Poirot: The Movie Collection – Set 6 (Blu-ray)
Directed by Ashley Pierce, Charles Palmer
Studio: Acorn Media
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 278 minutes
Audio: PCM 2.0 stereo English
Region: no designation
MSRP: $ 59.99
Release Date: July 12, 2011
Review Date: July 1, 2011
The world’s foremost mystery writer, Agatha Christie during her fifty-five year career penned thirty-three novels that featured her famous Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot (and he appeared additionally in ten volumes of short stories as well). For more than twenty years, character actor David Suchet has been bringing the stories and novels to the television screen playing the fastidious detective whose “little gray cells” work overtime to solve the most dastardly of mysteries. Set 6 in the series brings forth three cases: one from Christie’s most productive and golden period (the 1930s) and the other two from late in her career when her tight plotting and reader misdirection skills were starting to crumble a bit. Fortunately, screenwriters have smoothed over some of the knottier plot problems Mrs. Christie faced in her two 1960s novels whose adaptations appear in this set.
The package begins with one of Christie’s cleverest deceptions from the 1930s, Three Act Tragedy as deaths at two successive cocktail parties from seemingly the same source put Poirot to the task of investigating the how and why of the killings. Aiding him in his investigation is his friend, the retired stage actor Sir Charles Cartwright (Martin Shaw) and the young girl Charles has recently become attached to “Egg” Gore (Kimberly Nixon). Having been filmed previously for CBS-TV in 1986, this adaptation is more faithful to the original story and setting, and the outcome is one of Mrs. Christie’s most brilliant deceptions. This time, the prickly Superintendent Crossfield is barely a part of the proceedings, but with Poirot, Charles, and Egg each doing their own investigations, it’s a mystery which can be solved if one puts all of their clues together. As with the original novel, the film begins with a “dramatis personae” to introduce the audience to the cast of characters in keeping with the “Three Act” motif of the piece. It’s a fun way to get into the story quickly.
Two different focuses of investigation highlight The Clocks, one of the more baffling if unwieldy mysteries from Christie’s late period. Though the book appeared in 1963, screenwriter Stewart Harcourt has moved the time line back to 1938 to better use the unsettled period right before the outbreak of World War II in Europe as the backdrop for the mystery concerning a series of deaths revolving around employees of the Cavendish Secretarial and Typewriting Bureau. As the story progresses, it becomes clear there’s more afoot than the murders alone as suggestions of espionage and the possibility of spies operating in the area take center stage so that by the time Poirot is ready to unmask the murderer’s identity, the reveal is something of an anticlimax. Jaime Winstone makes a great scapegoat as the put-upon Sheila Webb, and Tom Burke as Colin Race, son of Poirot’s longtime friend Colonel Race, makes an earnest companion. (The film version changes his identity from being Superintendent Battle’s son to Colonel Race’s son, not that it matters much. As usual, there are some other name changes from book to film). The great Anna Massey makes a very convincing blind lady (with some heartfelt speeches planted throughout the story), and Phil Daniels is on hand to play this film’s befuddled inspector named Hardcastle.
One of the most faithful adaptations of a Christie book occurs with Hallowe’en Party. It’s a somber tale with Poirot at the instigation of his friend Ariadne Oliver (Zoë Wanamaker) investigating the murder of a child Joyce Reynolds (Macy Nyman) drowned in a tub of bobbling apples while the rest of the household party was busy playing snapdragons in another room. Joyce, you see, had mentioned casually that she had once seen a murder committed but hadn’t realized at the time that it was a murder. Obviously, the guilty party couldn’t afford to let little Joyce spout what others assumed was just her usual tall tales, but before the solution is revealed, other murders occur and a lengthy tale of greed and deceit is finally uncovered. Unlike The Clocks whose solution was so convoluted that even Poirot had trouble relating the entire enterprise, Hallowe’en Party feels more like the Christie of The Mysterious Affair at Styles or Five Little Pigs, the latter particularly apt since in solving Joyce’s murder, it’s necessary for Poirot to examine three murders in retrospect to see if any of those were the murders Joyce might have been referring to. Readers who carefully weigh every piece of evidence brought forward should have no trouble solving this one before Poirot announces the solution.
All of the mysteries in this latest set are handsome affairs with their 1930s settings (the latter two tales moved backward in time from their novel counterparts), and a collection of expert British character actors who do them proud. David Suchet is so comfortable in Poirot’s patent leather shoes now that it’s scarcely acting any more; it’s just being.
Each of the made-for-TV films has been framed at the widescreen television aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and are presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Interiors are usually crystal clear and quite detailed and boast outstanding color with some dazzlingly bright reds and greens. Flesh tones are very true in all three films. Exterior photography is sometimes a more mixed bag with an artificial softness that doesn’t always blend well with the sharp interior photography. Black levels are very good. Each film has been divided into 12 chapters.
The PCM 2.0 (1.5 Mbps) sound mix is engineered to be vividly stereophonic with the music by Christian Henson quite enveloping and dialogue beautifully recorded and rooted firmly in the center channel. Ambient effects are downplayed in these mixes, but what’s here is crisply presented if monophonic in nature.
There are no bonus features included with this set.
4/5 (not an average)
By my count, the producers have now filmed all but four of the remaining Hercule Poirot novels (The Big Four, Dead Man's Folly, Elephants Can Remember, and Curtain) so even though only thirty-six of the Poirot short stories have been filmed, it appears that the next series of novel adaptations may be the last. With that in mind, Set 6 in the series contains two first class mysteries and one that’s a bit muddier. All are entertaining examples of Mrs. Christie’s art, however, and are highly recommended!