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Poirot in Perfection.
on September 7, 2006
Hercule Poirot is one of the most famous detectives in literary history. Yet, strangely, except for his portrayal by Albert Finney in the star-studded movie version of "Murder on the Orient Express," for a long time there did not seem to be an actor who could convincingly bring to life the clever, dignified little Belgian with his unmistakable egg-shaped head, always perched a little on one side, his stiff, military, slightly upward-twisted moustache, and his excessively neat attire, which had reached the point that "a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet," as Agatha Christie introduced him through his friend Captain Hastings's voice in their and her own very first adventure, "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" (1920). But leave it to British television to finally find the perfect Poirot in David Suchet, who after having had the dubious honor of playing a rather dumbly arrogant version of Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Japp in some of the 1980s' movies starring Peter Ustinov as Poirot, was finally allowed to move center stage in the Granada/ITV series broadcast from 1989 onwards, which to date also includes seventeen movie-length features based on a number of Christie's most celebrated Poirot novels. (Not yet? -- included are, most notably, [new] adaptations of "Murder on the Orient Express" , "Appointment with Death" , and Poirot's final case, "Curtain" [published 1975, but written in the 1940s].)
And the match is spot-on, not only physically but also, and more importantly so, in terms of personality. Suchet shares Poirot's inclination towards pedantry: "I like things to be symmetrical ... If I put two things on the mantelpiece, they have to be exactly evenly spaced," he said in an interview, comparing his real-life persona to that of Poirot. But, he added, unlike his on-screen alter ego, "I don't need the same sized eggs for breakfast!" Although previously not interested in mysteries, his habitually meticulous research allowed him to quickly become familiar with Christie's Belgian sleuth and the workings of his little grey cells -- and to slip so much into Poirot's skin that I, for one, can no longer pick up a Poirot book without instantly hearing Suchet's voice as that of the great little detective.
This collection brings together the series's 36 short episodes; all in all, adaptations of roughly 75% of the Poirot entries contained in Christie's various collections of short stories and novellas -- or more precisely, almost all short stories except for the twelve mysteries from Poirot's self-declared "last" decameron of cases, "The Labors of Hercules" (1947), and three stories from the 1926 collection "The Underdog." Next to Mr. Suchet, Hugh Fraser stars as the detective's indefatigable sidekick Captain Hastings, whom the screenplays, alas, make come across as more of a well-educated but vacuous gentleman than do the written originals narrated from his point of view. (This is virtually my only quibble with the series -- and that although Granada and ITV did so well in debumblifying Sherlock Holmes's friend and chronicler Dr. Watson!) Philip Jackson, on the other hand, gives us an admirably sturdy, down-to-earth incarnation of Chief Inspector Japp, and Pauline Moran virtually inhabits Poirot's epitome of a secretary, Miss Lemon; whose role, like those of Hastings and Japp, is added into a number of episodes not originally featuring them, thankfully without greatly disturbing the stories' narrative flow and setting.
The episodes contained in this set are, in the order of Christie's original short story collections:
From POIROT INVESTIGATES (1924):
"The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim"
"The Veiled Lady"
"The Lost Mine"
"The Adventure of the Cheap Flat"
"The Kidnapped Prime Minister"
"The Adventure of the Western Star"
"The Million Dollar Bond Robbery"
"The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor"
"The Mystery of Hunter's Lodge"
"The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb"
"The Case of the Missing Will"
"The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman"
"The Chocolate Box"
"Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan"
From THE UNDERDOG and OTHER STORIES (1926):
"The Cornish Mystery"
"The Plymouth Express"
"The Affair at the Victory Ball"
"The Adventure of the Clapham Cook"
"The King of Clubs"
From MURDER IN THE MEWS (1937):
"Dead Man's Mirror"
"Murder in the Mews"
"Triangle at Rhodes"
"The Incredible Theft"
From THE REGATTA MYSTERY and OTHER STORIES (1939):
"How Does Your Garden Grow?"
"The Mystery of the Spanish Chest" (a/k/a "The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest")
"Problem at Sea"
From THREE BLIND MICE and OTHER STORIES (1950):
"The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly"
"Four and Twenty Blackbirds"
"The Third Floor Flat"
From DOUBLE SIN and OTHER STORIES (1961):
"The Double Clue"
"The Theft of the Royal Ruby"