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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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18Aug/120

Movie Review: Death on the Nile (1978)

In Death on the Nile, wealthy young heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Lois Chiles) is murdered on board a boat travelling down the Nile. The most likely suspect, a jealous ex-friend (Mia Farrow) from whom Ridgeway stole her fiance (Simon MacCorkindale) is eliminated because of being indisposed under the influence of morphine after shooting the dead woman's husband in the leg. However Poirot (Peter Ustinov) does not find himself wanting for suspects as it seems everyone on the boat had a motive.

Death on the Nile was the second of three big screen adaptations made featuring Hercules Poirot in an eight year period from 1974-82. It has all the hallmarks of the other two Poirot films: luscious landscapes and an all-star cast. All three movies also have cases with very unique features  and in this one, no one but the most likely suspect has an alibi.

This was Ustinov's first time appearing as Poirot and he does a marvelous job. His performance in Death on the Nile gave Poirot a great balance of dignity and humanity. While in Evil Under the Sun (1982), Poirot ends up getting played more comically, Ustinov gets it perfect here.

I've now seen all three films from this period and this was my favorite. All of them had features, but also some major flaws which slightly marred the experience making it so so. This is definitely not the case with Death on the Nile.

The cinematography and music is top notch. The all-star cast is used brilliantly playing as a solid team. Angela Lansbury is marvelous in her portrayal of a romance writer. And Mia Farrow turns in a fantastic performance as the menacing "spurned woman." To top it all off, David Niven gives  a fantastic performance as Colonel Race, Poirot's sidekick for this adventure and rarely has Poirot had better.

My only problem with this film is that Poirot's initial theory seemed hard to swallow and harder still to believe Poirot would postulate. Still Agatha Christie asked us to believe it in a well-beloved mystery book, so I can't knock it too much.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5.0

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11Aug/120

Telefilm Review: The ABC Murders

The Fourth Series of Poirot from ITV was made up entirely of feature length Telefilms and the first of these was the A.B.C. Murders.

Hastings returns from South America in time to help Poirot solve a baffling and alarming mystery. A murderer sends Poirot a series of letters announcing murders and he's going in Alphabetial Order from A to Z for both the last names of the victims and the cities where the murder is committed. At each crime scene, a copy of the A.B.C. railroad guide listing schedules for trains to each of Britain's cities.

Being somewhat familiar with the plot from a far too abbreviated Poirot-less adaptation of the story on Radio's Supsense, I knew whodunit but even so The A.B.C. Murders still managed to hold my attention. The film did a great job not only maintaining a high level of suspense, but also in creating believable reactions from the victim's family and the genuine warmth between Poirot and Hastings was on display in a way it wasn't usually in the one hour episodes of the series.

Nearly was perfect pitch in this adaptation with solid performance from David Suchet and Hugh Fraser as Poirot and Hastings, and Donald Sumpter turns in a memorable performance as Mr. Cusp. The only performance that seemed a little off was Philip Jackson whose Inspector Japp seemed a little grumpier than usual.

Overall, this was a fantastic telling of one Christie's favorite stories and is rightly listed by Suchet as one of his favorites.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5.0

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

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28Jul/120

Telefilm Review: The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The Mysterious Affair at Styles is the oldest Poirot story. In fact, it is the only Poirot story that is in the public domain in the United States (though not the UK). 

Lieutenant Hastings is convalescing and visits some friends at Styles. The matron of the house is killed and suspicion immediately falls on her husband who is Before the matter is officially reported, Hastings seeks the help of Poirot,who is a refugee from Belgium adjusting to life in the U.K. Poirot has to unravel the multiple lies and deception that surrounded the murder and a new will that apparently has gone missing.

I wrote in my review of the Peril at End House, that the producers of Agatha Christie's Poirot opted for a look that made the feature length episode look and feel like just a longer episode of the television. 

In the Mysterious Affair at Styles which led off the third series of Agatha Christie's Poirot, they opted to step it up notch with beautiful shots of the British Countryside and World War I British life. Suchet showed his strength as a performer and his mastery of the Poirot character in his ability to make subtle changes depending on the character's age. In Mysterious Affair at Styles, Poirot is far more obsessive compulsive, and is less adjusted to English life than Poirot did in the episodes set in the 1930s. 

While I think the transition to television lost a little bit of the charm of the book which had you suspecting everyone other than Poirot and Hastings at one point or another, Suchet is still masterful as Poirot and the improved quality makes it a pleasure to watch.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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

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30Jun/120

Telefilm Review: Peril at End House

Peril at End House was the first adaptation of a Poirot novel done as part of ITV’s Poirot series. The program aired January 7, 1990 ahead of the second series of 60 minute Poirot episodes.

Poirot and Hastings are on vacation when they encounters Nicki Buckley (Polly Walker), who had a series of accidents including a nearly fatal car accident. While she is talking to Poirot, she complains of a buzzing wasp. However, after she leaves, Poirot finds a bullet, which convinces Poirot that Nick is in deadly peril.

They journey to her inherited estate of End House, a beautiful home that Nick loves but can’t afford maintain. They find it inhabited by some characters of questionable motives. In addition, she has a lawyer cousin in town who could also be another suspsect. Poirot finds more intrigue and determines that Nick needs protected and Nick calls for her nearly identical cousin to be her protect. However, when the cousin is killed, Poirot realizes the case has escalated. Poirot has to find out who wants Nicki dead and why in order to prevent another tragedy.

Peril at End's House is an intriguing ystery. While not completely unique, it is different than most whodunits as Poirot begins to work to preempt the murder.  Peril at End House twists and turns quite a bit before reaching its conclusion. The story is cleverly told with the usual supply of red herring. David Suchet is solidly supported by the regular cast of the series including Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser), Phillip Jackson (Inspector Japp), and Pauline Moran (Miss Lemmon).

If there's any criticism at all of the telefilm is too obviously a TV movie.  While later Poirot movies look and feel like they could have been shown in theaters with their rich colors and luscious cinematography, you have no doubt that Peril at End House was a made for TV movie. The DVD release makes this painfully obvious by leaving in the "To be continued..." frame that was aired when the film ran in reruns as a two episode. To this end, it also includes a somewhat absurd scene where Poirot has to explain every detail of the case they've been investigating to Captain Hastings in order to stop Hastings from walking off to go play golf. Hastings may not be the brightest sidekick but come on. Give me a good old fashioned, "Previously on Poirot..." any day.

However, Peril at End House was a good pick for the first ITV Poirot adaptation of the novel. It allowed the cast and crew to dip their toe into  longer adaptations without any of the expensive demands that would come with a much larger project like Murder on the Orient Express. Peril at End House is a telefilm that leaves you wanting more. Good news is that it delivered much more.

Rating 4.0 out of 5.0

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15May/120

EP0667: Hercule Poirot: The Bride Wore Fright

Harold Huber

Poirot comes into his apartment to find a woman in a wedding dress hiding from a most dangerous groom.

Original Air Date: December 7, 1945

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