A&E // 2005 // 379 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski // June 12th, 2006
Poirot: "Have you or have you not engaged the services of the greatest detective in the world?"
A fitting follow-up to A&E's release of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple: Classic Mysteries Collection mysteries earlier this year, this smaller set features Agatha Christie's best-known character, the great Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.
This set includes the latest four in a long, long series of Poirot BBC movies:
Mystery of the Blue Train
An uneasy mix of the rich and the opportunistic leeches who love them board the Blue Train with Poirot on route to France. The kindly Poirot takes a young woman who has unexpectedly come into a great deal of money under his protection, but perhaps he should have kept his sharp eyes on another young heiress, Ruth Kettering. She has a number of young men after her two hearts -- both the love-y one and the priceless Heart of Fire jewel in her possession. And someone may be willing to kill for one or the other ...
Guest Stars: Elliott Gould, Lindsay Duncan Head.
Taken at the Flood
The sudden death of wealthy Gordon Cloade puts his greedy family in quite a predicament when his new bride, Rosaleen, inherits all his money. Poirot gets mixed up in the feud somehow and, of course, soon has a murder to investigate. It seems that Rosaleen's first husband may have still been alive, invalidating her marriage to Cloade. Still, if he was alive when they wed, he's certainly not now and Poirot sets out to discover his killer.
After the Funeral
At a routine reading of a will, the deceased's quirky sister, Cora, shockingly suggests that he was probably murdered. This piques Poirot's attention, but not as much as Cora's own murder a few days later. With a host of squabbling, money-grubbing suspects to choose from -- several of whom are professional actors -- Poirot must sift the guilt from their performances and find the real killer.
Guest Stars: Geraldine James, Robert Bathurst.
Cards on the Table
A swishy, exotic, eccentric foreigner, Mr. Shaitana who smells of perfume (re: gay) hosts an unusual dinner party. The guests include Poirot himself, crime writer Ariadne Oliver, Colonel Race, and Superintendent Battle -- four investigators, of sorts. The other four guests appear to have nothing in common with each other or the various sleuths, but when Shaitana is murdered in the room where they are playing bridge, Poirot and his crime-fighting colleagues realize that each one has a dark past and may be capable of murder...
Guest Stars: Zoö Wanamaker, Alexander Siddig, David Westhead.
These four Poirot features were done with four different directors at the helm and it shows. The set lacks a certain consistency -- though the seasoned David Suchet is nothing if not consitant as the title sleuth -- in style and quality, with the two women directors among the bunch delivering installments far better than their male counterparts. Mystery of the Blue Train and Cards on the Table feel like something more than just two more ho-hum recitations of the well-worn Christie material.
Mystery of the Blue Train, especially, is a real stylistic achievement. Director Hettie MacDonald accentuates her characters in crisp noir shadows, topped off with wisps of smoke floating through cold, blue light. She excels at establishing mood, from the aforementioned dark alleys and interrogation rooms to the glistening waters and buoyant atmosphere of holiday resorts in Nice. MacDonald, along with her wonderful cast, also brings us the best supporting performances of the set. The most famous of the bunch, Elliott Gould, is only okay; he's a bit stiff, especially in delivering his lines. Jaime Murray as amiable heiress Ruth Kettering, whose marriage is a mess, and Georgina Rylance as the sweet, shy, and newly rich Katherine Grey steal the show. The sheer personality and warmth they infuse their characters with prevents The Mystery of the Blue Train from being just another tale of murder among the soulless rich, as so many Christie stories are.
Taken at the Flood and After the Funeral are, unfortunately, examples of those stories. The former is agonizingly slow to start up and quite difficult to understand, even once Poirot finishes his concluding exposition. Maybe I wasn't paying enough attention, but I still don't know what the title refers to. The main treat of this feature is getting to see Poirot's impeccably neat, modern flat. The fussy Belgian notices one book on the shelf that is much taller than the neatly lined up others. He points it out to his butler, who sarcastically agrees that it "simply won't do." After the Funeral is a bit better, at least maintaining a brisk pace and light tone. Still, this case was more fun when Margaret Rutherford's Miss Marple tackled it back in the '60's.
Cards on the Table finishes out the set on a high note. This one has the best source material, setting up a four-on-four criminals vs. detectives battle that is great fun. The theme of an eccentric millionaire "collecting" the best criminals -- "the ones who get away with it" -- sets up a dark and occasionally poignant chain of events. Director Sarah Harding almost equals MacDonald in style. She and her crew have great decorating, lighting, and shooting with the kooky Shaitana's residence. Watch for the scene in which Poirot stumbles into a gay photography studio! The photographer makes him blush when he notes, "[Shaitana] did say someone would be along for [the photos]...didn't say he'd be so handsome!" Christie writes a stand-in for herself into this story, with great effect. Crime writer Ariadne Oliver is a wonderful foil for Poirot, working on intuition rather than logic and moving through life with an air of joyous disorganization that contrasts sharply to the overly ordered Poirot. When she remembers that he has moved flats, she asks, "What was wrong with your last apartment? Walls not straight enough?"
Of course, the real centerpiece of this set, who gives the stories the most heart and humor is the incomparable Hercule Poirot. The well-dressed, quirky Belgian with the pince-nez is continually amusing. Referring to himself in the third person and patently unmodest about being "the greatest detective in the world," he is an out-and-out drama queen. His most diva-like moments occur at the end of each mystery, as he assembles all the suspects and dramatically accuses each one in turn, only to end -- with a spectacular flourish -- on the real murderer. This is one of the many ways his methods contrast to Miss Marple's. The latter uses her "very good disguise" as a gossipy old village lady to fly under the criminals' radar, so to speak, absorbing information from behind the scenes and using the fact that everyone underestimates her to get closer to the truth. Poirot is more of a showman, sometimes giving one the impression that he solves the murders as much for his ego as for an interest in justice. Yet Suchet's Poirot remains as undeniably charming as Joan Hickson's Miss Marple. David Suchet, who has been playing Poirot on the BBC for almost 20 years, is everything a Christie fan could ask for. From the little flicks of his wrist to the way he recoils at the sight of animals droppings on a farm while he rushes to stop a violent altercation, Suchet scatters each film with the funny little quirks that make Poirot so endearing. His comedy reaches laugh-out-loud status when, in Cards on the Table, Poirot is told that "No one can always be right." He quickly sputters: "But I am! Always I am right. It is so invariable it startles me!" Still, he can be chilling and serious. In that same film, he veils a serious accusation in cheerful banter when speaking with a potential murderer who has just demonstrated her great memory: "Memory it is a thing most wonderful, n'est-ce pas? With it, the past is never the past. And I imagine, Madam, that to you every incident is a
s clear as if it was yesterday. Like a ghost that never goes away." Let's hope Suchet keeps wearing Poirot's trademark prim little mustache for a long time.
A&E gives Agatha Christie's Poirot: Classic Crimes Collection the same treatment as Agatha Christie's Miss Marple: Classic Mysteries Collection. The four discs come in four slim cases, housed in an attractive outer box. Unfortunately, as with Marple, the picture doesn't look as good as the aesthetically pleasing packaging. Despite the gorgeous visuals of Mystery of the Blue Train, the whole set is plagued with very bad grain. Deep blacks hold up pretty well and the sound is adequate, though no subtitles are offered. Extras are sadly lackluster with only a few on-screen biographies and a list of Christie's Poirot stories.
Put your Agatha Christie's Poirot: Classic Crimes Collection right next to Agatha Christie's Miss Marple: Classic Mysteries Collection on your bookshelf. If you're as finicky as Poirot, don't worry: they are exactly the same height.
"And so we have played. And Hercule Poirot, he has won." Indeed he has. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2006 Jennifer Malkowski; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 379 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Biographies of Agatha Christie, David Suchet, and Hercule Poirot
* Index of all Hercule Poirot stories