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

1Sep/130

Telefilm Review: Five Little Pigs

Sixteen years after her mother was convicted of murdering her father and subsequently executed, a young woman asks Poirot to uncover the truth and clear her mother's name.

To do this, Poirot begins a meticulous series of interviews, trying to jog the memories of witnesses and using their stories, he tries to piece together what really happened and to do that he has to cut through people's biases which are as fresh they were when the murders first happened. The story is intriguing, intelligent, and the solution is shocking as perceptions are turned on their head. Suchet gives a sold performance as Poirot and the rest of the cast is well in this first episode not featuring the Poirot "family" of the first-eighth series.

The only downside is the ham-fisted tampering with the plot. They changed the sexuality of one character and added some gunplay at the end. The tampering was obvious and was distracting from the story. Still, Christie's original story was so strong and Suchet's acting so good, that it is still a must-see movie for mystery fans.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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10Aug/131

Telefilm Review: Murder in Mesopotamia

While on vacation in Iraq, Poirot meets up with an archaeologist and his wife. The wife confides in Poirot that she fears her former husband, a traitor who was declared dead, but was secretly alive and menaced nearly every relationship she entered after his apparent death until she met and married her husband. She gives Poirot a threatening letter she received. Before Poirot can get to the bottom of it, she's murdered.

This is a solidly told mystery with a great surprise ending that is thoroughly well-adapted. The second episode of the eight series is noteworthy for being the last episode to date featuring Hugh Frasier as Captain Hastings, though he's expected to appear the 13th series episodes, The Big Four and Curtain. The Hastings character wasn't in the original book and he didn't add much to this adaptation, so it was definitely time to move on.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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29Jun/130

Telefilm Review: Evil Under The Sun

Poirot's Eight series in 2001 began with the telefilm of Evil Under the Sun. Poirot has an apparent heart attack after eating at Captain Hastings Argentinian restaurant, so on doctor's orders he goes to an island to rest and to eat a healthier, blander diet. When he arrives, he finds actress Arlena Marshall has a large number of enemies on the island, thanks to her obvious stepping out on her husband with a man whose married to another woman, who is also on the island and witnessing this.

When the actress is murdered, there are plenty of suspects, though the wronged woman has an airtight alibi. With multiple suspects, Poirot seeks to find the truth with the help of Captain Hastings, Inspector Japp, and Miss Lemon.

This episode like Lord Edgeware Dies had been adapted as a film starring Peter Ustinov. Both the motion picture and this release made changes from the book. In this case, I think the changes made by the telefilm version were detrimental to the story. They changed the gender of the murdered woman's stepchild which took a clue that was mostly unremarkable and made it stick out like a sore thumb. My wife, never a fan of mysteries had her hackles raised by a fact that would not have gone on her radar had the character been female as in the book.

In addition, attempts to keep the original Poirot family in the story were really awkward in this production and the part about Captain Hasting restaurant was especially problematic. It all seemed rather forced. It was with good reason that none of these characters have appeared since the eighth series despite how well they were liked through the first six and how much I look forward to the return of Hastings in the final one.

It's a bit better than okay adaptation, but it could have been better and Ustinov's take was far a far stronger version.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5.00

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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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