A&E // 1985 // 2079 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski (Retired) // October 5th, 2009
Murderer: "It's so dreadfully easy killing people...you begin to feel it doesn't matter."
You, too, may begin to feel that killing people doesn't matter if you make it through all the shootings, stranglings, stabbings, poisonings, and bludgeonings on display in the 21-movie set Agatha Christie: Poirot & Marple Crime Anthology Collection. While Christie's duo of sleuths are each in top form in these films, the box set itself is a rather shameful affair.
I'll go into these DVDs' flaws later on, but first a breakdown of the mysteries to be solved -- twelve by Poirot and nine by Marple. As you can see from my grading, the more recent Poirot series is generally more enjoyable than these older Marples, which feel dated and more slowly paced (though the newer Marples, too, are quite good; see my review of Agatha Christie's Marple: Series 4):
Disc One (Box One): Poirot
* "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" (2000)
This mystery begins with an interesting premise: the murderer has plotted her or his crimes carefully and kept a detailed (and cynical) journal of their execution and aftermath. As Poirot studies the journal to immerse himself in the mind of a killer, we're given flashbacks of the crime (the title one) and Poirot's investigation. A subplot features Poirot's depression about his retirement in the country, where he attempts to garden and ends up making death threats to his unruly vegetables. The journal gimmick is enjoyable here, as is Poirot's retirement plot, but the chase scene at the end is a bit silly.
Disc Two (Box One): Poirot
* "Lord Edgware Dies" (2000)
Investigating amongst a most dangerous bunch -- actors! -- Poirot must discover how a woman who appears to have killed her husband (observed by eye witnesses) could have an alibi of attending a dinner party during the murder (also observed by eye witnesses). He's supported in this case by series regulars Miss Lemon, Inspector Japp, and Captain Hastings, who has just returned from the Americas with an investment lost and a marriage on the rocks. A highlight is that the theatrical milieu gives Poirot a great opportunity to stage one of his dramatic, diva-esque unveiling-the-killer scenes.
Disc Three (Box Two): Poirot
* "Murder in Mesopotamia" (2001)
Called to Iraq by an old flame, Poirot visits an archeological dig while he waits to meet with her. He won't get bored during the wait because a murder occurs that he's asked to solve (never mind that a murder has already occurred, of an Iraqi just before he arrived -- Poirot couldn't be bothered to solve that one, I guess). Murder in Mesopotamia feel like a rather clunky chore, though it does stage the most gruesome killing of the set when someone drinks a glass of hydrochloric acid and then starts spitting blood.
Disc Four (Box Two): Poirot
* "Evil Under the Sun" (2001)
After collapsing at Captain Hastings' new restaurant venture, Poirot is ordered to recuperate and lose some weight at an island health resort. Observing the interactions of the guests, he fears that a murder will occur -- but how can he be expected to prevent it when he's being fed only tiny portions of horrible food? Failing to prevent it, he resolves to solve it instead.
Disc Five (Box Three): Poirot
* "Death on the Nile" (2004)
Poirot breaks out his dainty little fly shoo-er from Murder in Mesopotamia once again for another trip to the desert. This time, he finds himself on a Nile River cruise with a newlywed couple being stalked by the husband's jealous ex. When, of course, a slain body is discovered, Poirot is conveniently isolated with his boat full of suspects. This time, though, he has very pleasant scenery floating by as he ferrets out all their deep, dark secrets. On-location shooting among Egypt's ruins and some beautiful locales liven Death on the Nile up, but an abundance of trivial and irritating romantic subplots near the end weigh it down. Honestly, who goes cheerfully courting while trapped on a boat with a very active murderer?
Disc Six (Box Three): Poirot
* "Sad Cypress" (2003)
Bored by assembling evidence for an upcoming trial, Poirot procrastinates by investigating a sinister letter received by a young engaged couple with a sickly and rich old aunt. Naturally, things turn more sinister when the aunt dies, the matter of inheritance gets complicated, and a murder follows in the wake of this first death. The investigation gets sticky because of a good friend of Poirot's has a fondness for the most likely suspect. A pretty good mystery throughout, Sad Cypress reaches a brief moment of greatness at its climax when Poirot must taste British "salmon paste" to explain how he's solved the case. This proves a most unpleasant experience, and prompts Poirot to quip: "I, Hercule Poirot, I had followed my reasoning, yes. But I had failed to take into account the madness of the English palette!"
Disc Seven (Box Four): Poirot
* "The Hollow" (2004)
During a visit to his country house, Poirot finds two things not as they should be: a tiny piece of his hedge needs trimming, and a weekend guest of his wealthy neighbors has been brutally murdered. Actually, Poirot has been visiting with these neighbors and even arrives at the scene of the crime seemingly just moments after it has been committed. While it seems obvious at first that the person he finds there holding the gun did the shooting, Poirot looks deeper for a mastermind criminal plot concealing the real killer. We're treated to some fun moments of Poirot's eccentricity in this one, and to a mystery whose construction is a bit more interesting than usual.
Disc Eight (Box Four): Poirot
* "Five Little Pigs" (2003)
A young woman whose mother was hanged for the murder of her father hires Poirot to investigate what really happened between her parents, hoping that her mother was innocent. The trouble for our sleuth is that his trail of clues has had 14 years to grow cold. Interviewing the five main parties in attendance on the day of the crime, Poirot pieces their memories back together to discover the truth. Five Little Pigs was the first film of a new era for the Poirot series, following after Murder in Mesopotamia in terms of air dates and, happily, looking nothing like it. The very best of these 21 films, it is aesthetically ambitious and emotionally compelling. Using handheld camerawork (though the shakiness is overdone) and unreal warm tones, the director immerses us in the distant past and -- most importantly -- takes pains to make us feel the loss of this girl's parents. In the parade of casual death running through the Poirot and Marple adaptations, Five Little Pigs convinces us to pause and really mourn these two.
Disc Nine (Box Five): Poirot
* "The Mystery of the Blue Train" (2005)
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 the train's other 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. Strong performances from the two young heiresses prevents The Mystery of the Blue Train from being just another tale of murder among the soulless rich -- as so many Christie stories are -- and the stylish noir look sets it apart visually from other installments.
Disc Ten (Box Five): Poirot
* "Taken at the Flood" (2006)
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. But if he was alive when they wed, he's certainly not now, and Poirot sets out to discover his killer. Taken at the Flood feels agonizingly slow to start up and is a bit difficult to understand, even once Poirot finishes his concluding exposition.
Disc Eleven (Box Six): Poirot
* "After the Funeral" (2006)
At a routine reading of a will, the deceased's quirky sister, Cora, shockingly suggests that he was probably murdered. This peaks 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 guilt out from their performances and find the real killer. A light tone and a brisk pace keep this one rolling along, but the case was more fun back in the '60s when Margaret Rutherford's Marple solved it.
Disc Twelve (Box Six): Poirot
* "Cards on the Table" (2005)
Mr. Shaitana, a swishy, exotic, eccentric foreigner 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 of the other four guests has a dark past and may be capable of murder. Working from a really fun premise, Cards on the Table is a pleasure in terms of story and character. The style is also commendable here, with great decorating, lighting, and shooting within the kooky Shaitana's residence. Watch for the scene in which Poirot stumbles into a gay photography studio!
Disc Thirteen (Box Seven): Marple
* "A Caribbean Mystery" (1989)
One of Miss Marple's many "nephews" treats her to a vacation in the Caribbean while she recovers from an illness. But just as she is getting bored with lounging on the beach, a doddering old gentleman at her hotel turns up dead. To catch the killer, Miss Marple enlists the help of quirky millionaire Jason Rafiel who can present her ideas to the local police (who may not trust the insights of a nosy old English lady on holiday). Donald Pleasance has a charming guest role as Rafiel, and it's rather delightful to see Miss Marple so out of her element and yet still so tenacious and brilliant when it comes to her case. The mystery itself, though, is nothing special.
* "The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side" (1992)
Movie star Marina Gregg has just moved into a big manor house in Miss Marple's village, St. Mary Mead. Willing to keep up the traditions of the former owners, Gregg hosts a huge garden party for all the villagers on her property. Miss Marple's new friend -- and Gregg's biggest fan -- Heather is delighted to attend, until she sips a poisoned cocktail. Miss Marple must not only discover the killer, but determine the victim, as the poison may not have reached its intended target.
Disc Fourteen (Box Seven): Marple
* "Sleeping Murder" (1987)
A young couple moves to England from Australia only to find their new house strangely familiar. When they are introduced to Miss Marple by a friend, she helps the wife, Gwenda, remember that she lived in the house as a very young child. As they investigate Gwenda's visions of a woman's body in the hallway, Miss Marple recognizes evidence of a "sleeping murder." And after many years, the perpetrator may have to kill again to keep the truth buried. Miss Marple's only foray into haunted house stories yields the best tale of her series, as well as some of spinster sleuth's most memorable lines.
* "4:50 from Paddington" (1987)
Miss Marple's visiting friend Elspeth witnesses a killing on a passing train from her own train cabin. With no body surfacing to prove the wrongdoing, Miss Marple must not only prove who committed murder, but that it took place at all. When she reasons out the probable location of the body, she convinces a former employee to take a job at Rutherford Hall and search for it on the grounds there. Although the most unusual part of this mystery -- how to prove the murder happened at all -- is briskly dispatched, the sheer joy of the highly improbable unmasking scenario at the end more than makes up for this failing. A fish bone, indeed...
Disc Fifteen (Box Eight): Marple
* "The Moving Finger" (1985)
A neighboring town is stricken with a series of "poison pen" letters -- ransom-style anonymous notes accusing villagers of various vices and moral transgressions. When a local woman is found dead with a suicide note, Miss Marple smells foul play. And with a wealth of shady suspects to choose from, she hastens to prevent another "suicide." The young love in The Moving Finger is rather tiresome, particularly when it devolves into a bizarre My Fair Lady allusion montage. Otherwise, it's an enjoyable case.
* "At Bertram's Hotel" (1987)
Vacationing at London's classy Bertram's Hotel, Miss Marple begins to investigate the strange relationships among her fellow guests long before any evidence of foul play. Her restless nights and feelings of uneasiness are affirmed when the doorman is shot dead and a young heiress seems to be the next target. In a break from the early murder/second murder narrative structure, At Bertram's Hotel allows all its characters to survive past the first hour of its running time. Unfortunately, that makes the first hour a bit dull. And the series' only big "chase scene" is quite a letdown.
Disc Sixteen (Box Eight): Marple
* "Murder at the Vicarage" (1986)
After her gardening is interrupted by a gunshot, Miss Marple learns that the unpopular Colonel Protheroe has been murdered in her neighborhood. While all of St. Mary Mead seems to be lining up to confess, the ever-watchful Miss Marple racks her memory and grills local villagers to find the clues that will exonerate the false confessors and condemn the true murderer. Adapted from Christie's first Miss Marple novel, Murder at the Vicarage benefits from the greater attention paid to the cinematography and screenplay in this installment. The town of St. Mary Mead never again has so much personality, drama, and beauty as it does here.
* "Nemesis" (1987)
Jason Rafiel, Miss Marple's crime-solving counterpart in A Caribbean Mystery, dies and leaves his old "nemesis" Miss Marple some money -- if she agrees to solve an unexplained mystery. Her only clue is that she must take a specific bus tour of historic homes and gardens. Naturally, the other guests on the tour turn out to be more than they seem, and one of them turns up dead. This time, Miss Marple must discover the original crime before she can unmask her fellow traveler's killer. Jane Marple is mesmerizing as she reveals this murderer in the best ending of the series.
Disc Seventeen (Box Nine): Marple
* "They Do It with Mirrors" (1991)
Visiting a rich old friend who has been ill, Miss Marple is gathered with other guests to watch a film when two family members start a fierce argument in a neighboring room. When the power cuts out, two shots are fired and everyone fears the worst. Moments later, the two having the argument are alive while another man is dead. To solve this case, Miss Marple thinks back to a village bonfire during which all the onlooker's homes were robbed. She knows the argument was a diversion, but who took advantage of it?
I suspect the petty crimes of studios' shoddy DVD releases would sound a good deal more dramatic if investigated by Hercule Poirot. Let's imagine that climactic scene in which he assembles everyone and announces his conclusions:
"Messieurs and mesdames, what we have before us is a mystery most sinister. The studio, it has plucked 21 unsuspecting films from its vaults and thrown them together in the set we now hold in our hands. What connects them, you wonder? Oui, they are all based on the writings of one Agatha Christie. And it is true also that the two detectives continue to appear, and that in each case they are given life by the same two performers. And yet -- the facts: they do not add up, my friends. For Joan Hickson's Miss Marple, she has solved not nine but twelve cases for the BBC. Where, we must ask, have her remaining three cases gone? And that dashing David Suchet, he has been working his little grey cells as Hercule Poirot for many, many years, no? Why then, are we only given this smallest slice of his brilliance: only those cases from 2000 to 2006? But if we cannot have all the cases we so desire, then, why -- why! -- are those we do receive presented to us in such disarray, with no respect for the order and reason of chronology? And finally, we must question with deepest sadness why these films come before our eyes as only shadows of their former selves -- sometimes as pictures of such poor quality that we hardly want to look at them."
Poirot himself would likely continue that such dark crimes spring sometimes from passion and sometimes from greed. As a detective in the much more pedestrian realm of DVD sales, I can confidently pin this one on greed. The answers to most of our questions about Agatha Christie: Poirot & Marple Crime Anthology Collection come with the knowledge that the set is a reprinting and repackaging of the discs from two previous A&E sets, Agatha Christie's Miss Marple: Classic Mysteries Collection and Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Definitive Collection, and that they necessarily replicate the flaws of these previous releases.
DVD Verdict reviewers have already delved into the details of each of these sets (see the linked reviews at the top of the page), and I myself have previously reviewed 13 of these 21 films for DVD Verdict. So I'll refer you back to those reviews for discussion of content (and for the Miss Marple drinking game I concocted!) and to my brief comments above on each of the individual films. Here, I'll add a bit more about the quality of this "new" set and whether it's worth a purchase for anyone in particular.
This set has big problems in both technical quality and packaging. Image quality varies widely among films, ranging from pretty good to quite bad, with most installments exhibiting one or more of the following problems: significant compression artifacts, washed-out colors, faded black levels, and a too-soft look. Once in a while, the picture even seems to undulate as if the film stock were waving in a light breeze. The oldest films (the Marples) suffer most, but even some of the newest Poirots have lots of compression and lack sharpness. Sound is a bit better, though I'd dearly love to see some subtitles in future sets.
In terms of organization and packaging, the order of films here is all gunked up and beyond my capacity to comprehend. If you purchase the set and want to watch these mysteries in some vaguely logical order, I'd suggest following the chronological order I've provided with the release dates above -- especially with the jumbled Marple films. Because these DVDs are reprints of previous releases, they also don't have much consistency between the Poirot and Marple discs. Each of Poirot's films comes on its own individual disc, packed two to a slim case. Marple's films, by contrast, are mostly two per disc, and then two per case. But there's also one left over, so that Marple gets its own individual disc and its own individual case. At least the attractive covers and disc labels have all been coordinated. While I like the two-disc slim cases, they are housed in terrible outer packaging: it's just a thin cardboard box. Not a sleeve that you can slip things in and out of, but an actual clunky box that you have to open with a flimsy tab.
I've listed plenty of reasons to avoid Agatha Christie: Poirot & Marple Crime Anthology Collection, but very few of these reasons have anything to do with the enjoyable content of the films themselves. If you don't have any of these films in your collection yet from the many previous releases, they're significantly cheaper to buy in this humungo bundle than in the smaller box sets -- under $6 per film, with Amazon's current price. I doubt we'll see any remastering of these TV adaptations, so this shoddily produced set may still be the best way to watch our two favorite sleuths crack their cases.
How could I ever pronounce these endearing detectives guilty? Poirot and Marple are cleared of any wrong-doing, but A&E needs to do some time for these double dip (or is it triple or quadruple by now?) shenanigans.
Review content copyright © 2009 Jennifer Malkowski; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 2079 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Story Indexes
* DVD Verdict review - Marple, Classic Mysteries Collection
* DVD Verdict review - Poirot, The Definitive Collection
* DVD Verdict review - Poirot, The New Mysteries Collection
* DVD Verdict review - Poirot, Classic Crimes Collection
* IMDb: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
* IMDb: Lord Edgware Dies
* IMDb: Murder in Mesopotamia
* IMDb: Evil Under the Sun
* IMDb: Death on the Nile
* IMDb: Sad Cypress
* IMDb: The Hollow
* IMDb: Five Little Pigs
* IMDb: The Mystery of the Blue Train
* IMDb: Taken at the Flood
* IMDb: After the Funeral
* IMDb: Cards on the Table
* IMDb: A Caribbean Mystery
* IMDb: The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side
* IMDb: Sleeping Murder
* IMDb: 4:50 from Paddington
* IMDb: The Moving Finger
* IMDb: At Bertram's Hotel
* IMDb: Murder at the Vicarage
* IMDb: Nemesis
* IMDb: They Do It with Mirrors