Agatha Christie: Poirot, Series 12 Blu-ray Review: Ridiculously Unrealistic Plots, Tons of Fun

Sometimes all you want at the end of a long day is a good, old-fashioned murder and some Belgian gray cells to solve them.
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When it comes to Agatha Christie’s writing I tend to agree with Raymond Chandler who wrote about her type of writing: “they do not really come off intellectually as problems, and they do not come off artistically as fiction.”  That is to say her crimes are completely unrealistic and her prose not particularly good.  Yet, while I’ll always prefer Chandler and his contemporary Dashiell Hammett to the likes of Christie and her ilk, dear Agatha sure did know how to keep the pages turning and sometimes that’s all you want in life.  

Christie’s Poirot stories tend to always involve murders amongst the upper classes, the aristocrats, and high-society folks, for reasons that range from the absurd to the utterly ridiculous and are acted out in such convoluted and complicated ways to completely baffle the mind.  But that’s what makes them so much fun.  Chandler’s stories are rooted in the real-life mean streets.  His characters are besmirched by the muck they must dig through to solve the case.  His prose is sublime.  And yet sometimes I want nothing more than to flip past page after page of foolishness to find out why General Higgonbottom was found dead at his own daughter’s wedding party.

For over 20 years and 70 episodes ITV (and PBS) have brought to television audiences adaptations of every single Poirot story with David Suchet starring as the Belgium detective.  I’ve only seen a handful of them, but I regard them much like I do the novels - ridiculously plotted, rather silly, and a great deal of fun.

For the Blu-ray releases they have been putting the show out in the order each episode aired on television.  Series 12 consists of four movies: Three Act Tragedy, Hallowe’en Party, Murder on the Orient Express, and The Clocks.  Bonus features a photo gallery and a 47 minute feature of the real Orient Express train with David Suchet.

The video in all four movies looks very good.  Colors and blacks are well represented and I found very few problems.  A few times in Hallowe'en Party I found some graininess when the action took place in a darkned room or outside at night, but otherwise it looks and sounds very good.

In Three Act Tragedy, an elderly vicar drops dead at a cocktail party thrown by Sir Charles Cartwright (Martin Shaw.)  Poirot was at this party, saw the vicar drop, and senses no foul play involved.  One month later at a similar party with many of the same people in attendance, the host Dr. Strange drops dead in the same way the vicar had.  This time murder is not only suspected but proven when a poison is found in his system.  With the help of Sir Charles, Poirot investigates these strange occurrences.

This was my least favorite movie in this set.  The mystery was interesting enough and I enjoyed the characters, especially the interplay between Poirot and Sir Charles, but the resolution was incredibly far fetched.  The murderer's reasons for committing the crime and the way he went about it was so convoluted that it defied all reasonable senses.  The final act of most Poirot stories usually involve the detective rounding up all the suspects and walking us through the crime so it was not unexpected here, but it lasted so incredibly long (because the plot was so difficult to parse) that I found myself nodding off before it he wrapped it all up.

Hallowe’en Party finds a little girl face-down dead in an apple-bobbing bucket.  It seems moments before she was bragging that she’d witnessed a murder some years ago.  At first, no one believed her, and in fact even after she’s dead no one but Poirot thinks anything of her story.  It is Aradne Oliver (Zoë Wanamaker), a mystery writer and friend of Poirot, that brings the detective on the case.  After speaking with the local looney, Mrs. Goodbody (Paola Dionisotti), Poirot learns of several unsolved murders that the girl might have witnessed and sets to sleuthing.

I enjoyed this episode very much.  The Halloween setting was a fun touch and the mystery intriguing.  The players all acted admirably and the resolution was satisfactory.

Murder on the Orient Express is probably Agatha Christie’s most popular story, and arguably her best.  It is a tale that has been told many times on both large and small screens and I was very interested to see how this crew would handle it. They did it quite well.  Loaded with grand actors including Dame Eileen Atkins, Hugh Bonneville, Jessica Chastain, and Barbara Hershey, it could hardly do wrong.  They made a number of changes to the original story, which will no doubt infuriate purists, but having not read the novel in a good many years I didn’t notice at all.

I’m a sucker for these sorts of stories with a murder happening in an isolated place where it should be easy to determine the killer but where everyone has a perfect alibi.  I’ve ready the novel and seen a few adaptations and always enjoy this story.  I found this version to be very entertaining, possibly moreso than any other version I’ve seen.

In The Clocks, typist-for-hire Sheila Webb (Jaime Winstone) is called to the home of Millicent Pebmarsh (Anna Massey) for a job.  When she arrives, she finds that Mrs. Pebmarsh is not there, but a dead man is.  Strangely so are four clocks that do not belong to Mrs. Pebmarsh (though one does belong to Ms. Webb) and they are all stopped at the same, but wrong, time.

Poirot is called to the case by his friend Lt. Colin Race (Tom Burke) who believes the murder of this mystery man is tied to the murder of his girlfriend who also works for the military.  Race thinks both murders may have been caused by spies working for the Germans gearing up for World War II.

The imminent threat of World War was a nice touch in this story.  They made you really feel the tension of not only solving a murder but helping the entire British Empire.  I enjoy a good spy thriller as well as a murder mystery and they did a good job of blending the two. This was probably the funniest story in this lot as there was lots of humor to be pulled from Poirot confounding the local investigators with his seemingly unimportant questions and interest in matters that at first seem not to pertain to the crime at hand.

Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Series 12 contains four rather enjoyable mysteries.   Her stories, and this series are not great art, and the mysteries are often a bit ridiculous, but sometimes all you want and need at the end of a long day is a good old-fashioned murder and some Belgian gray cells to solve them.

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