Category: Hercule Poirot

Movie Review: Evil Under the Sun (1982)

In Evil Under the Sun, Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) mixes business with pleasure. An insurance company calls Poirot in when the wealthy Sir Horace Blatt (Colin Blakely) requests to have a necklace insured for a large sum of money and the necklace turns out to be a paste copy.  Blatt tells Poirot that he gave the necklace to a woman he intended to marry named Arlena, but that she opted to marry someone else and returned the necklace. She’s staying at an Island resort where Poirot and Sir Horace can confront her.

So Poirot heads off to a beautiful island resort where he relaxes and watches the situation escalate as it becomes apparent that everyone at the resort from the owner on down has cause to hate Arlena (Diana Rigg), from the owner to her husband, to the wife of a man she’s having a very indiscrete affair with. About an hour into the movie, she is murdered–to the surprise of no one familiar with Agatha Christie stories– and it falls to Hercule Poirot to find the killer. However, Poirot pool of suspect begins to dwindle as it looks like everybody has an alibi.

Review:

First, let me take a moment to praise the cinematography. The result is truly beautiful and Evil Under the Sun does a great job of bringing this fantastic setting to life.

As to the mystery itself, Evil Under the Sun is solid. The Edgar-nominated movie delivers a tough puzzle for the viewers to solve (even though, it took a long time to get to the inevitable murder.) The mystery was well-paced as I kept wondering how Poirot was going to crack this one. The story delivers a classic payoff.

The supporting cast was superb. It wasn’t star-studded, but rather filled with competent character actors who made the story work. The best supporting performance came from Jane Birkin as the wife of the murder victim’s lover.

As for Poirot himself, this was my first time seeing Ustinov as Poirot and I thought that he was okay in the role. He certainly wasn’t as good as David Suchet, and was a little too comical for my liking, but his performance was servicable.

One final note for parents. The movie is rated PG, but this film was relased in 1982 prior to the establishment of the PG13 rating which would have better suited the film due to some adult content.

Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5.0

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Book Review: The Labours of Hercules

When reviewing the list of Agatha Christie stories that had been adapted to television and radio, one work was missing and (for reasons I’ll explain later) was unlikely to be adapted,  a short story collection called The Labours of Hercules which was published in 1947. 

So I decided to take a listen to this classic with not one, but twelve great Poirot mysteries as read by Hugh Fraser (Captain Hastings from the ITV Series.)

Poirot’s quest is begun due to an obnoxious guest who mocks Poirot’s name and the amazing fact that Poirot knows little of the Greek classics given that he was named Hercules and his brother Achillies. Egged on by the  professor, Poriot decides to read the classics and is shocked by the lack of morality of the Greek gods and that his namesake was all muscle and no brain.  Right then and there, Poirot vows to give the modern world something that’s truly admirable: his own labours of Hercules.  Poirot resolves to take 12 cases and no more with each case corresponding to a labour of Hercules.

What follows is twelve well-crafted and fun thrillers.  Christie works elements of the Greek classics in a charming but unobtrusive way. One of the most amusing was in “The Apples of Hesperides.” In the original tale, Hercules received the help of Atlas, in Poirot’s version, he received the help of Atlas-Harry Atlas, a local gambler. “The Capture of Cerberus” in Hercules’ story featured Hercules going to the underworld, in Poirot’s version, he goes to a Hell-themed nightclub.

My favoritie stories in the collection were:

  • The Erymanthian Boar-Poirot is retained by the Swiss to find a killer in a Swiss hotel which has an unusually high number of occupants for that time of year.
  • The Horses of Diomedes: At the request of a doctor friend, Poirot looks into the distribution of Heroin that is apparently corrupting the daughters of an Indian Army veteran. A very solid and early story on the drug trade.
  • The Arcadian Deer: This story finds the great Hercules Poirot undertaking a commission for a garage mechanic to find a lost love: a very beautiful and sweet story.
  • The Apples of Hesperides: Poirot undertakes to find a golden goblet that was stolen from a rich man before he could take possession after winning at the auction. Some great twists including the character of Harry Atlas.
  • The Capture of Cerebus:  The last and probably best story in the collection, as Poirot renews an old acquaintence with a supposedly reform female jewel thief who is running a nightclub called Hell. But the police suspect the den (in addition to being somewhat tacky) is also the center of the drug trade.

I could go on. There were so many great stories to love in this book. The character of Miss Carnaby, who appears in two stories, is a real treat.

All the stories were enjoyable in their own way, but if I had to pick two lesser ones, I’d choose “The Augean Stables” and “The Stymphalean Birds.”

Poirot’s analog to the “Augean Stables” is to clean up a political scandal which threatens to bring down the Prime Minister who Poirot admires because a respected friend told him the Prime Minister was a “sound man.”  What makes this story particularly odd is how Poirot cleans up the problem. The plot could very well have been the inspiration for the novel, American Hero and the movie, Wag the Dog.  It suggests that the world is fortunate that Poriot didn’t take up political consulting instead of detection.

The solution to the Stymphalean Birds seemed a little too simple. Poirot becomes involved in this case when a young English politician approaches him while visiting Europe with his problem.  The truth is I could have told the poor unfortunate guy what was going on.

However, even  the weaker stories were fun. While Agatha Christie began to tire of Poirot by the 1930s, that fatigue doesn’t show in this great collection. This really has the feel of something the author enjoyed writing which gives the readers great joy as well.

The reason this is unlikely to be adapted is that to adapt the book to television would require a series of one hour episodes like the first 36 that began the ITV Poirot series. Even if ITV were willing to do more 1 hour shows, the latest Poirot productions have been quite a bit darker which suggests that in the 21st Century, there’s really not a place at ITV for the lighter fare that the Labours of Hercules represent. As for BBC Radio 4, they seem only to be interested in the novels.  The Colonial Radio Theatre would probably be able to do a good job with the stories, but Jerry Robbins received no interest from Christie’s people when looking into adapting stories that hadn’t been done elsewhere.

On the positive side, Hugh Fraser does a great job narrating the audiobook version with a wide variety of voices for different characters, so it’s close to a one-man dramatization. I heartily reccomend the audiobook version for that reason. It’s probably the closest we’ll get to an adaptation.

 

However, you choose to read it, The Labours of Hercules is a wonderful collection of mysteries that will be no labor at all to read.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0 stars.

You can receive the Labours of Hercules free from Audible when you sign up for a trial membership.

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Hard Boiled Poirot: Three Murders on the Orient Express

Recently, I decided to start watching some of the David Suchet performances as Poirot. Of obvious was that famous title, Murder on the Orient Express which Suchet made in 2010.

It was different, different than anything I’d seen, heard, or read featuring Poirot. Starkly different. The story as done by Suchet reminded me more of The Dark Knight than a cozy Agatha Christie mystery. Checking IMDB, I found an interesting phenomena which would also apply to another Poirot TV movie, Appointment with Death. Viewers rate this version of Murder on the Orient Express a solid 7.9, but fan reviewers take a more negative view. I decided to begin an investigation to find which was the best adaptation of the story. So, in addition to having watched the 2010 David Suchet version, I viewed the 1970s movie and purchased the BBC Radio 4 version from Audible.

Some spoiler warnings below follow for those who haven’t seen, heard, or read Murder on the Orient Express.

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