Acorn Media // 1992 // 306 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // April 16th, 2012
"I am better than the police." -- Hercule Poirot
Nobody ever accused Hercule Poirot of false modesty. Of course, he's got reason to boast. He may not be quite as well-known as Sherlock Holmes (who's also doing a TV-movie gig in Britain), but the detective of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express has got to be close. As for his television career, the series started in 1989 and, according to IMDb, will adapt Poirot's final case, Curtain, in 2013.
I didn't know which mysteries were going to be adapted on Poirot: Series 4, but when I got the DVD and saw The ABC Murders was one of them, I knew I was in for a treat. In the '30s, ABC must have been quite a shocker. It probably won't startle anyone today, but it's still one of Poirot's most memorable cases.
Poirot: Series 4 contains three movie-length mysteries, each on its own disc:
* The ABC Murders
"There's something about these letters, something that bothers me."
The letters in question -- which keep coming to the apartment of Hercule Poirot (David Suchet, Going Postal) -- boast of murders soon to take place, starting with Alice Ascher of Andover. The killer signs his letters "A.B.C." If you know your ABC's (or your mysteries), you know where this is going.
* Death in the Clouds
"There must have been the reason psychological why no one in the plane saw the murder."
Hercule Poirot didn't see it because he was asleep. Very psychological. Afterward, though, he did notice the poison dart that killed a woman on his flight.
* One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
"For me, the case, it began with a shoe."
Poirot's dentist talks about wealthy patient Alistair Blunt as he treats the detective. Soon, though, the dentist will be silent forever, and a patient will turn up dead from a novocaine overdose. Ouch!
The special guest star of The ABC Murders makes a grand appearance in the first shot. It's the ABC timetable for railroads, which turns up next to each of the bodies, and viewers are greeted with row upon row of the timetables at a newsstand. Typography plays a big role in ABC, with closeups of the "B" in a poster for the movie Strawberry Blonde and a "C" on the door of a train car. You'll also see a lot of those sensational headlines -- over montages of printing presses, no less.
It's part of "a stylishly colorful art deco look for Poirot." The sets are beautiful -- although I'll have to admit they tend to look like sets -- and they do look their best in these DVD transfers. Even when the production heads out into the world, they seem to find some great locations that fit the art deco theme. My favorite, perhaps, is the glass tower from which Poirot, with Chief Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson, Funland) and friend Hastings (Hugh Fraser, Reilly: Ace of Spies), looks down on the resort town of Bexhill-on-Sea, where the trio is sure there's a murder in the works in ABC.
While ABC puts Poirot in the story from the start with the letters sent to him, the production works him in early by having him wander around the suspects before the murders in Clouds and Shoe. It's kind of surreal the way they do it -- and there's a nod to surrealism as Poirot walks through a museum in Clouds -- but it's a fun touch.
David Suchet as Poirot is quietly confident, interested in the challenges presented by his cases, and persistent, even when others are satisfied. He also puts great stock into reading people as they answer his questions. He's not above the occasional funny bit of business, as when Poirot looks a gift crocodile in the mouth, but doesn't want to insult the giver, his friend Hastings. However, the detective known for his "little grey cells" isn't silly, even though the role is highly theatrical, down to the obligatory gathering of the suspects.
Naysayers might object that some of the murder machinations are needlessly elaborate, particularly in Death in the Clouds, in which the murderer turns out to have gone to great lengths to put on a disguise on an extremely small passenger plane. Quite possibly, no one would have noticed the crime being committed anyway. After all, Poirot was sleeping.
Of course, you might instead be the person who objects to touches of gritty realism. In that case, you might not like the fact that Poirot, like countless other TV detectives, has to make a stop at the morgue to view corpses. It's not graphic here, but if you're planning to escape that TV detective show mainstay, you're out of luck.
There are no extras with Poirot: Series 4. I'll concur with Judge Jim Thomas' opinion on Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Movie Collection, Set 6: this series could use some behind-the-scenes material on those fantastic sets or other design elements. If they'd wanted to do a DVD release as loving as the vintage Doctor Who offerings, there's a treasure trove of possible short subject topics: pre-World War II air travel, famous murder cases and their newspaper coverage, railway timetables, and seaside resorts.
I'd say The ABC Murders makes Poirot: Series 4 a good purchase for mystery and Christie fans. It's a case every whodunit buff should read or see, and the production is simply one of the most beautiful-looking pieces of television I've ever seen. I also like Poirot overall; it's done so you can still enjoy it, even if you've read the books and know how the mystery turns out. I do wish there'd at least been a tour of some of those nice sets tucked into this release, though.
A word of caution: Poirot: Series 4 does repackage movies which have already been released on DVD, and there's no reason for a double dip.
Not guilty. Now I've got to rest my "little grey cells."
Review content copyright © 2012 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 306 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Not Rated