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Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman (1993)

Well, as adaptations and embellishments of short stories go, Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman (Season V, Episode 5) is something of a triumph and full credit to Clive Exton for taking a thin story first published in 1923 and, with one minor blemish, making it entertaining for the full hour. Let’s start with the heart of Miss Lemon (Paula Moran). She moves through the novels and short stories as an essentially sexless creature, always responsible and efficient in her role. Yet here there’s a risk she may fly the nest and leave Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) for Mr Graves (Leonard Preston), an ex-Navy man working as a private secretary to an Italian count. For once, Poirot rises above selfishness and encourages Miss Lemon to find happiness if it’s on offer. He seems sanguine that this may trigger the departure of his valued secretary. Indeed, he even volunteers to meet the man and both he and Hastings find him acceptable for Miss Lemon. During the conversation, this Mr Graves even shyly admits to owning a small motor cruiser. It was offered to him at a giveaway price as he was leaving the navy. As a final gesture, he tells Hercule Poirot that his employer, Count Foscatini may be acting on behalf of the Italian government to recover some documents being used to blackmail someone politically important. Naturally, he doesn’t have the position to invite Hercule Poirot into the case, but it’s an indication Hercule Poirot’s little grey cells may be required in the future.

Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson), Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) and Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser)

Hercule Poirot is also loyally following Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) as the latter considers the possibility of buying one of those wonderful Italian sports cars of the period. There’s some tooing and froing before Hastings decides to take the plunge, witnessing an argument in the showroom as he writes out his cheque. During all this Poirot remains convinced the only point of a car is that it has four wheels that will not fall off and get him where he needs to go with the least alarm.

At this point, we pick up the plot of the original short story as Poirot and Hastings are dining with Dr Hawker (Arthur Cox), a neighbour, when a telephone call is received from a patient. The maid relays the message that Count Foscatini (Sidney Kean) says he’s being murdered and would someone please come and help. When they arrive at the flat, they find the Count dead, meet a spooky Siamese cat, and call for the police (not because of the cat, you understand). Poirot sums up the position of the body next the phone and the dining table set for two. He talks to the building’s chef (David Verrey) who confirms sending two soups, Dover soles and a rice soufflé, almost all of which was eaten. When they return to the flat, Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) has taken charge and, to their surprise, Mr Graves walks in. It seems he’s been exaggerating his status a little. Rather than a private secretary, he’s actually a man servant. Ah, the things men say during early courtship to talk the bird down from the tree. When the fingerprints on the two coffee cups and wine glasses are analysed, it appears that the Count was eating with Mario Asciano (Vincent Riotta), a known Italian criminal. This is presumably the blackmailer Mr Graves was talking about.

The Chef (David Verrey) remembers everything

Hercule Poirot and Hastings therefore hotfoot round to the Italian Embassy. Sadly, the high-ranking officials refuse help but, as they are leaving, a member of staff tells them that a forerunner of the Mafia, a dangerous criminal organisation, is almost certainly involved. When Mario Asciano is tracked down, the burnt ashes of the blackmail papers are found but no money. He’s arrested for the murder. Except all is not well in the garden as Miss Lemon’s research shows there’s no such title as the Count of Foscatini and the post mortem shows the Count did not eat before dying. There’s a nice piece of stage business involving a mirror with Hastings trying to distinguish his left from right and then an interminable car chase as the real killer tries to make a run for it with the money. While it’s always wonderful to see so many period vehicles driven by stunt drivers in the recreation of a slow-motion chase, this was excessive.

A Humber 6 and the star of the episode

So there we have it. In a way, the mystery element is rather superfluous. It’s rather obvious whodunnit although the motive is not without merit. Miss Lemon does end up with a new man in her life. With Graves no longer having an employer, someone has to look after the Siamese cat — if you remember, she was mourning the loss of her last cat in The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb, also adapted by Clive Exton. Hercule Poirot shows he’s a caring employer. Captain Hastings is left to worry about his new car and, for once, Inspector Japp can emerge from a Poirot mystery without having been made to look a complete fool. All in all, The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman is a superior episode with Leonard Preston particularly pleasing as the love interest.

For reviews of other Agatha Christie stories and novels, see:

Agatha Christie’s Marple (2004) — the first three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2005) — the second set of three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2006) — the third set of three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2007) — the final set of three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Blue Geranium (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Caribbean Mystery (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Endless Night (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Greenshaw’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Murder is Easy (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Pale Horse (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Pocket Full of Rye (2008)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Secret of Chimneys (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: They Do It with Mirrors (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Big Four (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Case of the Missing Will (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Chocolate Box (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Clocks (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Curtain. Poirot’s Last Case (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Mirror (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Elephants Can Remember (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Hallowe’en Party (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Labours of Hercules (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Three Act Tragedy (2011)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Underdog (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Yellow Iris (1993)

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb (1993)

March 11, 2012 2 comments

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb (1993) (Season V, Episode 1) shows the good and bad sides of television adaptations. There are times when you can see the production values have been cut. This is usually because it’s not economical to spend more money in producing a more leisurely version of the story on the screen. Corners are cut to get the story out there, allow time for the ads, and hopefully keep the purists happy. In this case, ironically, we have more than enough material for a “one-hour” package, i.e. about fifty minutes actual running time. Why? you ask. Because this is bringing a short story to the screen. Whereas the purist’s angst might jump up (or should that be down?) to levels of major despondency if a full novel is abridged to fit into the straightjacket of less than an hour, this generates similar levels of despondency, albeit from the opposite end of the spectrum. Frankly, even taking the most generous view of the source material, it’s a slight story. If you were sitting around a campfire on a dark evening around Halloween, telling this tale would occupy no more than ten minutes — and that’s with the storyteller taking time between paragraphs to munch on half-a-dozen of the marshmallows toasting over the flames. That’s ten paragraphs and six marshmallows — you do the arithmetic. Some storytellers will do anything to impress their listeners.

Why Halloween? you ask. Well, this is Agatha Christie flirting with the supernatural. Yes, it’s a mummy’s curse apparently killing off the members of an archaeological team digging in the Valley of the Kings. When they break into a tomb, Sir John Willard, the team leader, lasts two minutes and then keels over. He’s dead before he hits the floor. Cue ominous music and awestruck expressions from the remainder of the team. The diggers and guards are for running away, but all the “while folk” put on a brave face and allay the fears of the superstitious locals. Amusingly when Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) and Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) arrive on the scene with Sir John’s son, Guy Willard (Grant Thatcher), we also have the shadow on the tent trick. As if Anubis would actually be stalking around the campsite looking for a late-night snack (possibly of marshmallows). All this is particularly shallow stuff in supernatural terms — although being fair to Agatha Christie, she wrote these stories in the early 1920s at a time when people were much more inclined to suspend disbelief and accept mere hints of the paranormal as a full story. Indeed, Poirot approaches the case with implicit scepticism. He’s much more interested in the credulity of people. For him, in the wrong hands, the force of superstition could become a murder weapon.

David Suchet and Grant Thatcher acting Egypt

So now we have to sympathise with Clive Exton who drew the short straw for adapting this tale for the screen. He has to spin out this thin gruel into a feast without spending a fortune on everyone flying out to Egypt for several month’s location shooting. We begin auspiciously with Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran) in her office in London with tarot card turning up death, and then with Hastings using the planchette board. Later the good Captain explains Miss Lemon has been depressed by the death of her cat and is trying to reach her on the other side. Thoughtfully, on his way back from Egypt, Hercule Poirot stops at one of the tourist stalls and buys her a reproduction black cat. He then convinces his gullible secretary she can use it to feel closer to her dead cat.

Once in Egypt, we have stereotyped Americans and Egyptians milling around in tents with the odd camel and other geographically appropriate props available to give the scenes credibility. All I can say is thank God for Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings who brave all hazards to dress for dinner and maintain a proper sense of decorum at all times. Put this together and you will understand how truly dreadful all this is. Despite the best efforts of the indefatigable David Suchet and the always reliable Hugh Fraser, the nature of the puzzle to be solved is trivial. Not that death is ever trivial, you understand. But it does not take many little grey cells to see who must be responsible. In this instance, the ending of the original story has been changed slightly to add a moment of drama. There’s also an early use of the telephone to gather confirmatory evidence. But all to no avail. Unless you are a completist determined to watch every episode regardless of quality, The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb is not worth bothering with.

For reviews of other Agatha Christie stories and novels, see:

Agatha Christie’s Marple (2004) — the first three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2005) — the second set of three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2006) — the third set of three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2007) — the final set of three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Blue Geranium (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Caribbean Mystery (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Endless Night (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Greenshaw’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Murder is Easy (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Pale Horse (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Pocket Full of Rye (2008)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Secret of Chimneys (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: They Do It with Mirrors (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Big Four (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Case of the Missing Will (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Chocolate Box (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Clocks (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Curtain. Poirot’s Last Case (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Mirror (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Elephants Can Remember (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Hallowe’en Party (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Labours of Hercules (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Three Act Tragedy (2011)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Underdog (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Yellow Iris (1993)

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