Poirot Movies (David Suchet): Part 3

Appointment with Death

Although the script takes liberties, creating new murderers (from extant characters), I didn't mind so much. For one, this particular story varies considerably between the book version and Christie's own play. For another, the new murderers make sense, given the victim.

The only issue I have is, What is Tim Curry doing in this movie? His part is fairly irrelevant. I can only imagine that he offered, and the Poirot people couldn't turn him down. I mean, would you turn down Tim Curry?

But he is the type of actor who needs to be cast completely correctly and then used completely correctly. He wasn't here.

Murder on the Orient Express

I was somewhat worried about this one. How can any version top the 1974 Albert Finney version? I think Suchet is as good a Poirot--better in some ways. But the 1974 movie is itself a tour de force.

The clever Poirot writers solved the problem by examining the plot from a completely new direction: Are the conspirators justified? This question haunts the narrative, and Poirot is the right character to contemplate it. The result is a rather dark movie, but one that still keeps mostly to the plot.

I will be seeing and reviewing Kenneth Branagh's version, coming out November 2017!

Hallowe'en Party

A surprisingly good production with perfect casting of the Judith and Miranda characters (played by Amelia Bullmore and Mary Higgins). I also enjoyed seeing Zoe Wannamaker again. She has great acerbic delivery.

However, the movie does indicate how/why movies develop completely different tones/auras from their books; it occurs when the movie script fails to take context into account.

The movie stars the remarkable Julian Rhind-Tutt
In the book Halloween Party, there are a number of deaths. They have mostly occurred in the past; there's an almost unreal quality about them (which is part of the ambiance). By constantly showing us the dead bodies, the movie becomes . . . kind of silly. It's one thing to have a cozy village mystery with a couple of deaths; it's another to have a cozy village mystery with people dropping like flies. It's the freaking Black Plague! It is also the reason I had to stop watching Midsomer Murders. I adore John Nettles, but the writers were killing off so many people per episode, there wasn't anyone left to blame or investigate or even care.

The Clocks & Three-Act Tragedy

The 1997 Pale Horse does a great job placing Christie's
story in the era that she wrote it!
I combine my review of these because they are fairly boring books yet fairly respectable movies. The Clocks movie does highlight one of the flaws of the Poirot movies: in an effort  to remain chronologically consistent with the series, the later books are not set in the 1950s and 1960s but in the 1940s. This is very sad since Christie did a great job "modernizing" her novel settings. Miss Marple and Poirot had to adjust (with some success) to a rapidly changing culture. Great fun!

But The Clocks movie, instead of being placed in the 1960s, is placed pre-WWII, creating a bewildering change in tone from the book.

Still, the Colin and Sheila characters are done well. And the basic plot is kept which impressed me. One huge change is made to one particular character, but I'm guessing the script-writers went, "That's WAY too much of a coincidence" and left it out. I don't fault them. 

Three-Act Tragedy is extremely well-done. It is much better than the 1980's version which is so boring, I've never seen it all the way through because I fall asleep, and I am NOT the kind of person who falls asleep watching movies. So Suchet's version is a vast improvement. And Martin Shaw does a magnificent job. Still, although it is not as boring as the 1980's version, it is not that interesting either. I'm not sure why. I think the problem lies in the original plot rather than the script.


Elephants Can Remember: Not bad. Not all that memorable either. A little creepy. Zoe Wannamaker is wonderful again.

The Big Four: Weird book. Weird movie.

Dead Man's Folly: Quite well done. I am also fond of the Peter Ustinov 1986 version. This was Suchet's last job as Poirot. (Curtain, naturally, was aired last.)

The Labours of Hercules: Horrible. But then I thought from the beginning that this book should have been done as a series of 12 one-hour episodes. Suchet claims in his autobiography that the BBC started making movies because "American" audiences preferred them to the shorter episodes. Not me! I far far far preferred the shorter episodes (still do) and suspect that the movies were simply easier to produce/defend. Frankly, only a few of the movies measure up to the craftsmanship and quality of any single 1-hour episode. I would have loved to see 12 more such episodes.

Curtain: The movie is actually more satisfying than the book (to which it remains accurate overall). In the book, we never "see" the confession--we only hear about it, leading one to hope that Poirot wasn't going nuts towards the end of his life.

The movie is beautifully, lovingly done. Touching to see Suchet and Fraser together again. Perfect tone. A tour de force. And sad farewell.


calvinist preacher said...

I started watching the Suchet Poirot series years ago and have liked them (I have the 3+ episodes and the earlier movies), but I haven't liked the later ones primarily because they lose that aura you speak of from the books.

I imagine, for instance, some producer looking over the script and saying, "Looks tops alright, but it's missing that edge. Think you can sex it up just a bit?" Hence the fixation on being lesbian in Hallowe'en Party, the introduction of an explicit sex scene in Sad Cypress, and so on. It just detracts from the overall effect.

We live in an age when the word "discreet" is apparently incomprehensible, but that aura of discretion, where dark secrets are hinted at but not explicit, is essential to understanding St. Mary Mead and Miss Marple, as well as Poirot.

Kate Woodbury said...

There's a lot to be said for the understated and unsaid. In general, I like my problems to be spelled out, but a lot of extra information can be conveyed indirectly. Take the awesome Lion in Winter where a plethora of information is conveyed through implication. This makes sense; a more "modern" approach where Henry and his family go to therapy and spill all would undermine the family's character.

As John Castle's character says, "I know. You know I know. I know you know I know. We know Henry knows, and Henry knows we know it. We're a knowledgeable family."

It's the indirectness that makes that such a funny line.

Joe said...

Finally got to the "Murder on the Orient Express" episode. I disliked it as much as ALL other versions; it's such a dumb plot. I wonder if it works better in the book IF you've read all the books leading up to it.

Katherine Woodbury said...

It really can't be led up to--Christie's strength (and her weakness) is that she did EVERY murder plot: the narrator-murderer, the psycho murderer (Endless Night), the everybody did it, the nobody did it, the everybody is dead at the end, the mystery from 20+ years ago, the murder that hasn't occurred yet, settings with students, settings with hippies, settings with garden tours . . . She has the unbelievable plots that rely on billions of coincidences; rational plots that actually rest on forensics; suspense plots that involve international politics (I don't care for these).

I consider Murder on the Orient Express to be more of a showcase for different personalities--I'm rather a fan of Christie's ability to rely on types rather than supposedly "rounded" characters to convey personality. And that's how the Finney version operates: now we get to see John Gielgud being butlerish! Now we get to see Ingrid Bergman win an Oscar! Now Jean-Pierre Cassel will be sexy and very French!

The Alfred Molina TV version failed because (1) it didn't do this; (2) it only had 10 suspects rather than 12 which did away with even the tenuous reasoning behind the plot. (One plus of the Molina version is that a fallen tree rather than a snowstorm stops the train, which presents a problem re: narrowing the field of suspects to those on the train, but enhances the setting since people can actually get off the train.)

I gather from his casting that Branagh is going with the Finney approach.

(I will admit to being way more generous with Christie's mysteries than with, say, Matlock, which drives me crazy since the law is SO wrong. With Christie, it's probably partly nostalgia and mostly because I care more about the interactions than the mystery itself--kind of the same reason it doesn't bother me that Lewis didn't invent a language for Narnia: I don't expect Christie to meet any mystery standard but her own.)

Joe said...

My lead up theory is based on my perception from the various films that everyone but Poirot is a caricature (which is one thing I really didn't like about the 1974 version--to me, it was a bunch of actors chewing the scenery without convincing me at all they were anything but actors.) Poirot is so central that it seems that knowing and emphasizing with his character is important.

Finally, the question of whether these people were justified falls very flat to me since the answer is; not even close. That it was so premeditated makes their actions even more abhorrent. That they tortured Ratchett, at least according the Suchet version, is even more inhuman. I'd throw the lot in jail.

Katherine Woodbury said...

Yeah, the 1974 version is about actors chewing the scenery--with just enough pathos and artistry, I think, to justify it.

I think the reason Ustinov's Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun fall so flat is that the director/scriptwriters took the idea of actors chewing the scenery, only without the artistry. Hey, let's throw Bette Davis and Angela Lansbury and David Niven and Maggie Smith and various other big names on a boat: fun! But without at least some underlying vision, the result is breaking the fourth wall for no good reason.

I tend to see the latter two as separate from the former, but if one sees all three as versions of each other, I can see why they would irritate.

Katherine Woodbury said...

I recently started watching Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie (The Little Mysteries of Agatha Christie) from French television. The "episodes" are 90-minute movies, which utilize the plots of the original texts but not the characters. Instead of Miss Marple and Poirot, the producers use (in the first set) the urbane Superintendent Larosière and the sweeter-than-pie Inspector Lampion.

Out of the first set, only one script so far has changed the murderer (a tendency of the BBC's non-Joan-Hickson Miss Marples that I loathe). Generally, I've been impressed by how close they are--even with some over-the-top additions. The one thing I can't get used to is the tone. English and American television tends to pick a tone and stick to it, so that one knows by the beginning of an episode whether one is watching a serious Castle or a funny Castle.

The unnerving Ordeal by Innocence (1984) starring Donald Sutherland is jazz film noir from the opening credits. But the French version is dark, funny, and about thirty other emotions rolled into one. It's very disconcerting. Apparently the French take the saying, "You live life once as comedy, once as tragedy" seriously--and figure they might as well explore both at the same time!

Katherine Woodbury said...

Another Christie movie recommendation: Sparkling Cyanide (1983) starring Anthony Andrews. Updated to the (then) current day but remarkably accurate to the book: the writers don't sacrifice Christie's clever strategies for something even less realistic :)