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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