A&E // 1989 // 1176 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kristin Munson (Retired) // November 3rd, 2008
"The English are a people very moral, ne c'est pas?" -- Hercule
"That's one way of looking at it" -- Murder Suspect
I've spent over 18 hours with Hercule Poirot over the past month and I still can't understand why a man with a brain on par with Sherlock Holmes' insists on taking the suspects to a small room to reveal who the murderer is when it always ends in violence. At the very least, stuffing seven or eight possible killers in a parlor and revealing their scandalous motives to everyone else instead of arresting the guilty party doesn't seem like the best way to get referrals. Who's going to hire you to find out who slew Auntie Roo if it means the family's mental defects, doll fetishes, and orphan abuse get spread all over town?
Still, he must be doing something right because Agatha Christie's most famous literary creation has never stopped appearing on movie and television screens, most recognizably in the incarnation of David Suchet in the Agatha Christie: Poirot series that's now been running for two decades.
Over the past twenty years the series transitioned from carefully staged scenes with a supporting cast of sidekicks to shaky handheld cinematography with the detective working solo. The later movies take more liberties with the plots -- usually by randomly changing characters' sexual preference -- because nothing's more edgy than hinting two blokes are snogging (Alas, not actually shown). Thankfully, the newly "sexed up" Poirot adaptations have nowhere near the level of cracked-out camp as the recent Miss Marple remakes.
Agatha Christies Poirot: The Definitive Collection contains 12, 100-minute adaptations featuring the fussy private detective.
* The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
* Lord Edgware Dies
* Murder in Mesopotamia
* Evil Under the Sun
* Death on the Nile
* Sad Cypress
* The Hollow
* Five Little Pigs
* The Mystery of the Blue Train
* Taken at the Flood
* After the Funeral
* Cards on the Table
Do those titles look familiar? That's because they've been released by A&E as The Classic Crimes Collection, The Complete Collection (Ha!), and The New Mysteries Collection. Far from a ploy to clear out a bunch of old discs, the company actually cranked out new ones with art to coordinate with the stylish purple pinstriped case of the Definitive Collection. What they didn't update was the content, porting over the old transfers without including subtitles or new extras beyond the original's dry text bios. Worse, A&E hasn't even seen fit to use the original British versions on the DVDs: all 12 movies come complete with the incorrect aspect ratios, commercial fades, and censored swear words from the American broadcasts.
It's too bad, because most of the TV movies are excellent whodunits, especially the later installments, which sport noticeably sharper dialogue and bigger budgets for gorgeous '30s costumes and more prominent guest stars. Five Little Pigs, which delivers its mystery in personal flashbacks, Rashamon-style, is the best title in the set because it changes the usual formula of people pointing the finger and spouting glib retorts and shows the emotional fallout of a crime many years after the fact. On the other end of the spectrum is Taken at the Flood, where the writers pile on unnecessary and grotesque plot changes to make the story "relevant" and wind up turning it into a nasty farce. Cinematography almost ruins The Mystery of the Blue Train, by taking Elliot Gould (M.A.S.H), Lindsay Duncan (Rome), and a gorgeous Riviera setting and stationing the camera behind such random objects as lampposts, that become big fuzzy blights on the frame.
Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Definitive Collection is a great set of mysteries in a nice package, but all A&E has done is slapped on a fresh coat of paint and sent it out of the warehouse. Sure, it means people who bought the three earlier sets aren't missing out, but they still had to pay more than 20 extra bucks for discs that take up three times the space. And, with four new Poirot stories broadcasting on the Beeb this year and four more in 2009, it doesn't take a master detective to figure out that another collection will be hitting the shelves very soon.
For not having the patience to wait for more Poirot before pandering to people's pocketbooks and for making me alliterate awfully, A&E is sentenced to wait in the parlor for sentencing.
Hope you don't have any deep dark secrets, guys.
Review content copyright © 2008 Kristin Munson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 1176 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Agatha Christie Biography
* David Suchet Biography
* Index of Poirot Stories