The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio The great ones are back in action.

20Jun/150

Audio Drama Review: Poirot’s Finest Cases

Poirot’s Finest Cases collects eight different BBC audiodramas starring the late John Moffat as Poirot and dramatizing eight memorable Agatha Christie Stories.

1) The ABC Murders-Classic case as Poirot receives notices of murders in advance of  seemingly random people tied to the first letter of their last name, and the city they live in with an ABC railroad schedule left behind. A brilliant plot that is very well-adapted. Grade: A

2) After the Funeral: The death of a wealthy man appears to be natural causes, but then his sister suggests it was murder and she is soon found dead herself. A good case, and a solid adaptation. Only weak spot was Poirot as narrator narrating about obvious reasons for why certain people should be suspected. Grade: B+

3) Death on the Nile: This is my favorite Poirot story and this adaptation is simply marvelous. While it lacks the flair of the Ustinov version, this captures the essence of the story. If you wanted complain about Death on the Nile, I suppose you could point out the almost absurd number of romances that spring up on this boat. But, I think that serves to balance out the unhappiness that dominates the “A” plot. Overall, this is a great portrait of Poirot as a character and an absolutely brilliant adaptation. Grade: A+

4) The Murder of Roger Akroyd: One of Christie’s most controversial tales because of the identity of the murderer. I thought the TV adaptation was only “so so,” but BBC Radio 4 manages to do the story justice. It really is a clever and remarkable tale and manages to outperform the 1930s adaptation for the Mercury Playhouse with Orson Welles. Grade: A-

5) Murder on the Orient Express: Perhaps, the most iconic of Christie mysteries. It’s perfectly executed over radio. This requires multiple accents (including several Americans) and they’re all performed quite well. Grade: A

6) The Mysterious Affair at Stiles: The first ever Poirot story in which he solves the murder of a wealthy woman. I really enjoyed this adaptation. With all the great stories that followed, it’s easy to forget how good this one was. It establishes so much about Poirot in terms of mannerism, but is different as Poirot is closer to Sherlock Holmes in his first story. Still, this is incredibly enjoyable. Grade: A

7) Peril at End House: Another somewhat underrated story. It’s the classic tale of misdirection and of Poirot being pulled out of retirement. It’s incredibly and involved tale. I love how Moffat plays the beginning where he’s claiming to be content in retirement but his voice tone betrays it. Grade: A

8) Three Act Tragedy: This is probably the most questionable title in the set. Given that’s it's Poirot’s Finest Cases, it’s odd to feature a case where Poirot is out of action for so much of it. This, like the other stories, were originally broadcast in five parts. Poirot's role in the first three parts could be considered middling as he doesn't actually actively join the investigation until the end of episode three and doesn't take charge until the end of episode four. Most of the investigation is carried by amateur detectives. The story's certainly good, but doesn't really have the material to rise to the top echelon of Poirot stories, even with laying aside the issue of how much Poirot's in it. I will say that I enjoyed the character moment in episode 2 when Poirot reflected on his life. Grade: B

Throughout all these stories, John Moffat makes a great Poirot. While David Suchet is the definitive Poirot on television, Moffat had a parallel run over radio lasting from 1987-2012 where he adapted most major Poirot novels and he was Suchet's equal in many ways. Moffat was great in every story here.

As for the rest of the cast, Simon Williams (Counter Measures) appears as Captain Hastings and Philip Jackson (who played Inspector Japp on television) appears as Japp in The ABC Murders and The Mysterious Affair at Stiles. The cast of the rest stories are very good, bringing the type of talent you expect from BBC Radio 4.

The sound design is good, particularly on Murder on the Orient Express. 

However, the theme music for the majority of the episodes seems to have been chosen without much thought. It could best be described as, "This is the 30s" music. It's very generic and sometimes doesn't fit Poirot or a mystery story at all.

It also seems they could have done a little more with the way the episodes are presented. Essentially, each story is five episodes long and is divided into two chapters with two and a half (or so) episodes per chapter as you're listening to it. It seems they could have combined each story completely or at the very least had each episode as its own separate chapter which would have made things more neat and symmetrical-which Poirot would appreciate.

If I'd been making the set, I would have substituted Five Little Pigs and Cards on the Table for After the Funeral and Three Act Tragedy. 

But these are extremely minor points. The mysteries themselves are superb and more than justify the minor annoyances over presentation. Given that the set sells for less than $20 for the general public and less than $14 for Audible members, this is an item I highly recommend for any mystery fan.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5.0

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9May/151

Telefilm Review: Curtain


Curtain is a story many don’t want to read and don’t want to see. It’s Poirot’s last tale, the story in which Poirot meets his final end.

Poirot returns to Styles, where he solved his first great English case decades before. This is a different Poirot as far as we can tell, an invalid with a new valet whose days are numbered. Yet, he’s got one more case to solve and he turns (with reluctance) to his oldest and dearest friend, Captain Hastings.

David Suchet turns in a superb performance as this much older, ailing, and far less sunny Poirot. He’s more grumpy and snaps at Captain Hastings, who he has no choice but to depend on. Despite his inability to observe as he once did, it’s clear the little gray cells are still working.

Hugh Frasier delivers a great performance as Captain Hastings, no longer the dim-witted sidekick, he's charged with grief over the death of his wife, with concern for Poirot, and with his daughter’s coldness and involvement with an amoral man. Hasting is driven to his limit and Frasier plays this beautifully, taking advantage of a script that makes Hastings a far juicier part than the typical comic sidekick.

The mystery itself is unusual. It’s hard to follow or to even figure out if there’s a pattern to what’s going on until we get the solution. Then the nature of the evil Poirot faces is exposed, and we’re brought face to face with the shocking choice to make at the end of his days.

Poirot’s final scene is beautifully done, as he’s a man dying hoping only for forgiveness. It’s only later that we learn what for.

Curtain is a solid production, and probably the best of the season.

I’ve enjoyed the entire series, and mystery fans own a large debt of gratitude to David Suchet, who didn’t come to Poirot of remaking him, rather Suchet has said that he understood his job as an actor was to serve the writer (and in the case of the Poirot stories, his creator) by bringing the character to life as they intended it. His job was to truly to be Agatha Christie’s Poirot. While there are quite a few adaptations (particularly in Series 9 and 10) where the story was often very different from Christie’s vision, in all of these tales, Suchet remained superb and succeeded in being Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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2May/150

Telefilm Review: The Labours of Hercules


A few years back
The first thing to understand about the ITV telefilm, The Labours of Hercules is that it really couldn’t be faithful to the book as a whole the way it was produced.

The Labours of Hercules wasn’t really an Agatha Christie novel (see my review here.). It was a short story collection with an overarching theme. Where Poirot, prior to retirement, sought out to cap his career by re-enacting the Labours of Hercules. In truth, this should have been adapted as another season of hour-long adventures, as that’s how previous Christie short stories were handled.

But instead we have a ninty minute telefilm that must be evaluated on its own merits. After failing to catch a jewel thief who also commits murders for the sheer pleasure of it, Poirot is not well. He’d promised a young woman she’d been safe, but instead she’d fallen victim to the jewel thief along with a man who had been attending the same party.

Poirot is depressed, but decides to do something positive by helping his hired driver find his true love, and goes to Switzerland to do so and finds himself in the same hotel as the thief and murderer who defeated him in London. Poirot seeks to catch the killer, but finds more than his usual share of red herrings as the hotel is full of people hiding things and mysteries. In the book, Poirot solves these mysteries across Great Britain and the Continent, but the production is pretty clever in putting as many of these cases from the as possible, literally “under one roof.”

The direction in the film is fantastic, and the Chateau setting is gorgeous and atmospheric. It’s a very well-told and engaging mystery that borrows from the book, but has its own tale to tell.

The one thing that bothers me about is the tonal shift from the book. As a book, The Labours of Hercules is a fun collection of tales about Poirot deciding to cap his amazing career by replicating the original Labors of Hercules. It’s eccentric and light reading. This telefilm  is much darker, and it’s about Poirot’s failure and his struggle for redemption and the fact that his life can often be quite lonely. In many ways, this film serves sets the tone for the final story, Curtain.

Overall, even though this isn’t the Labours of Hercules as I’d really like to have it made (and I doubt, given the increasingly dark tone of our entertainment, such a production will ever be made), it’s good for what it is: an atmospheric mystery that sets up the series finale and Poirot’s last case.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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25Apr/150

Telefilm Review: Elephants Can Remember


A few years back, I listened to the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Elephants Can Remember when it was first released several back. Their version was quite enjoyable as Poirot undertakes solving a twenty-year-old murder mystery so a bride to be can be married without worry and to answer the attacks of her would-be Mother-in-Law. BBC Radio 4 managed to tell a story that was emotionally engaging and involving. Still, it didn’t quite seem to be a good story for television because of its pace and the fact it involved interviewing older people about what they did in their life.

I was curious to see what ITV’s Poirot did with Elephants Can Remember. Their solution was to make the original mystery a secondary story. As a main story, we have the murder of a psychiatrist and a brand new murder created out of whole cloth.

The problems with this are two fold. First, by having Poriot be dismissive to the cold case at first, it changes his overall character. Second, the telefilm’s new main murder isn’t all that good. Nick Dear’s plot is like a bad imitation of a Christie murder, with a lot of the tropes but none of talent for details and depth of character that made Christie’s work so fantastic.

This production takes a lesser Christie novel and turns it into a lesser television episode. This is the weakest adaptation since Series 10. There’s still some decent performances and good atmosphere, but not a whole lot to recommend this as a whole.

For a good adaptation of the story, I highly recommend the BBC Radio 4 version. As for the telefilm, to borrow a quote from the book, “Elephants can remember, but we are human beings and mercifully human beings can forget.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0

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4Apr/150

Telefilm Review: The Clocks


In, “The Clocks” a woman from a secretarial service is found running away in terror from a house in which a man has been found murdered by a young naval intelligence officer.. The secretary’s employer had sent her there in response to a phone call but the owner of the house claims never to have called to request the secretary’s services. In addition at the scene of the crime, four clocks are found each set to 4:13 P.M. but one of them disappears.

The police belive the woman committed the murder, but the Navy intelligence man doesn’t. However, it becomes clear that his judgment has been clouded, and it’s up to Poirot to sort out the truth.

The novel on which the telefilm was based was written Post World War II, though the film is set in the 1930s. There are a few signs of this, the biggest of which is the treatment of Poirot. The post-WW2 novels tended to have Poirot viewed with less respect by the local police. Instead of getting a compliant, respectful and cooperative colleague like Japp, the Clocks leaves Poirot with Inspector Hardcastle (Phil Daniels) who is not sure of Poirot despite assurances from Scotland Yard and Naval Intelligence. Hardcastle lives by a simple axiom that “somebody saw something” and doesn’t take much stock in Poirot’s hunches or vague statements include Poirot’s pronouncement that when it came to the unidentified victim “It doesn’t matter who he is, but who he is,” leading Hardcastle to mock Poirot, though it turned out Poirot had a serious point. There’s a great interplay and Hardcastle is a fine police foil for Poirot.

As usual, the production values are great with a beautiful period feel, and a superb cast. The mystery is complicated without being too convoluted and there are some very believable motivations for the criminals.

Overall, a very satisfying adaptation.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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11Oct/141

Telefilm Review: Dead Man’s Folly

In the Series 13 film, Ariadne Oliver’s been hire to set up a “Murder Hunt” for a fête, which is a sort of  bazaar or carnival. However, Oliver is suspicious by some changes requested to her scenario and calls Poirot in for help.

Trouble starts with the actual murder of the Girl Guide who was to play the victim in the murder hunt. This is followed by the disappearance of the lady of the house.

This is a solid mystery that lives up to the highest standards of the Poirot series. I also preferred this over the Peter Ustinov version from the 1980s, if for no other reason than I really had trouble buying Jean Stapleton as Mrs. Oliver in the Ustinov version while Zoe Wanamaker carries the role off with style.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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27Sep/140

Telefilm Review: The Big Four

The Big Four was described by Mark Gatiss, the writer who was charged with adapting it for television as, an “almost unadaptable mess.” Massive restructuring was required and much of the book's plot was cut for the telefilm, but what remained was a solid and enjoyable mystery.

Most of the story feels like a bit of political thriller as a series of strange deaths occur, and a muckraking reporter believe it’s tied in to an international conspiracy known as “The Big Four” which also appears connected to the Peace Party. The solution takes the story in a different direction and I didn’t enjoy the last twenty minutes as much as what came before. But even that had its moments. My favorite was when the killer through Poirot’s comments that the killer was “theatrical” right back at the Belgian detective who does one of his most theatrical denouements ever.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable story. It wasn’t one of the best, but with great acting and a solid script by Mark Gatiss, this is definitely worth watching.

Rating: 4.00 out of 5.00

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13Sep/140

Telefilm Review: Three Act Tragedy

In Three Act Tragedy, Poirot attends a dinner party at the home of Sir Charles Cartwright where a harmless clergy men collapses and dies after cocktails. It’s thought just to be a natural death until a Doctor friend of Sir Charles dies in the same manner. Poirot and Sir Charles then team up to find out what’s the truth behind the deaths.

Overall, this is a beautiful production. It’s stocked with great characters, chief of which is Cartwright, who really plays a big role in the investigation. It doesn’t hurt that this is a simply marvelous story and the creative team were mostly faithful to it.

Comparing to the 1986 telefilm with Peter Ustinov and Tony Curtis, “Murder in Three Acts”, this one works better for being a faithful adaptation in the original time and setting of the book. However, I still have a warm place in my heart for the Ustinov version and what achieved in a modern setting and really taking advantage of lucious California landscapes. While Martin Shaw turns a good performance at Cartwright, it’s not near as strong as Curtis.

Overall 2010 telefilm is a great adaptation of one of Christie’s most interesting tales.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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17May/140

Telefilm Review: Cat Among the Pigeons

In Cat Among the Pigeons trouble is brewing at a posh girl's boarding school Poirot visits as a favor to the headmistress, an old friend of Poirot's.  The murder of a truly horrid physical education instructor named Grace Springer puts the school in a state of a crisis and as more murders follow, parents panic.

Poirot has to solve a case that not only involves international intrigue but also a disappearing princess of an unstable  nation.

Cat Among the Pigeons is a delightful Poirot mystery. While I wouldn't put it up there with the very best episodes, it's easily worth the hour and a half to watch it. The film has everything you can reasonably expect: great acting from the entire cast, solid writing,  and a tangled web of lies that Poirot skillfully untangles to uncover the truth and solve the murder.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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12Apr/140

Radio Drama Review: Death on the Nile

The plot of Death on the Nile is familiar to me. In the past,  I've reviewed the Ustinov big screen version and the David Suchet version.   Recently, I was pleased to enjoy the BBC Radio 4 version.

It can seem odd to listen to, watch, and experience a mystery multiple times because to the viewer or listener, it's no longer a mystery. We know whodunit and we know why. Yet, there are some stories that are so compelling that the stories never get old. And that's definitely the case with Death on the Nile. 

The plot has Poirot (John Moffat) on vacation in Egypt and stepping smack into the middle of huge drama.  Simon and Linnet Doyle are on their honeymoon being staked by Jacqueline, Simon's former fiancee who he jilted in order to marry Linnet, who was Jacqueline's far richer best friend. Poirot sees trouble coming and tries to head it off, warning Jacqueline not to let evil into her.  However, the tragedy occurs when Linnet is murdered with Jacqueline's gun. However, Jacqueline didn't do it as she had just attempted to kill Simon and had panicked and was staying with a nurse at the time Linnet died.

The good news for Poirot is that the boat is full of potential suspects or at  the very least, people who have their own secrets to hide.  Thus Poirot has to sift through an amazing array of lies to find what really happened.

While you listening to the radio adaptation, you may miss the stunning visuals that defined the television and film adaptations, I think that the radio version may have the been the best at capturing the emotional conflicts at the heart of Death on the Nile. The pacing is very deliberate. It was aired a five part drama, and the first murder didn't occur until the end of  part three. They really did a great job setting up the situation and the characters. The interactions between Poirot and Jacqueline are priceless, and the resolution to the secondary storylines add a more positive counterbalance that makes this enjoyable.

Death on the Nile is a great story that brings home the brilliance of the murder and the tragedy of the perpetrators in a way that captures the imagination and makes this a must-listen to Poirot adaptation.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

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