurice Denham), 'Dr. of Happiness' is engaged by a cheated-upon wife. Does it help, Mr. Pyne, to reverse the cheating participants? What's good for the George is good for the Maria. Claude is played by Rupert Frazer(The House of Eliott)
"In a Glass Darkly": A murder 'vision' is seen by a party guest causing him to suggest to the fiance that she not go through with her wedding. After serving in WWI, he returns & the prophecy takes on new meaning.
"Girl in the Train": International intrigue involving a broker, a blonde, and an encounter on the train to Portsmouth--England not Massachusetts. Mystery, comedy, romance, and adventure; Agatha Christie style.
"Fourth Man": Riding the train together from London to Scotland was a doctor, a lawyer, and a clergyman. Sounds like a joke--but not when the 4th man joins the train compartment. John Nettles (Midsomer Murders), very young, is the 4th man. Fiona Mathieson also gives a great performance.
"Case of the Discontented Soldier": Parker Pyne gets another client in this series. An ex-soldier misses the excitement and danger of the military. His life in an English village is a bit droll--but oh so beautiful. Great place to visit. Wm. Gaunt plays the Major.
This set does have subtitles for those needing them. It also has an Agatha Christie bio in text and Parker Pyne: Before Poirot, also text.
The series was based on short fiction by Dame Agatha, the mistress of mystery; all the episodes are set in the 1920s and `30's, and do not feature her signature detective Hercule Poirot. However, interestingly enough, they feature some characters that carry over to the Poirot stories, most notably Miss Lemon, Poirot's secretary/assistant, and Ariadne Oliver, a fictional, successful detective novelist who much resembles her creator. The production is blessed with the meticulous attention to detail that used to characterize British TV: costumes, transportation, interiors are accurate, and the location photography is excellent. The stars are worthy of their settings: they include a young John Nettles (Midsomer Murders: Set 15); the respected Maurice Denham (All Passion Spent); a handsome young Rupert Frazer (P.D. James - Cover Her Face); and Michael Gough(Batman (Two-Disc Special Edition)). The supporting players are also strong, and there was no skimping on extras. The stories run from crime-solving, to romance and the supernatural.
The episodes are:
"The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife." A cheated-upon housewife hires Parker Pyne, retired civil servant and `doctor of happiness.' Pyne sends forth Claude, a handsome young almost gigolo played by Rupert Frazer. Can Claude help this neglected wife to recapture her husband's attention?
"In a Glass Darkly." There's an engagement party; a handsome young guest has a vision of the bride-to-be, the sister of his friend, at risk, and suggests she break her engagement, which she does. The young man struggles through World War I, and comes back to marry the young woman himself. A strong episode and an early look at post-traumatic stress disorder, which they then called shell shock.
"The Girl in the Train." A suddenly unemployed young broker decides to take a train trip from London to Portsmouth, U.K. He meets a beautiful young woman on the train, and finds himself mixed up with spies and international affairs. A light and fluffy comic romance.
"The Fourth Man." Another train trip. A young John Nettles has the difficult acting job of playing a Frenchman, just sitting and telling a story (that verges on the supernatural) to his three train compartment companions, a doctor, a churchman, and an academic. Luckily, they're all played by solid supporting actors, including Michael Gough, and there are atmospheric flashbacks to France, in which a young Fiona Mathieson does good work.
"The Case of the Discontented Soldier." A bored retired Army man goes to Parker Pyne for stimulation. An entertaining little mystery that features an appearance by the fictional Ariadne Oliver.
The short story genesis of these entertainments precludes much of Christie's customary complexity of plot; but the fact that these stories were written in the eras in which they were set does give them a certain resonance, and Thames TV sure knew how to make mysteries. Worth a look any time.
The production quality of these programs is not up to what we expect from the Miss Marple & Poirot TV series. They are produced on video-tape & often look like soap-operas. I have come to enjoy the filmed quality of the later book adaptations, so this took a little away from my enjoyment of the show. There are some video glitches & color banding in the shows, the video tape masters are almost 30 years old so these defects can be expected. You will think of the Rumpole Of The Bailey TV series when you see these shows.
THE CASE OF THE MIDDLE-AGED WIFE - Parker Pyne adds spice to the life of a neglected wife. This episode has the lowest production values, a stagy presentation with no mood music. It is hard to believe this ran in PBS's Mystery show as there is no mystery. It is a "Fantasy Island" type of romance story.
Originally published on the short story collection PARKER PYNE INVESTIGATES.
IN A GLASS DARKLY plays out like an old "One Step Beyond" program. Agatha Christie delves into the supernatural world of premonitions. This hour long story suffers from the same problem that the hour-long "Twilight Zone" episodes suffer from, stretching a half-hour story out to one hour. This would have been an excellent half-hour story, but it drags at one hour. Things start off with a bang as we encounter the ghostly premonition, but little happens before the pay-off at the end. Agatha Christie does explore the mental effects that war has on the returning soldiers, showing their mental breakdown. When the original story was written I believe this was a new concept.
This supernatural story was first published in 1934 in Collier's magazine in the USA and Woman's Journal in the UK. Then is was published in the short story collection THE REGETTA MYSTERIES (US) and decades later in MISS MARPLE'S FINAL CASES (UK) even though it is not a Miss Marple Mystery.
THE GIRL IN THE TRAIN is very entertaining! Probably the best story in this set! Mystery & Intrigue are intertwined with romance as a young woman sends a young man who is looking for excitement on the trail of a mystery man. The pace of the story stays ahead of me, keeping me wondering what is going to happen next. The production values of this episode are much improved over the first and it almost feels like I am watching a filmed show. The staginess is gone as we are taken on a train ride to various locations. The Inn where the action takes us to is a wonderfully contorted 3-D set, adding to the twisted feel of the story.
This short story was first published in 1924 in Grand Magazine, then published in the short story collections THE LISTERDALE MYSTERY (UK) and THE GOLDEN BALL AND OTHER STORIES (US).
THE FOURTH MAN - This is the story of two dead girls, one strong but average looking with little talent, the other dainty & weak with a pretty face & voice to go with it. The pretty girl is nasty, wanting everything she can have including controlling and possessing those around her. Along comes a young man whom the average girl likes, but he only notices the pretty one who just wants to use him. The story is told by this young boy some 20 years later on a train to three other men, he is the fourth man. These four men, the story teller, a clergyman, a lawyer & a psychiatrist try to unravel the mystery behind the girl's deaths. Easily the second best story in this set. My only complaint is that the characters are rather cardboard & almost unbelievable, but then we are seeing the story through the eyes of the story teller. So the over exaggerated personalities may be the work of the story teller's imaginative mind.
This story was first published in 1925 in Pearson's Magazine. Then is was published in the short story collections THE HOUND OF DEATH (UK) and WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (US).
THE CASE OF THE DISCONTENTED SOLDIER - Parker Pyne adds spice to the dull life of a soldier after he returns home. I believe this is the only other Parker Pyne story adapted in this series. Ironically, these stories written in the 1930's feel like 1950's dramas, like the old THE MILLIONAIRE television series.
Another story from the PARKER PYNE INVESTIGATES short story collection.
Don't get too excited about the bonus material, I was expecting short documentaries but what I got was several pages of text. The "Christie Biography" is only to inform those who don't know about her. And the "Parker Pyne: Before Poirot" is a bit of a misnomer as the Poirot books came first. The only information I found useful was the confirmation that the Miss Lemon working for Parker Pyne is the same Miss Lemon who went on to work for Poirot.
Overall, I am pleased to get more Agatha Christie story adaptations on DVD, but I do not find these romance stories as enjoyable as her mysteries.