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

27Mar/120

EP0632:Hercule Poirot: Murder Wears a Mask

Hercule Poirot matches wits with a murderer who tries to frame a protective father for the murder of an actor.

Original Air Date: May 3, 1945

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20Mar/122

EP0627: Hercule Poirot: The Case of the Careless Victim

Harold Huber

Poirot while trying to relocate to New York finds himself struggling to find an apartment. Instead, he finds a corpse first.

Original Air Date: February 22, 1945

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13Mar/120

EP0622: Murder Clinic: The Tragedy at Marsden Manor

Maurice Tarplin

Poirot is called upon by the insurance to investigate the apparent natural death of a wealthy man who just passed a physical for a life insurance policy for his young wife.

Original Air Date: October 6, 1942

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6Mar/120

How Suchet Does Poirot Voice

6Mar/120

EP0617:Campbell’s Playhouse: The Murder of Roger Akroyd

Orson Welles

While trying to retire, Poirot investigates the murder of a rich man in the country.

Original Air Date: November 12, 1939

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14Jan/120

Book Review: Black Coffee

When ITV announced the final series of Poirot episode, I was surprised that ITV opted to film the Labours of Hercules, a collection of short stories, rather than the Hercule Poirot play, Black Coffee. I remain skeptical of their ability to adapt a series of adventure into a single two hour movie. I was also curious why they passed on Black Coffee, as a play would seem ideal for a TV adaptation.

When I learned of the decision, I decided to get hold of the audiobook copy of Black Coffee. The play was adapted to a novel by Australia Author Charles Osborne and this book was read by John Moffatt who has played Poirot in BBC Radio 4's adaptations of Christie's novels.

In Black Coffee, Poirot is summoned to collect a top secret formula by Sir Claud Amory. Poirot and Captain Hastings arrive to find Amory murdered, the formula missing,  and a room full of suspects.

Listening to the book, it became apparent that Black Coffee was the type of play that's easily performed by community playhouses. The plot is relatively simple with most of the action, so to speak, consigned to one room. It featured typical stage dialogue and action, even within the confinds of the novel.

The audiobook was entertaining, thanks  to the performance of Moffat, who brought each character to life with a solid performance that made the audiobook practically a one man play. The book itself was okay. Osborne stuck very closely to Christie's play adding next to nothing other than transcribing the stage directions and adding a somewhat unnecessary scene that introduces Poirot. 

Reading Black Coffee makes apparent why ITV chose not to adapt the play. ITV's Poirot is famous not only for David Suchet's definitive portrayal as the great detective but for the fantastic cinematography. While Black Coffee may make more for an entertaining night at the playhouse, it'd be downright claustraphobic compared to the rest of the Poirot series.

The novel is good mainly if you want to enjoy a Poirot mystery and can't get to the playhouse to see it. It's a servicable if not inspired adaptation.

Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0

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30Oct/110

Telefilm Review: Appointment with Death (2009)

"Your appointment with death was always to be here..."

In Appointment with Death(2009), Poirot arrives inSyria to follow the expedition of Lord Boyton (Tim Curry), who is searching for the head of John the Baptist. While there, Poirot witnesses Lady Boyton’s unpleasant behavior towards everyone other than her husband and overhears two of her children talking about how she must die.

And die she does. She’s found stabbed to death from her perch in the sun above the excavations where she watched her husband’s team excavating. Poirot is asked to investigate, but there are more secrets being kept by members of the party other than murder. Poirot (David Suchet) must sort through them all to find the real killer.

Review:

The acting in this telefilm is superb. David Suchet is his usual self and is supported by a fantastic cast of supporting players including Curry who has a great scene with Poirot in a cave where the two retell an ancient fable that’s written on the wall. This foreshadows much of the rest of the story and forms a narrative that suggests that no matter how long evil is unpunished, judgment and death finally catch up with the perpetrators.

Suchet was spell-binding in a 23 minute wrap-up of the case in which he deals with all the “red fish” in the case and reveals all.

The story (while not at all faithful to the book it’s supposedly adapting) is compelling and well-written. The teleplay like the later adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express is a product of its times, as it focuses on Lady Boyton’s sadistic abuse of her children from childhood to the present, and is in many ways reflective of frustration with the pervasiveness with this sort of behavior and the seeming inability or unwillingness of the courts to punish it.  It is a very dark story, yet the writers do manage to work a few rays of hope into what is a very heavy ending.

Appointment with Death also features stunning cinematography, as well as a powerful soundtrack that makes it a solid mystery.

Of course, as mentioned earlier the film deviates so much from the original novel, it’s barely recognizable. It’s addition of characters, subtraction of characters, change of murder methods and murder motives, change of location has been documented by many sites.

Clearly, Christie fans who complain about the movies have a point as the changes from Christie's original are extreme. Ideally, if you title a movie by a book title and say it’s an adaptation, the movie should keep to the book. And if you're going to make something vastly different, it ought to have a different title just as the 1940s Sherlock Holmes movies which borrowed elements from the Arthur Conan Doyle Stories were titled completely different from the canonical Sherlock Holmes stories.

One also has to ask whatever to the cozy mystery series? The original series of one hour Poirot episodes was more genteel, while recent films have taken a more gritty turn. The changes seem to be the result of ratings pressure. Scripted television of any sort is in an endangered species and if a TV show is going to be shot as an expensive period piece, it better draw rating. So far, these grittier Poirots have succeeded as the series has drawn good ratings and been renewed and perhaps will generate interests in the original stories.

Despite its departures from the source material, Appointment with Death is a compelling story in its own right and one of my favorite mystery films of recent years.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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9Oct/110

Audiobook Review: Hercule Poirot’s Unpublished Stories

Hercules Poirot was featured in 33 published novels, 51 published short stories, and a stage play. But there were two Poirot Short stories that were not published during her lifetime. They appeared in book form in Agatha Christie' s Secret Notebook by John Curran. However, the Christie estate decided to make the two short stories available seperate audiobook read by David Suchet.

The title of one story will be familiar to Christie fans, it's called "The Capture of Cerberus," which is the title of the published story that wrapped up, The Labours of Hercules. This particular story is vastly different as Poirot's labour is truly Herculean as he tries to uncover the truth behind the assassination of a lightly fictionalized version of Adolf Hitler.

The story was interesting for its historical value. It also provided Christie's answer to a question many science fiction authors have addressed, "What if Hitler had been assassinated." Christie suggests that Hitler would have been viewed as a martyr and would have radicalized and galvanized the German people. The story is hopeful that after the horrors of World War I, another conflagration could be avoided and peace and brotherhood could somehow win out.

It was a nice thought, but the story was shelved with good reasons. To have a fictional character "use the little gray cells" and prevent a real life war that's certainly inevitable in the real world is just not appropriate. In addition, the story is definitely not as fun as the version that went into the book. It should be noted that Christie would feature two of the characters who were in this story in the published version.  It felt like it was in more of a draft state when compared to the stories that did make into Labours of Hercules.  Thankfully, it was discarded for a much better story.

"The Incident of the Dog's Ball" was much more satisfying.  In it Poirot receives a rambling letter from an old woman asking for help. He arrives at the lady's house, only to find out she'd passed on (apparently of natural causes)  and had  forgotten to mail it. Slowly and methodically, Poirot begins to uncover what really happened and why the lady contacted.

Later, the short story was expanded and revised into the novel, Dumb Witness,  but works just fine as a very satisfying short story.

David Suchet's definitive Poirot voice truly makes the story a delight. He also  read nearly all the voices well (with one exception). Suchet's reading and the novelty of these lost stories makes this collection a must for fans of Christie and Hercule Poirot.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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2Oct/110

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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17Sep/110

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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