Acorn Media // 1982 // 257 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // July 8th, 2010
"ARE YOU HAPPY? If not, consult Mr. Parker Pyne, 17. Richmond Street. London W.C.1."
Agatha Christie fans have certainly heard of Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple, and possibly Tommy and Tuppence Beresford as well, but Mr. Parker Pyne? The retired statistician who makes other people's happiness his profession isn't exactly the star of the Christie universe, but he makes two appearances in The Agatha Christie Hour: Set 1. Pyne brings with him Felicity Lemon and Ariadne Oliver, who later appear in Poirot's cases. With Poirot and Marple missing, and a ghost appearing (maybe?) somewhere in the mix, it's a Christie collection that's a little different.
The Agatha Christie Hour: Set 1 includes five episodes on two discs:
* "The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife"
Married businessman George (Peter Jones, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) takes an interest in a young woman in his company. Mr. Parker Pyne takes an interest -- professionally and statistically, of course -- in the businessman's unhappy wife.
* "In a Glass Darkly"
The strangling Armitage (Nicholas Clay, These Are The Damned) saw in the mirror obviously hasn't happened, but he soon meets the woman he saw in the reflection. He also notices that the scar on her fiancee's neck looks familiar. Is it a portent?
* "The Girl on The Train"
George (Osmond Bullock, Pride and Prejudice) is headed for adventure when he boards a train, thanks to the girl who bursts into his compartment and hides under his seat.
* "The Fourth Man"
A reporter (John Nettles, Midsomer Murders) tells a psychologist his take on a woman's strange personality split.
* "The Case of the Discontented Soldier"
Major Wilbraham (William Gaunt, The Champions), a "retired empire builder," rescues a lady in distress after receiving a message from Mr. Parker Pyne.
If anything, the stories featured in this Agatha Christie Hour set are more exciting and suitable for filming than the Poirot and Marple novels. They're short stories that move at a good clip; three are adventures with lots of humor, while the remaining pair are atmospheric tales of the supernatural.
Christie has a light touch with her adventures that's lots of fun on-screen, aided and abetted by just the right amount of overacting. When a character says, "I have never had anything exciting happen to me in my life, and I think it's about time I started" in one of Christie's adventures, you'll know that he's about to have something exciting happen, and it will involve secret papers. "There are always secret papers," he says. "The Case of the Discontented Soldier" even has mystery writer Ariadne Oliver creating a plot for Major Wilbraham's real-life adventure, at the behest of Mr. Parker Pyne, a "happiness expert" who does as much plotting as Oliver. At the same time, these stories let the audience identify with their amateur adventurers, something you can't quite do with Poirot, even when you're a step or two ahead of his little gray cells.
The supernatural stories aren't quite as light. "In a Glass Darkly" finds a returning veteran coping with shellshock, while "The Fourth Man" recounts a tale of childhood bullying that spilled over into adulthood. Thus, there's drama to go with the strange twists. They're treated more seriously, and the results are atmospheric and chilling. For fans of Midsomer Murders, the narration from a young John Nettles will be a bonus.
The picture quality is good for the most part, as is the production. There are some things that don't quite work -- the war flashbacks in "In a Glass Darkly" are pretty obviously done on an interior set, and the smoke and explosions don't quite hide it -- but the production team did a solid job with period detail. You could feel like you've traveled back between the wars as you listen to a crooner singing in a nightclub.
For extras, there's a bio of Christie and some background on Mr. Parker Pyne, who appeared in a 1934 collection of short stories. The Pyne text is called "Before Poirot," although Poirot's debut in The Mysterious Affair at Styles appeared in 1920.
The thing that'll hook some Agatha Christie fans -- the variety of the stories -- could discourage others. If you want by-the-book whodunnits, there's likely no substitute for Poirot or Marple stories.
If a Mr. Parker Pyne had intervened in the life of Agatha Christie, perhaps by getting one or two of her light thrillers or supernatural tales onto the big screen in the Thirties, the "Queen of Mystery" could have been known for action or ghost stories instead. Thanks to some rummaging in Christie's literary attic by Thames TV, you have a chance to speculate on what might have been.
Fans of Poirot and Marple who've occasionally stumbled across Christie's lesser-known works will want to check these out.
Not guilty. Agatha Christie fans will be happy.
Review content copyright © 2010 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 257 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Text Features