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15Jun/130

Telefilm Review: Lord Edgeware Dies

The second episode of the seventh Poirot series was Lord Edgeware Dies. This is notable as it's the first time ITV adapted a Poirot story that had been previously adapted with Peter Ustinov, though Ustinov's adaptation was, "Thirteen at Dinner."

The Lady Edgeware, Jane Wilkinson wants a divorce from her unhappy marriage to Lord Edgeware and asks Poirot's help. Poirot visits Lord Edgeware and finds to his suprirse that Lord Edgeware and already agreed to the divorce. Poirot reports this back to Lady Edgeware who says she never received the letter. That night, Lord Edgeware is murdered and the servants at his home point suspicion at Lady Edgeware. However, Lady Edgeware spent the whole with twelve respectable people at a dinner. Poirot sets out to find who committed the murder and is trying to frame the beautiful Lady Edgeware.

This film works great with the requisite twists, turns, and red herrings you expect from an Agatha Christie mystery, plus a solid performance by Suchet as well as the guest stars. This clearly beats Ustinov's much more ambiguous adaptation. My one complaint in this film is its portrayal of Poirot having a crush on Lady Edgeware. I didn't buy that, but the rest of film is pure gold.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

 

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26May/130

Telefilm Review: The Murder of Roger Akroyd

Four years after the end of the sixth series of Poirot, the mysteries returned for a seventh series with David Suchet. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd begins with Poirot in blissful retirement in the country as he focuses on his gardening.

However, a baffling murder brings him out to investigate the buried secrets of a small town.

As usual with Poirot stories, the mystery's not a problem, nor is the acting by the lead. The fundamental problem with this play is dramatic. Here, I try not to give away the game to anyone unfamiliar with the story. The Murder of Roger Akroyd much Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, is noted for an unusual twist solution that's actually quite shocking in the annals of detective fiction.

The ending works great in a book or in a well-done radio adaptation like Orson Welles' Campbell playhouse version, however it's understandably difficult to pull off in a cinematic way.  But, what they tried to do instead failed with a gratuitous chase scene to resolve the story just didn't  feel right.  The film also suffered somewhat from the decision to include the Poirot family of actors even if it really didn't work for capturing the spirit of the book.

In addition, the story had a somewhat maudlin, overly sentimental feel to it. To be fair, I wasn't following the Poirot series in 2000 and maybe fans appreciated it back then, but it doesn't age well.

It's a weak entry and a bumpy start to the second half of the Poirot mysteries.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0

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20Apr/131

Telfilm Review: Dumb Witness

Dumb Witness was the last episode of the sixth series of Poirot and the series went on a four year hiatus afterwards.

Poriot receives an urgent letter from a woman who fears she will be murderered by her family. Poirot goes to the scene and advises her to make a change to her will. She ends up dying apparently of natural causes, but there's some suspicious circumstances as two old ladies think there was a supernatural origin. And Poirot finds that the old women's dog is the key witness in the case.

This was probably my least favorite Poirot mystery of what was a solid sixth series. The Novel Dumb Witness was an expanded version of a short story called, "The Incident of the Dog's Ball." The short story actually works quite well, but this expansion really felt like it just made the story drag on rather than adding true meat to it.

However, it must be said that David Suchet turned in a good performance as Poirot in an otherwise forgettable adaptation.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5.0

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6Apr/130

Telefilm Review: Dead Man’s Folly

In Dead Man's Folly, Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) and Hastings (Jonathan Cecil) head to a small island where Adrienne Oliver (Jean Stapleton) has set up a murder hunt game but fears a real murder is in the offing. Her fears are confirmed and Poirot investigates to solve this real-life crime.

This was a decent made-for-television film, carried as usual by the talents of Sir Peter Ustinov and the mystery as told by Agatha Christie. Jean Stapleton was kind of hard to believe as Oliver, but perhaps that's because she's been typecast in my mind as Edith Bunker. However, that doesn't detract much from an enjoyable mystery.

It'll be interesting to see David Suchet's version of this story next year as it is one of few Poirot mysteries he hasn't done. Filming is set to begin in May 2013.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5.00

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16Mar/130

Telefilm Review: Murder on the Links

We continue our look at the the great Poirot Telefilm series over ITV as I eagerly await the new episodes coming later this year. Murder on the Links was the third of four films released during Poirot's sixth series.

In Murder on the Links, Poirot while vacationing in Deauville France is approached by a wealthy man who has received certain undisclosed threats. The next day, Captain Hastings finds the man murdered and lying in a sand trap. Poirot sets out to solve the murder and this time he has the rival, the pompous Inspector Giraud and the stakes are high: if Giraud solves the case first, Poirot must shave his trademark mustache.

This was another solid story with the battle with Giraud being played for great comedic effect. In addition, Captain Hastings holds back information from Poirot and it's open question as to whether Captain Hastings has helped a murderer escape. The solution is satisfyingly complex and exactly what we expect of Agatha Christie and this series.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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19Jan/130

Telefilm Review: Hickory Dickory Dock

In Hickory Dickory Dock, the second episode of Poirot's sixth season, Poirot becomes concerned when the usually infallible Miss Lemmon turns in some typed correspondence with three errors. It turns out that she's concerned about her sister who works at a hostel for college students where many small thefts have been occurring. Poirot steps in to try and stop the thefts, and all appears to be well when the thief of most of the items admits her responsibility and returns the items.

However, matters take a more sinister turn when the thief is murdered. Poirot investigates and runs into intrigue and international crime. As usual, the recurring cast is top notch to Suchet with Philip Jackson turning in another strong performance as Chief Inspector Japp. However, the mystery itself is incredibly well-done. It's complex but not convoluted  making this film a must-see for fans of classic mysteries.

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5Jan/130

Telefilm Review: Murder in Three Acts

In the 1986 telefilm, Murder in Three Acts, Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) heads to North America to finish his memoirs. He meets up with Hastings in Acapulco. They attend a dinner party at the house of the great Movie Actor Charles Cartwright (Tony Curtis) and a clergyman named Babbington dies. At first, it's thought to be natural causes but when another dinner party is held with Cartwright absent, the host, Dr. Strange dies in a similar manner. That means murder and Poirot returns to investigate with aid from Hastings (Jonathan Cecil) as well as Cartwright.

To begin with, my expectations were not particularly high after the disappointing Thirteen at Dinner. However, I found this film to be a pleasant surprise. The film did depart from the book pretty markedly. The two biggest changes are: 1) the story is set definitively in modern times and 2) it was set in Acapulco rather than London.

The first change was okay, although it was odd to see Poirot struggle with using what looked like an Apple 2 computer. The second change actually was a stroke of genius. The great Poirot films were most often remembered for luscious cinematography and locating the story nearby to Hollywood in Mexico gave the program life with stunning pictures that made it as rich as any cinematic Poirot setting. Not bad for a low budget TV film.

However, outside of another good outing by Ustinov, Tony Curtis' performance was fantastic, really lifting the whole production. Of course, there were some minor issues. Why (for example) was the minister still named something as clearly British as Babbington with all the other changes made? And Poitrot's repeated politically correct declarations that he didn't care that one character might be a Communist was annoying. However, none of these minor issues should stop a fan of Poirot from enjoying this great production.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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20Oct/120

Telefilm Review: One Two Buckle My Shoe

In One Two Buckle My Shoe, Poirot's dentist is murdered on the same day that Poirot visits him. On first glance, the dentist's death looks like suicide. However, Poirot and Inspector Japp suspect foul play and they begin a search to untangle the intricate situation that led to the dentist's untimely demise and t find an ever-widening circle of suspects. This was the last of the 4th Series of Poirot on ITV.

With the Poirot mysteries, there's a certain level of quality that's expected and David Suchet, Philip Jackson, and the rest of the cast deliver. However, there were a few irritants in this particular production. The biggest is that the children's song upon which the title of the Christie book was taken from is sung in a creepy ghostly manner by some girls near the dentist office. I don't feel I'm giving too much away to say that nothing truly sinister or diabolical was done with the shoe buckle making the singing seem (to put it mildly) out of place.

This focus does tend to give away a key clue as does the inclusion of a scene from India that wasn't in the novel that many viewers thought gave too much of the mystery away. To be fair, due to the complexity of the case, the producers may have felt the viewers could have used some help in trying to understand what happened and I don't think they were unjustified in that.

Despite these criticisms and the lack of a spectacular setting, One Two Buckle My Shoe remains a well-acted, generally well-produced adaptation of the quality I've come to expect from the ITV Poirot series.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.00

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6Oct/120

Telefilm Review: Thirteen At Dinner

In Thirteen at Dinner, Jane Wilkinson (Faye Dunaway) , an actress who is associated with a "dumb blonde" persona wants to divorce her husband, Lord Edgeware and asks Poirot (Peter Ustinov) to try and reason with her husband who she says is refusing her a divorce. Poirot, finds to his surprise that Lord Edgeware has long since dropped his objection.

When soon after this, Lord Edgeware's murdered, suspicion falls on Wilkinson who has an airtight alibi, having been at a dinner with twelve other guests. Poirot has to unravel the mystery and find out who really killed Lord Edgeware.

Ustinov had portrayed Poirot in two motion pictures and this was the first of three outings for Television. The decline in overall quality is noticeable. The program is supposed to be set in the 1980s, but it feels like it was only half way updated, giving it a feel that's neither contemporary nor old style.

Faye Dunaway is okay, but not at her best in this film. The appearance of David Suchet as Inspector Japp was a treat, although he doesn't quite fill the bill with this Japp being quite a bit more grumpy and less trusting of Poirot than he's been elsewhere portrayed and much more like the typical police detective. Amanda Pays made a brief appearance. The rest of the supporting cast was no help at all with Jonathan Cecil turning in a weak performance as Captain Hastings.

What ultimately saved the production was the story and the performance of Peter Ustinov as Poirot. And even then, the overall package is mediocre at best.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5.0

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19Aug/120

Telefilm Review: Death in the Clouds

On the same weekend I watched Death on the Nile.
Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) visits Tennis' French Open in Paris. On the flight home, an elderly woman is murdered right under Poirot's nose with the apparent murder weapon, a South American dart gun, planted near his seat. Poirot determines to find the murderer and restore his reputation.

Suchet is wonderful as Poirot, turning in one of the funniest moments in the series with his attempt to re-enact the murder during flight to Paris.

The story really keeps you guessing. I give myself credit with Poirot stories not at being able to guess who the murderer is but who the murder victim is. It's usually obvious as he or she sets multiple people up with a motive in very obvious way. I really thought somone else was going to get it, but she turned out just to be a suspect. The murderered woman is an enigma and Poirot must ultimately find out who she was in order to uncover who may have wanted to kill her.

In this Hastingsless-entry, Philip Jackson turns a good performance as Inspector Japp. Although I thought he got a little belligerent with the poor French Police whose offices he acted like he owned after the French blew a tailing attempt.
While like Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express, the murder occurred in an enclosed transportation vehicle, the investigation occurs off the plane in France and England due to the limitation of air travel. The movie is rich in historic atmosphere. One of the most interesting historical images from the series were men playing at Wimbledon wearing long pants: a nice historic touch.
While of the two programs I watched that week, Death on the Nile was a little more fun.  Once again, I was reminded of the consistent and remarkable quality of these ITV productions and the sheer volume of films they've produced that makes Suchet as Poirot a force to be reckoned with.
Rating: 4.25 out of 5.00

This film, along with all Poirot Telefilms through Series 6, is available on Netflix Instant Watch as of this writing.

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