Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Series 4 (Blu-ray)
Directed by Andrew Grieve, Stephen Whittaker, Ross Devenish
Studio: Acorn Media
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 319 minutes
Audio: PCM 2.0 stereo English
Region: no designation
MSRP: $ 49.99
Release Date: April 24, 2012
Review Date: April 11, 2012
One of the great masterpieces of detective fiction and one of the most copied and “borrowed from” stories in her entire oeuvre, The ABC Murders is one of the Poirot mysteries against which all others must be compared. A serial killer is moving throughout England, identifying himself as A.B.C., and selecting victims seemingly by alphabetical order. Not only that, but he’s bragging by letter to Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) about his intentions each step of the way telling about where his murders are going to occur and defying Poirot and the police to stop him. Four victims successively in Andover, Bexhill, Churston, and Doncaster meet their ends before Poirot finally arrives at the solution, and it’s a great surprise. Hastings (Hugh Fraser) is back from Argentina for a bit and assists Poirot along with the ever-befuddled bloodhound Chief Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) of Scotland Yard. The excellence of this adaptation completely obliterates all memories of the thoroughly awful 1966 film adaptation The Alphabet Murders made by MGM and starring Tony Randall as the world’s worst Poirot interpreter. Unless one has read the book beforehand, arriving at this solution before it’s revealed by Poirot would be very difficult indeed although, in retrospect, all of the clues are there and second and third viewings prove that the producers are playing more than fairly with their audience.
Death in the Clouds is every bit as wonderful as The ABC Murders. Here there is no serial killer, but rather an audacious murder of a despised moneylender is committed in an airplane’s first class cabin in full view of six passengers on their way from Paris to London. As Poirot is one of the inhabitants of the cabin (sleeping at the time of the murder), he naturally falls under slight suspicion when the body is discovered, but Inspector Japp then turns his attention to the other five passengers: three men (an archaeologist, a dentist, a mystery novelist), two women (Lady Horbury and her best friend Venetia Kerr), and the two flight attendants (Jane Grey and Henry Mitchell), any of whom were free to move about the cabin during the flight and stab Madame Giselle in the neck with a poison dart. Once again, the TV-film is completely faithful to the book, and the denouement is a complete surprise and quite an ingenious solution to the crime, another of Mrs. Christie’s first-rate puzzlers.
Hercule Poirot’s second adventure of the 1940s (though the program is set in the late 1930s as usual), One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, is also first-rate and pales only in comparison to the masterpieces which precede it in this package. In this one, Poirot learns that his dentist has been found with a bullet in his head only a few hours after Poirot’s dental appointment concluded. At first glance, he appears to have committed suicide, but Poirot and others have no reason to believe he was despondent in the least, so attention turns to his other patients and visitors during that morning leading to the mysterious disappearance of one and the death of another. Mrs. Christie has crafted a cunning puzzle, but her techniques of misdirection this time are reminiscent of a couple of earlier mysteries and don’t have quite the freshness that the first two stories in this set possess.
As always, David Suchet is a positive delight as Poirot, at this point so completely immersed in the character that his every flicker of emotion in his face or his body language is timed to perfection making the viewing all the more delightful. Hugh Fraser is only on hand for the first of the set’s stories, and he has a very funny running gag with a stuffed caiman he’s brought back from South America. Otherwise, he seems rather slower on the uptake than usual in this one. Philip Jackson’s on hand for all three adaptations and is more than welcome as Chief Inspector Japp who as usual must rely on Poirot to sort out all of the complexities of these cases. Pauline Moran’s Miss Lemon does not appear in any of these stories.
The programs are all framed in their original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and are presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. These are major upgrades in pictorial quality compared to the previously released DVDs of these individual titles. Color timing is much truer and brighter with hues that seem much more pleasing to view with excellent saturation levels. Flesh tones are usually realistic but in individual shots may appear a bit pink. Sharpness is not razor-edged or aggressive but rather a more graceful sharpness that gives the images a period feel that’s quite appealing. No signs of age such as dust specks are present, and all of the aliasing and moiré from the previous DVDs are gone here. In dark scenes, the image sometimes gets more noticeably grainy than in brighter shots and occasionally looks digital. Each program has its own chapter listing: 12 for The ABC Murders and 10 each for Death in the Clouds and One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.
The PCM 2.0 (1.5 Mbps) stereo sound mix is a vast improvement on the sound mixes from the DVD releases of these programs. And how wonderful that Acorn has upped the ante with uncompressed sound on these releases! The wonderful theme music, the well modulated sound effects, and the delightful background score by Christopher Gunning sound terrific in these new encodes, and there is no hiss or any other audio artifact that intrudes on understanding the dialogue, important when verbal clues become just as important as visual ones.
There are no bonus materials included with this set of programs.
4/5 (not an average)
The fourth series of Agatha Christie’s Poirot proves just as entertaining as the previous three sets, and the improvements in video and audio quality make upgrading from the previously available DVDs a no-brainer for fans of the show. Recommended!