Poirot Movies (David Suchet): Part 2

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: Not bad. The first-person voice-over differs from the book for obvious reasons. It kind of works. Basic plot points are retained. All in all, an okay production.

Lord Edgware Dies: Extremely well-done. Helen Grace as Jane Wilkinson does a superb job. Plot, murderer, and aura are all retained. The best movie since The ABC Murders.

Evil Under the Sun: Okay movie, but the femme fatale isn't done correctly. I'm not sure the writers understood Christie's character. She's supposed to be THE woman that women-love-to-hate, the bad girl who breaks up marriages except . . . strip away the glamour, and she's actually rather pitiable. For a better rendering of this character type, check out the series episode "Triangle at Rhodes." The movie does use the theme music in a compelling way.

Murder in Mesopotamia: I think I would like this movie more if it wasn't one of my favorite books. The book is told entirely from the nurse's point of view, and the nurse has a distinct voice and perspective. She makes the book live. The movie, however, is told all from Poirot's point of view. I understand this on one level; the writers have to use the guy who is being show-cased. But it is still a disappointment. That said, the movie is worth watching. It keeps the main plot points and the aura.

Five Little Pigs: This is one of the best of the later movies. It is the most artistic of the films and effectively captures a nostalgic aura that works well with the plot. It keeps the plotting of the book as Poirot questions each "pig" in turn. There is a subtle change regarding the Philip Blake character (played by the superb Toby Stephens). However, the change actually makes sense and doesn't play havoc with Christie's text. The actor who plays Amyas Crale isn't how I see Amyas Crale physically, but he captures the character.

Sad Cypress: Overall, the plot is well-rendered. However, a major change between the book and movie tells me the writers missed the point. I discuss that change more in my post "Thoughts on Agatha Christie and Literature".

Death on the Nile: Better than the 1978 version. Plus the 2004 version has JJ Feild! It's such a sad movie, I rarely rewatch it. Plus none of the movies has my favorite line. When Jacqueline is speaking to Poirot at the end of the book, she says, "I followed a bad star," and then she mocks a line given earlier in the book: "That bad star, that bad star fall down." When I read Death on the Nile as a teenager, that line captured the essence of Jacqueline's character for me. [Update: Boy, the plot of this book is utterly ridiculous. No wonder the movies are always soap operas. By the end, so many people have died on the boat, I start thinking of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, my go-to novel for "so many bad things have happened, I've stopped believing in the plot." ]

The Hollow: Quite good. Like with Death on the Nile, it is missing some good lines from the book. Otherwise, the characters and the plot are skillfully handled. Unlike with Murder in Mesopotamia, the main female character is given equal time with Suchet, which is absolutely correct.

The Mystery of the Blue Train: Not bad although I'm not as familiar with this book as the others. There is a romance change that I dislike (this becomes more common in the later movies).

Cards on the Table: Great book. So-so movie. A number of fundamentals are needlessly changed (this also becomes more common in the later movies). The motive for the murder is changed but not the murderer. It kind of works.

Actually, I think the movie would be a dud if it wasn't for the awesome Zoe Wannamaker. She plays Mrs. Oliver; she doesn't look like Mrs. Oliver, but she captures her character exactly (and it's Zoe Wannamaker!). Alexander Siddig makes an appearance as Mr. Shaitana and does a great job (he also reminds you how tall he is; in Deep Space Nine, he is one over-6-foot man among many over-6-foot people--except for Nana Visitor).

After the Funeral: One of my favorite movies though substantial changes are made to Susannah and George's characters. I like the changes, and I don't think they undermine anything. The clever motive and clever murderer are retained, and the clever murderer is done exactly right (by a very good actor).

Taken at the Flood: Surprisingly well-rendered. This is one of Christie's scary psycho pieces, and Elliot Cowan as David Hunter, the psycho, is chillingly good. By the way, this movie captures Christie's ideas of emotional (and sexual) enthrallment (see my comments about Sad Cypress). A romance change is made that I regret, but I can understand why the writers did it.

Mrs. McGinty's Dead: Well-rendered. This movie also retains very funny dialog from the book. One is the argument between Mrs. Oliver and Robin about the adaptation of her books to plays (Agatha Christie used Mrs. Oliver to spout off about writing); the other is Poirot's line to a suspect: "It is amazing to me that you could be hanged because you do not pay enough attention to the things people say to you!"

Cat Among the Pigeons: I admit this is one book I would be tempted to play with if I were the scriptwriters. I have this entire subplot involving Adam and Julia . . .  However, in terms of faithfulness to Christie's vision, the movie is pretty good. The plot and murderer's identity are retained but not, I think, the aura. The removal of one character kind of destroys the original feel. Also, although Harriet Walter does a magnificent job as Miss Bulstrode, I'm not sure she is the Miss Bulstrode of the book, but it is Harriet Walter so ... okay.

Third Girl: Tremendous disappointment! The movie destroys the book. The book is extremely well-plotted and very clever; the resulting movie-mess is just that: a mess. Things happen for no good reason. The new motives are slender and convoluted. The double-identity (a Christie special) is disregarded. Mrs. Oliver is misused. Doctor Stillingfleet, a very important character, is discarded. The entire ambiance as well as the book's time period have been thrown out. Jemima Rooper, whom I quite like, is completely wrong for the part of Norma. The movie is a huge wreck.

I can only assume the recent Miss Marple people took over. Please, if you don't admire Christie enough to reread her books several times, savoring her plots and characters and recognizing her for the incredible craftswoman she was . . . if you are arrogant and blind enough to think you can "improve" on her plots, stop producing Christie movies!


Joe said...

Due to your reviews, I started watching this series on Netflix Streaming. The content starts with the shows reviewed here. I've never been able to get through Agatha Christie for reasons I can't articulate.

I'm up to "The Hollow." and have enjoyed them except Sad Cypress, which I found boring.

A few years ago, I tried watching the 1978 version of "Death on the Nile" and didn't enjoy it. That it's a half hour longer and very plodding didn't help, but I wonder if another factor is that by then I'd seen a few David Sachet episodes of Poirot and he's so Poirot, Peter Ustinov didn't work for me.

Katherine Woodbury said...

Albert Finney was the definitive Poirot for many. (It will be very interesting to see if older reviewers of Branagh's upcoming Orient prefer the older version while newer reviewers prefer Branagh's).

Finney didn't wish to continue--he'd mastered Poirot; he moved on to other stuff. So Ustinov took over. He really isn't Poirot at all. However, he has so much fun in the movies, I kind of enjoy them simply to watch Ustinov enjoying himself.

However, I prefer the lesser known Ustinov Poirots. I don't much care for his Death on the Nile or Evil Under the Sun, but I quite like his Dead Man's Folly and Thirteen At Dinner (the other title for Lord Edgware Dies) in which Faye Dunaway plays the leading female role and David Suchet plays Japp!