Sunday, February 28, 2010

Agatha Christie’s Poirot - Series 3

Agatha Christie’s Poirot – An Introduction
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 1
Agatha Christie’s Poirot – Series 2

1. The Mysterious Affair at Styles (first broadcast September 16, 1990): While convalescing during wartime, Hastings is met by an old friend, John Cavendish, who invites the officer to stay with him at his mother’s manor home, Styles Court. Hastings discovers there is much discord in the household, particularly over the recent marriage of Cavendish’s widowed mother to the much younger Alfred Inglethorp. Even though Inglethorp dotes most kindly upon the older woman, Evie Howard, Mrs. Inglethorp’s devoted but outspoken companion, is most especially aggrieved by this new husband and insists murderous intent is in the air. Meanwhile, Hastings encounters Hercule Poirot, a detective he met many years before in Belgium, dislocated from his country by war and, along with several other Belgian refugees, enjoying Mrs. Inglethorp’s beneficence. One night shortly thereafter, Mrs. Inglethorp, wakes the household with an alarming paroxysm and suddenly dies. Suspecting foul play, Hastings persuades John Cavendish to allow Hercule Poirot to investigate and the detective discovers multiple motives that point away from the most obvious suspects.

Written in 1916 and first published (in the United States!) in 1920, The Mysterious Affair at Styles is Agatha Christie’s very first novel and marks the first-ever written appearance of the remarkable and beloved literary creation, the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Challenged by her sister to write a whodunit that could not be deduced, Christie used the classic “manor house” murder cliché as the set piece, something that she hardly invented but later came to be renowned for in the entirety of detective fiction, even despite many clever attempts at refuting such fictional mores. Setting Hastings as the story’s narrator – much like Watson’s telling of Holmes’ adventures – further allows Miss Christie to lead the reader down the garden path. Seeing things through an everyman’s eyes – or seeing what we are meant to see – allows the writer (even the scenarist) to introduce a much more clever sleuth into the picture, who sees exactly what we do but in a completely different way. We all have to look at the red herrings while the real detective can see past them. A clever conceit, which helps Miss Christie effectively win the bet she was first challenged with, particularly in the peculiar and hardly believable unraveling of this most intoxicating mysterious affair – the model for as many of the terrifically enchanting Christie tales hereafter as the countless stories from those who copied or parodied the formula in all those years since then. The only real argument against the book’s utterly engaging premise is one that must be made with the benefit of hindsight. The book presents Poirot as an old man, already retired as a Belgian detective, in the first of his British escapades, or the first of his adventures as a British citizen. Somehow, through literary slight of hand, he amassed nearly 50 more years of adventures in print until his appropriately-titled finale, Curtain, which was written during World War II but not published until 1975, a few months before Miss Christie’s own death and, quite notably, also set at Styles.

The feature length film, scripted by Clive Exton and directed by series newcomer Ross Devenish (who only helmed the series’ One, Two Buckle My Shoe hereafter), was first broadcast by ITV on Sunday, September 16, 1990, exactly one hundred years and one day after the birth day of its creator and originator, Miss Agatha Christie, as a celebration of her life, her magnificent work and her great contribution to the literary arts (the show’s premier also comes close to marking the 70th anniversary of the book’s initial publication). Everything is more than up to par for such an auspicious occasion. This feature-length film is the first in the series to dispense with the series’ main title sequence and the familiar Poirot main theme, employing instead a time and place setting montage for the main titles, scored by a sumptuous theme (Christopher Gunning’s entire score here is particularly notable). The film makes several changes to simplify the story, including changing Mrs. Inglethorp to John Cavendish’s mother (not step-mother); dropping Dr. Bauerstein and his back story as a spy (the film, however, doesn’t explain how Dr. Wilkins arrives so quickly to the scene of the dying lady); making Mary Cavendish an adulterer; a missing coffee cup and an otherwise conveniently-timed narcotic administered to several protagonists. All water under the bridge.

David Suchet, in particular, provides an extra gravity to his personification of a necessarily younger Poirot here, something he’s only hinted at before. He is, most properly, “a dandy”: warm and witty, unyielding and unapologetic. He’s also still very much the intellectual and every bit the cut-up. Whereas his previous performances were just and judicious, this is the performance where he owns the character of Poirot. Suchet’s past performances are well studied and well delivered. Here, it is like a second skin. It will be like this, almost religiously, throughout the remainder of the series. While Suchet continues to do much other wonderfully notable work in film and television (galaxies away from the Christie universe), he has never so beautifully had the opportunity to so inhabit a character, to make him breathe and live like Poirot. And, surely, no other actor can possibly be considered anywhere near as substantially or as seriously in the role of the funny little Belgian detective as this great and very British actor. David Suchet is Hercule Poirot. And it begins right here. Thankfully Granada did right by this story and it stands as one of the Poirot series’ best achievements. Beatie Edney, as Mary Cavendish, also appears as Mrs. Hemmings in the 2009 Poirot film The Clocks. Curiously, Anthony Calf, who plays Lawrence here, plays another Cavendish, Stephen, in the 1999 “Dead Man’s Eleven” episode of Midsomer Murders, which also featured Penelope Beaumont, who plays Mrs. Raikes in this Poirot film.

2. How Does Your Garden Grow? (first broadcast January 6, 1991): An elderly lady writes a mysterious and desperate letter asking Hercule Poirot for his assistance with a very delicate family matter. With his curiosity properly raised, Poirot agrees to help the woman only to find out she has died before they can meet. Upon visiting the lady’s house, Poirot is greeted by the lady’s niece, Mrs. Delafontaine, and her husband, both who inhabit the house, and Katrina Rieger, the lady’s Russian nurse and companion, and he realizes something is very wrong in this peculiar household. First published in 1935 in the UK and included in book Poirot’s Early Cases and, in the US, as part of The Regatta Mystery, How Does Your Garden Grow takes its title from the English nursery rhyme, “Mary, Mary Quite Contrary,” which also lent credence to the 1971 film Pretty Maids All In A Row, staring Rock Hudson, of the 1980 film version of The Mirror Crack’d, and Roddy McDowall, of the 1982 film version of the Poirot mystery Evil Under The Sun. This film, directed by Brian Farnham, who also helmed some of the series’ more stylish outings including Wasp’s Nest, The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman, Dead Man’s Mirror, Lord Edgware Dies and Evil Under the Sun, and scripted by Andrew Marshall, who also wrote this series’ The Affair at the Victory Ball, gets any number of changes in its transition from the short story. In the book, while there are plenty of horticultural references, there is no flower show, no cleverly revealing seed packet passed onto Poirot and no poetic burying of a silver servant’s bell in the garden. Katrina gets a fairly involved back story that figures nicely into the plot, the film’s unloved Mr. Delafontaine develops a drink problem and, here, the old lady’s solicitor engages in an outrageously symbolic telling of the will to Poirot using a horse show! Also, the book lacks the character of Hastings, who in the film develops what he thinks is hay fever – which keeps him away from flowers – that turns out to be an allergy to Poirot’s not exactly manly cologne. Inspector Japp replaces the book’s Inspector Sims and so on. All of this suggests that the scenarist did a marvelously picturesque job placing Miss Christie’s story in front of the camera. Miss Lemon, who has one of her first major roles in Christie’s story, takes a pleasantly major role in the film too. Curiously, while the dénouement works out more or less the same in the film as the book – at least as far as the protagonists are concerned – the method which dispatches the old lady to the next life is considerably different, even though oysters are involved in both cases. The nicely marked-up story also parallels Miss Christie’s “The Cornish Mystery,” in that an older woman seeking Poirot’s assistance is killed before Poirot can do anything to help. Catherine Russell, as Katrina Reiger, also played as Pamela Horsfall in the 2009 Poirot film Mrs. McGinty’s Dead. Anne Stallybrass, as Mary Delafontaine, also appeared in the 1982 film The Man In The Mist, as part Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime.

3. The Million Dollar Bond Robbery (first broadcast January 13, 1991): The London and Scottish Bank wishes to extend its business overseas to America and arranges to transfer one million dollars in government bonds by ship traveling from England to New York with a bank trustee. During the ship’s voyage, the bonds disappear. Poirot investigates. First published in 1923 and included in the book Poirot Investigates and also known as “The Great Bond Robbery” in the US, The Million Dollar Bond Robbery is the first of eleven Poirot films scripted by the imaginative Anthony Horowitz (Midsomer Murders, Foyle’s War, the well-done Collision) and the first in the series of films to differ rather substantially from the original story. Both the story and the film agree in general premise, as outlined above, and, most particularly, in the identity of the guilty party. But both take very different courses to their similar conclusions. Horowitz’s version is, arguably, superior in many ways. It is certainly more colorful, with many more red herrings and splashy additions including a duplicitous woman, a banker with (literately convenient) gambling debts, a dictatorial security director, several arrests and an ocean voyage for Poirot and Hastings (required by the fact that the film has Poirot hired by the bank before the robbery, whereas the book finds an interested party consulting Poirot after the robbery). The film’s only flaw is, perhaps, the method(s) employed to remove one bank employee from the task of transferring the bonds to America. The book has the employee merely getting sick whereas the film entertains several overtly suspicious ways of removing the employee from the task. Director Andrew Grieve nicely spices up the proceedings with mock documentary inserts – which probably come out of the script – and lovely art deco sets that replicate the bank and the Queen Mary, which probably come from the series’ first-rate production design. The film, which also uses a bank as its touchstone, cleverly makes reference to The Lost Mine, broadcast almost a year to the day before this film (Horowitz is exceptionally referential in most of his scripts). But the film’s ocean voyage also recalls such later sea-faring Christie stories as Problem at Sea (1935) and, of course, Death on the Nile (1945). Oliver Parker, as Philip Ridegeway, also appeared in the excellent 1987 Miss Marple film Nemesis while David Quilter, as Mr. Shaw, also appeared in the 1984 episode of Agatha Christie’s Partners In Crime’s “The Crackler” and Ewan Hooper, as Mr. Vavasour, also appeared in the same series as part of the 1984 episode “The Case of the Missing Lady.”

4. The Plymouth Express (first broadcast January 20, 1991): Mrs. Rupert Carrington, who is separated from her spendthrift husband and engaged in an affair with the unscrupulous Count de la Rochefour, loses her jewels and her life while traveling on the Plymouth Express train with her maid. Her devoted father, a wealthy industrialist named (Ebenezer, in the book, Gordon, in the film) Halliday, seeks Poirot’s assistance in finding out what happened. First published in the UK in 1923 as The Mystery of the Plymouth Express and published in the UK as part of Poirot’s Early Cases and in the US as part of The Under Dog and Other Stories, The Plymouth Express was scripted by former actor Rod Beacham in his only Poirot outing and directed by Andrew Piddington, who also directed the series’ The Double Clue, broadcast several weeks later. This story sets the foundation for Christie’s slightly later and much stronger Poirot novel The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928), which even uses the same name for one of the guilty culprits. Christie’s original story is thinly plotted and the film, which benefits from some of the series’ best looking art-deco sets and some pumped-up story lines, is sadly just as thin. The book’s story turns on Inspector Japp’s discovery of a jewel thief and Poirot’s conceit of a vivid description of the victim’s clothing (“electric blue,” which prefaces the blue in the title of the much more intricately plotted novel). But the filmed version of The Plymouth Express turns, rather unbelievably, on one of Poirot’s hunches that lead Japp to the jewel thief and his accomplice. Perhaps the most significant fault of both the story and the film is that you don’t really care whether Mrs. Carrington lives or dies. Indeed, her father’s affections seem thoroughly unwarranted and rather hard to believe. No one really cares about the jewels either. It all strangely suggests that mysteries solved and crimes punished are preferable to people helped and justice done. The dénouement presented in the film is, however, nicely staged and sequenced. This is one of the few films in the series that’s more fun to watch than think about. Julian Wadham, as Rupert Carrington, was also seen in the 2006 Marple film Sleeping Murder.

5. Wasp’s Nest (first broadcast January 27, 1991): Hercule Poirot encounters an old friend, John Harrison, whose engagement to the beautiful Molly Deane has recently been announced. Harrison’s home is coincidentally besotted by a horde of wasps, for which he has engaged Claude Langton, a friend and also formerly Molly’s lover, to dispel. Poirot goes on to make several discoveries that lead him to believe a murder is about to occur. First published in 1928 as The Worst of All (perhaps a religious reference to the story’s threat of suicide and the perception of “suicide as murder”), Wasp’s Nest was later published in the UK as part of Poirot’s Early Cases (1974) and in the US as part of Double Sin and Other Stories (1961). The story was also adapted by Agatha Christie herself for a BBC television play broadcast on June 18, 1937. The show was only broadcast in London and starred Francis L. Sullivan (1903-56), who reprised his portrayal of Poirot, which he had performed with critical definitiveness in the plays Alibi (a dramatization of Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) and Miss Christie’s own 1930 stage play Black Coffee (Sullivan later won a Tony award for his performance in Christie’s stage play Witness For The Prosecution). Despite Miss Christie’s obvious affection for this story, which displays Poirot’s intuitive gifts in a preventive manner, this story is a little difficult to swallow. It took some mettle to stretch the thinly plotted tale into a 50-minute film. But the filmmakers introduce an illness for Inspector Japp, which keeps him out of the story he wasn’t originally a part of, a summer fete, which more realistically reunites Harrison with Poirot (though why the city-dwelling Poirot attends a village fete at all is a real mystery here), a silly sub-plot of Poirot reading tea leaves and the trumping up of Molly Deane as a super model of the day. The film’s final 15 minutes encompass the whole of the very short story (which explains why Miss Christie’s original teleplay was only some twenty minutes in length). The preceding half hour or so of this film is all filler. The hunches and deductions that Poirot derives in the story are ludicrous in the extreme. Even the film finds Suchet’s Poirot exasperated, claiming that he is “solving a crime that does not even exist.” One must commend Miss Christie for – yet, again – toying with the dictums of detective fiction: in this case, preventing a crime that has not yet occurred. But any suggestion that this story is realistic or compelling is hollow at best.

6. The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor (first broadcast February 3, 1991): Mr. Maltravers is discovered lying dead on his estate, Marsdon Manor, of an apparent internal hemorrhage. The circumstances are not immediately questionable but for the appearance of blood coming out of his mouth and the fact that the man had insured himself only a few weeks before for a large sum of money benefiting his wife. Poirot investigates. First published in 1923 and known also as The Marsdon Manor Tragedy in the US, The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor was included in the book Poirot Investigates and is a clever short story that finds Agatha Christie employing a bit of psychoanalysis and ghostly tomfoolery in an effort to discover murder through possible insurance fraud. The film changes the written tale considerably and rather imaginatively by introducing a ghost story that suggests something along the lines of The Hound of the Baskervilles, an innkeeper who writes murder mysteries in his spare time, a wax museum that includes the famous Belgian detective (!), a devoted and probably lovelorn secretary (Miss Rawlinson), broken eggs and a painting whose shadows help reveal the clue that solves the crime for Poirot. In the book, Maltravers’s insurance company asks Poirot to investigate the death whereas the film clumsily introduces Poirot into the mystery by having him literally run into the cops called onto the scene of the crime. Also, Poirot plays a game of word association with Captain Black to inexplicably piece together the means of murder in the book, whereas the film uses Poirot’s spotting of a headline in an English language African newspaper, which Captain Black has used to wrap a present for Mrs. Maltravers, to unravel the plot just as unbelievably. Either way, the film compares quite favorably to the book, beautifully employing many cinematic ghost-story conventions and effects to enliven the typical talky and cerebral Poirot plot. Geraldine Alexander, as Susan Maltravers, also portrayed the equally unhinged Gwenda Reed in the memorable 1987 Miss Marple film Sleeping Murder, which also featured Edward Jewesbury (1917-2002), who plays Dr. Bernard in this Poirot film. Anita Carey, as Miss Rawlinson, also appeared in the underrated 1985 cable television film presentation of Agatha Christie’s Ordeal by Innocence and, as it is referenced above, it should be noted that Neil Duncan (aka Alastair Duncan), as Captain Black, made his memorable acting debut as Dr. Mortimer in the 1988 film of The Hound of the Baskervilles with Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes.

7. The Double Clue (first broadcast February 10, 1991): Marcus Hardiman, a wealthy jewel collector, is robbed during a social affair held at his home. Several party guests were seen around the room where the jewels disappeared, including Russian Countess Vera Rossakoff, Lady Runcorn and Bernard Parker, a partner of Hardiman’s. Two clues are discovered at the scene of the crime, a man’s glove and an engraved cigarette case. Poirot is asked to find out what happened with a discretion that will protect everyone’s social standing. First published in 1923, The Double Clue was later published in the UK as part of Poirot’s Early Cases (1974) and in the US as part of Double Sin and Other Stories (1961). It is the first of Christie’s stories to introduce the Countess Vera Rossakov, who also appears in The Big Four and The Capture of Cerberus (she’s also mentioned in One, Two, Buckle My Shoe), and is surely the influential counterpart to the sexless Poirot that Irene Adler (introduced in A Scandal in Bohemia) was to the sexless Sherlock Holmes. The film was the second (and last) Poirot tale directed by Andrew Piddington and the second Poirot film scripted by Anthony Horowitz, who does much to enliven Miss Christie’s unusually brief story – told from Hastings’s mostly disgusted point of view. Horowitz puts Japp’s job on the line, as he has been unable to solve a string of jewel robberies among high society (a la To Catch A Thief), a grand party with a famous opera singer providing the entertainment (it’s merely a tea party in the book) and a tramp who is not a tramp (and someone whose role is never quite clear in all of this). Horowitz also, most significantly, introduces the whiff of a budding romance – or mutual affection – between Poirot and the supposedly deposed Countess that isn’t part of the original story and the effect it has both professionally and personally on Captain Hastings and Miss Lemon. Despite the unusually mournful tone pervading much of this particular Poirot film, there are quite a few chuckles along the way, including the over-the-top effeminacy of Hardiman (who is clearly homosexual, even in the book, but also someone who is suggested to be engaged in some sort of an affair with Hardiman in the film) and the investigation Captain Hastings and Miss Lemon embark upon when they believe Poirot’s attentions are elsewhere.

8. The Mystery of the Spanish Chest (first broadcast February 17, 1991): Lady Alice Chatterton, one of Hercule Poirot’s fondest admirers, implores the great detective to help her friend, Mrs. Marguerita Clayton, whose husband is found dead, concealed in a large chest, at the home of a Major Rich following a party one evening. Major Rich, who is thought to be having an affair with Mrs. Clayton, is arrested for the murder. Poirot also becomes aware of incidents from the past, including a duel, where the affections of Marguerita were at stake. Poirot questions a number of the party guests including a Colonel Curtiss, who has long known the Claytons and Major Rich and was one of the last people to see the poor victimized Mr. Clayton alive. The Mystery of the Spanish Chest, which appeared in the book The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (1960) and was later included in the UK set While The Light Lasts and in the US set The Harlequin Tea Set an Other Stories (both 1997), is a 1960 rewrite of the 1932 story The Mystery of the Bagdad Chest, which originally appeared in the book of stories The Regatta Mystery (1939). It’s a ripping murder-mystery yarn with at least two plot holes big enough to drive a truck through (one: the hole in the chest would be easy to deduce by the shavings, and two: the victim’s manner of death would be a bit more obvious to discern than the story makes it seem. A possible third loophole in the book is Poirot’s decisive pronouncement of guilt upon the murderer. While there is certainly evidence of a murder, there is no evidence against the actual murderer.). Agatha Christie’s story makes reference to the macabre absurdity of stuffing a dead body into a chest fitted into a room where a party will take place, an allusion to the 1929 Patrick Hamilton play Rope, based on the Leopold and Loeb murders, the story Alfred Hitchcock famously turned into a 1948 film. Hilariously, Poirot goes on to claim on behalf of the author that “(b)ecause a theme has been used once, there is no reason why it should not be used again.” Not a bad point for a literary apology. Anthony Horowitz does a typically good job bringing the story from the page to the TV screen, playing up Poirot’s ego (“I am the detective.”) and eventual leavening of modesty (“It was nothing. I was lucky, that is all.”), adding Poirot and Hastings’s attendance at the slightly symbolic performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto (interjecting Hastings’s great summary of the opera, “Well it does have a couple good tunes, I suppose.”) and superimposing Poirot onto the party where the corpse is in attendance. Horowitz grandly overcomes Christie’s lack of evidence for the murder by conceiving a plan that flushes the killer out to confess it all himself. It’s still flimsy, but much more effective. Pip Torrens, who appears as Major John Rich, also appears as Jeremy Cloade in the 2006 Poirot film Taken at the Flood as well as Noel Coward (!) in the bizarre 2004 Marple film 4:50 From Paddington. Even more curiously, the actor Edward Clayton, who briefly appears as Sgt. Rouse here, plays in the same film where there is a character named Edward Clayton, portrayed by the always effective Malcolm Sinclair (Casino Royale, Midsomer Murders).

9. The Theft of the Royal Ruby (first broadcast February 24, 1991): An indiscreet young prince, on holiday in London, has a ruby of historically significant value to his country stolen from him by a female companion one evening. A Mr. Jesmond from the Home Office implores Hercule Poirot to spend the Christmas holiday with Colonel Lacey and his family in order to track down the jewel under the pretext of helping the family to disentangle the Lacey’s granddaughter, Sarah, from a relationship with the unsavory and disreputable Desmond Lee-Wortley. Poirot agrees to spend the Christmas holiday at Kings Lacey with the Colonel and Mrs. Lacey, Sarah, Desmond and his sister and David Welwyn, a Lacey associate with feelings for Sarah, and several crafty children. During the course of the holiday merriment, the detective discovers the royal ruby in the traditional Christmas pudding and sets about tracking down the thief who absconded with the jewel. The Theft Of The Royal Ruby was first published as The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding in 1923 and was included under its original title in the UK collections Problem at Pollensa Bay and Christmas Adventure (1943 – “Christmas Adventure” is another one of this story’s titles), Poirot Knows the Murderer (1946) and While The Light Lasts (1997). It was also published as part of the American short story collection The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding in 1961. The expanded version of the story first appeared in 1960 under the title given to the film and was included in the US collection Double Sin and Other Stories (1961). Like Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1938), the great detective is roused from his London flat to spend the Christmas holiday at a sprawling country manor to investigate a crime – though this story’s Lacey family is much more warm and festive than the brooding weirdoes of the later story’s Lee household. The film’s script, by Anthony Horowitz and Clive Exton, stays remarkably true to the original story, which is a miracle since they are able to successfully craft a 50-minute piece out of Christie’s novella. Christie’s story was, however, a good yarn in the first place. It is a jaunty sprite filled with fun and merriment and Miss Christie’s typically literary allusions – in this case, to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (of course) and Lewis Carroll. The scriptwriters had plenty of colorful material to work with and did not need to inflate much of the particularly strong story, though the mystery of how or why the Christmas holiday at the Laceys is of any significance to the theft of the royal ruby is as baffling in the novella as it is in the film. The film adds a well-conceived chase sequence that features the bad guys getting away in one of those beautifully stylish cars that lured the gendarmerie of Alfred Hitchock’s To Catch A Thief (1955) into a similarly picturesque chase. Frederick Treves (Colonel Horace Lacey) also appeared as Dr. Kennedy in the 1987 Miss Marple film Sleeping Murder while Helena Mitchell (Sarah Lacey) appeared as Elvira Blake in the 1987 Miss Marple film At Bertram’s Hotel. There are many fine character actors present here filling roles of much personality, rewarding this particular film with quite a few reasons to view it repeatedly.

10. The Affair At The Victory Ball (first broadcast March 3, 1991): Lord Cronshaw attends a grand Victory Ball party with a group of family and friends dressed as characters from the Italian Commedia dell’Arte. Cronshaw, dressed as Harlequin, is joined by his uncle and heir, the Honorable Eustace Beltrane, as Punchinello, a pretty American widow, Mrs. Mallaby, as Pulchinella, the actor Chris Davidson and his wife as Pierrot and Pierrette, and the popular actress Miss Coco Courtney, as Columbine. During the course of the party, Lord Cronshaw and Miss Courtney, who are involved in a relationship, have had an apparently upsetting falling out. Lord Cronshaw becomes moody and distant, then disappears from the other guests and is later discovered lying dead with a dinner knife struck through his heart. The next day, Coco Courtney is discovered dead in her bed, the victim of an apparent cocaine overdose. Poirot investigates. First published in the UK in 1923 and included in the UK as part of the short story collection Poirot’s Early Cases (1974) and in the US as part of The Under Dog and Other Stories (1951), The Affair At The Victory Ball was the very first short story Agatha Christie ever published and one of the most pervasively colorful uses of theatrical symbolism in the entirety of her literature (Shakespearean and Jacobean references abound elsewhere, not to mention plenty of Biblical allusions as well). Renny Rye directs a particularly good-looking evocation of the story, alight with flamboyant costumes, appropriately over-the-top characters and some of the most sumptuous sets filmed in the series thus far. Andrew Marshall’s script suitably changes the theatre actors to radio performers, allowing Poirot to stage his dénouement as a radio program for mystery buffs rather than the mock stage play presented for the surviving characters in the book. The script also manages to get Poirot and Hastings to attend the Victory Ball – which they do not in the book – by conceiving of one James Ackerley, a famed radio producer and friend of Arthur Hastings, who hopes to meet the equally famed Hercule Poirot at the party. Poirot, of course, declines a costume for the party. But Hastings’s get up as The New Yorker’s man-about-town dandy, Eustace Tilley, is perfectly conceived – and particularly parfait as Hastings is often heard to consider Poirot as a “dandy” early on. The film remains true to the book’s implausible death of Coco Courtney, which, while not out of the realm of possibility, seems a bit unbelievable under the circumstances. Haydn Gwynne (Coco Courtney) also appears as Miss Battersby in the 2008 Poirot film Third Girl and Andrew Burt (James Ackerley) also appears as Dr. Quimper in the 1987 Miss Marple film 4:50 From Paddington.

11. The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge (first broadcast March 10, 1991): Roger Havering and his wife, Zoe, are visiting Roger’s uncle, Harrington Pace, at Hunter’s Lodge, his house in the isolated countryside, until business calls Mr. Havering away. Later that same night, a strange bearded man comes to the house and shoots Harrington Pace dead. The killer makes his escape and the hysterical Mrs. Havering implores Mrs. Middleton, the housekeeper, to contact the authorities. Once the investigation into Harrington Pace’s murder begins, the housekeeper suddenly disappears as well. Illness prevents Poirot from actively investigating the crime, but it is he who finally discerns the true nature of what really happened. First published in the UK in 1923, The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge was published as part of the compendium Poirot Investigates. It is the only Poirot film scripted by actor/writer T.R. (Trevor) Bowen, who also penned the majority of the well-done Miss Marple films, including The Body in the Library (1984), A Pocketful of Rye (1984), The Murder at the Vicarage (1986), Nemesis (1987), 4:50 From Paddington (1987), A Carribean Mystery (1989), They Do It With Mirrors (1991) and The Mirror Crack’d (1992) (he also appeared in several of the episodes in the role of Raymond West). Bowen did much fluffing to bring this rather brief mystery to the screen, including the addition of a picturesque hunt (which prefigures Rex Stout’s 1955 novel Immune to Murder and, even to a certain degree, the 2001 Robert Altman film Gosford Park); Hastings’ existing relationship with Roger Havering, which accounts for the rather difficult-to-accept presence of Hastings and Poirot at the hunt; several characters not in the book (Jack Stoddard, a games keeper step-brother, Archie Havering, Pace’s nephew and a teacher not to-the-manor born, Mr. Anstruther, a man who has his bike stolen, and the real Mrs. Middleton – who does not exist in the book) to help flesh out the mystery with a few more suspects; and, most notably, a “clever dog” who sniffs out the guilty party in the end (surely a reference to the 1937 Poirot novel Dumb Witness, beautifully filmed for this series in 1996). While Bowen’s script maintains Christie’s use of disguise as deception (The Adventure of the Clapham Cook, Four And Twenty Blackbirds, The Dream, The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman, Lord Edgware Dies, After The Funeral, etc.), it also thankfully does away with Christie’s divine justice served upon the guilty at the story’s end due to the lack of proof Poirot or the criminal justice system can provide. While Bowen’s script does a pretty decent job with the material at hand, he enters several bicycles into the story to explain how someone who comes to a remote place in the harsh countryside with the intent of murder could make an easy getaway, a rather too obvious gaping plot point Christie’s story never answers. There are several other plot holes in this particular story that either Bowen attempts to putty up or are best looked over if one is to accept it all with any credulity. But as an entertaining lark of detective fiction, it is certainly a serviceable entry in the series, made ever more enjoyable by Bowen’s crafty staging. Shaughan Seymour (Archie Havering) also appeared as Napier in the 1989 Miss Marple film A Caribbean Mystery. Christopher Scoular (Sgt. Forgan) also appeared in the 1984 Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime episode “The Crackler.”

Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 4
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 5
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 6
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 7
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 8
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 9
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 10
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 11
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 12

6 comments:

marilyn said...

Thanks Doug Your Great
Just ordered Mystery of the Blue Train on DVD.

sharon broderick said...

wonderful information ! in double clue the opera singer is singing during the theft . a pretty song i have heard before but i don't know what it is. do you ?
sharontesseiga

Anonymous said...

Sharon, the song is called "c'est mon ami".

Rick

Anonymous said...

Does anyone knows which song is the orchestra playing at "The affair at the Victory Ball" that starts with a kind of japanese notes? Thank you

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