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

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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5Apr/140

Telefilm Review: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead

After a rocky tenth series, the eleventh series of Poirot kicked off with Mrs. McGinty's dead.  A man is convicted of murdering his landlady in what seems like a clear cut case. However, the investigating officer has doubts,  so he asks Poirot to take a second look at the case. Poirot investigates and as often happens, Poirot finds himself in a small English community where multiple secrets are being kept.

I loved this episode. I may have enjoyed  this even more than its merits deserved after my problems with  the tenth series, but this is what Poirot is supposed to be. The program has Poirot traversing the English country side in search behind the truth about two photographs which could save the life of a man on a death row. There are plenty of twists and turns, with sensational cinematography and competent acting from the supporting cast. This episode was a very strong and enjoyable adaptation of Christie's story.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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15Feb/140

DVD Review: Poirot Series 10

Some things are very hard to mess up or turn to something catastrophically bad. Agatha Christie's Poirot stories combined with the acting of David Suchet are one such combination. It's a recipe for success.

Any joy or success that the tenth series of Poirot had was due to this combination, but the result was a mediocre series of feature length telefilms.  When you had someone a recipe for Prime Rib and you end up with something that tastes more like Hamburger steak, you have to ask why.

The answer is a creative team who decided to change some of Christie's stories. I've been clear in the past that I can stomach or even enjoy some revisions. I'm a huge fan of the Series 11 episode Appointment with Death which arguably is the most radical departure from Christie's original story in the entire first twelve series.

The difference between Appointment with Death and the episodes in Series 10 is that the telefilm of Appointment with Death was actually a well-thought out story and its revisions held in a very cohesive narrative and there was an actual point in mind

The addition in Series 10 stories on the other hand seemed to randomly insert revision with names changed and characters motivation being different for no particular reason whatsoever.  These were obvious hack elements inserted into a much better story.

To be fair, Mystery of the Blue Train was not one of Christie's favorite stories, but the additional changes such as having a rich man (Elliot Gould) having locked his disturbed wife in a convent or giving the idiot husband of Lady Tamplin a major role in the denouement of the story made the telefilm vision worse.

However, Cards on the Table should have been one of the best stories of the entire program's history. The premise was brilliant: four different  invited by the mysterious Mr Shaitana to dine with four sleuths and four potential murderers invited to dinner and the host is murdered. And arguably it was looking that way for the first seventy percent of the film as we saw the detective interact. It continued until the writers felt the need to insert some Jerry Sprnger-appropriate sexual situations including one of the detectives having hired the very creepy Mr. Shaitana to take compromising photos of him.

The best episode of the season was After the Funeral which was the most logical and consistent story the whole season and didn't tamper too much with Christie's original plot except for the addition of another Jerry Springer sex situation.

Finally, we had Taken at the Flood which has two problems. One, the villain is too obvious and second is more central to the essence of the story.  The title of the book comes from Julius Caesar, " "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune..." which is about taking advantage of an unexpected situation that comes to you. In the book, the villain takes advantage of an accident that occurs to gain power and wealth. In the telefilm, the incident has been changed so it's no longer an accident and thus title Taken at the Flood no longer makes any sense. Bravo.

This isn't to say Series 10 wasn't without its good moments, but these were often undermined by horrible production decisions and writers who haphazardly rewrote Christie's stories in ways that just didn't work. Series 10 adds gratuitous sex but  loses a lot of intelligence.

Having seen all the Series 11 episodes, the good news is that Poirot films did get better. Thus Series 10  marked a dip in series quality rather than a legendary and irredeemable "Jumping the shark" season

Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0

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9Nov/133

Telefilm Review: The Hollow

This is the final film in the ninth series of Poirot, originally broadcast in 2004.

In, “The Hollow” Poirot is staying at a cottage in the country. After being invited for a return visit, Poirot finds a doctor dead and his wife holding a gun. The doctor’s secret mistress tells the wife to thrown the gun to the water which in the end doesn't matter as it’s not the murder weapon.

Poirot seeks to untangle the truth of the very complicated relationships but runs into resistance and new suspects at every stage.

Overall, I thought this was a solid production and it rose above the typical mystery of its sort where the characters of wife and the other woman can be cardboard cutouts. The husband is really just a very selfish person in his private life with the only thing coloring that is his more noble professional efforts as a doctor. However, both the wife (played by Gerda Christo) and the mistress (played by Megan Dodds) were fully fleshed out as complex and fully developed characters. The interaction between the mistress and Poirot was particularly well done. It was also a thrill to see Edward Harwicke (Watson from the Grenada Sherlock Holmes series) in it.

I had two complaints about this. First was the ending which featured Poirot allowing the murderer to walk away and get something after their identity has been revealed based on their promise not to go anywhere and tragedy results. It really is out of character not that Christie’s original ending would have worked but they had to come up with something better. Also they added in a sex scene that while not r-rated and not even showing actual flash was just unnecessarily gratuitous and titillating which doesn't suit this series at all.

Overall, despite these flaws, The Hollow is a great adaptation of a book that’s not usually considered one of Christie’s best.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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