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Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Big Four (2013)

November 28, 2013 Leave a comment

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Big Four (2013) (Season 13, episode 2) shows us in heavy-hitter territory with big guns coming together in circumstances we expect them to pull off genuinely bravura performances. Let’s start with the script by one of the most reliable hands in the business. Mark Gatiss and Ian Hallard are credited. I make no comment how the latter came to get the job. I simply assume the relationship between them was not considered relevant and that he earned this sole writing job on merit. Appropriately given the title, we have Hercule Poirot (David Suchet), Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser), Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran) and Assistant Commissioner Japp (Philip Jackson) in a reunion episode to celebrate the final set of adaptations to more or less complete the Christie canon. Having brought them all together, it seems rather a shame not to give Hastings and Miss Lemon more screen time. Hastings in particular is made to look even more a sidekick adrift without a rudder than usual in this episode.

I’m also obliged to characterise this play-dead ploy from Poirot as even more cruel than usual. We’ve grown used to his benign contempt for those inferior mortals around him, but allowing them to go through a funeral is pushing it a little. While thinking about that, we should also comment on the absurdity of the police not noticing the absence of a body at the site of the explosion. Even in those pre-CSI days, the amateur forensic team would have noted the absence of body parts and blood. The fact someone found his walking stick confirms a search. This means, at the very least, Japp must have been aware of the pretense and so in on the decision to abuse the emotional health of the two sidekicks. I was also disappointed not to use the device of Hercule reappearing as Achille. One of the problems of pretending death is where to hide when you have one of the most recognisable faces in London. Agatha Christie’s in plain sight solution might be a little silly, but it’s better than the embarrassed silence of this plot. Perhaps they did not want to sacrifice the mustache

We should not be surprised this potboiler melodrama, first published in 1927, has been left untouched until now. Structurally, the first book appeared as a fix-up, i.e. the elements in the book were published separately as short stories and then amalgamated into the “novel” we know today (or rather we avoid knowing today because it’s one of Christie’s worst books). That’s why some applause should ring out for Mark Gatiss. He has contrived to completely restructure the basics of the plot, changing the order of the deaths, and producing a coherent story with a rather remarkable ending in which everything but the kitchen sink appears to pad it out. This is not so much a condemnation as you might imagine. The unmasking of the villain may grow increasingly absurd, but there are elements of fun to make it watchable including the rather pleasing attack on Poirot’s vanity and his sense of theatricality in wanting a confrontation with all the suspects at the end.

Hercule Poirot (David Suchet), Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser), Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran) and Assistant Commisioner Japp (Philip Jackson)

Hercule Poirot (David Suchet), Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser), Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran) and Assistant Commisioner Japp (Philip Jackson)

So what’s this version of the story all about? Well, despite the advanced age of our primary characters, we’re set in the 1930s at a time when the world is beginning to fear there might be a second war. There are incidents in different countries which cause a certain loss of confidence. News media whisper the name of a new criminal organisation calling itself The Big Four which seems to ferment disorder with a view to profiting from arms sales. Led by a Chinese thinker, the Peace Party tries to right the balance, but an attempt to produce some degree of rapprochement with Russia comes unstuck when an old Russian chessmaster dies unexpectedly while playing an exhibition match. With suspicion falling on Abe Ryland (James Carroll Jordan), one of the people fronting the Peace Party, he disappears. This suggests he is one of The Big Four. Then one of the world’s experts on the Chinese leader is brutally murdered in his home. What is it that this leader is trying to hide? When a further murder implicates Madame Olivier (Patricia Hodge), the third leading member of the Peace Party, the press are convinced this Party has been playing a double game, terrorists masquerading as peace ambassadors.

So the first section of this adaptation plays the paranoia game with even the “respectable” newspapers stirring up anxiety. As the reputation of The Big Four rises, the attempts of the British government to calm the public with bland reassurances fail. Sadly the no-smoke-without-fire trope worked just as well in the 1930s as it does today. I’m slightly disappointed Tysoe (Tom Brooke), the pervasive journalist, was given such a lower middle class accent. Speaking like that, he would not have been allowed through the doors of the foreign office, let alone be permitted to speak to a senior civil servant. And talking of accents, we have the absurdity of a Belgian and French character talking to each other in French-tinged British accents instead of la belle langue with subtitles. I liked the character of Flossie (Sarah Parish) as the totally self-absorbed actress, but thought Simon Lowe played the part of the unmemorable Dr Quentin unmemorably.

So given the source material is so poor, the result on screen is quite pleasing. As always, the sense of period is done beautifully with every aspect of the production working to create the right look and feel. There are several gaping plot holes that I should mention. The first is the problem of time. Our chameleon killer can be everywhere being a clergyman, a delivery man, a chauffeur, etc. but also have a highly responsible role which should have required his presence on a full-time basis. And then there’s the question of how the drugged individuals were hidden and kept alive during such a long period. There just aren’t enough hours in the day for the killer to have fitted all this in. And did they really leave theatres in mothballs for fifteen years when rep and music hall were at their height? I don’t think so. And although the motive for one of the deaths fits, the overall point of all the press manipulation and murders is less than convincing. This leaves me thinking the result has one or two good moments but is, on balance, a failure. David Suchet is outstanding, genuinely coming alive in the confrontation at the end. But everything else collapses as a house of cards when the door of thought opens and you review what happened.

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 Adventure of the Italian Nobleman (1993)
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 Yellow Iris (1993)

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Yellow Iris (1993) (Season V, Episode 3) continues the adaptation of short stories into one-hour episodes. This is somewhat ironic in the case of The Yellow Iris because Agatha Christie herself took the time and trouble to expand the story into the novel Sparkling Cyanide, albeit not featuring the original Hercule Poirot. This would never do, of course, when David Suchet is now synonymous with the role of Hercule Poirot. Better to stick with Poirot in the shorter version than to introduce Colonel Race. It would only confuse us. Indeed, when ITV did make Sparkling Cyanide, all confusion was avoided by naming a minor character Colonel Geoffrey Reece — long live Hercule Poirot!

Pauline Moran, David Suchet and Hugh Fraser admire the yellow iris

So The Yellow Iris is both good and bad. As we have come to expect from this series, the production values are first class. No expense is spared to reproduce Buenos Aires as one military government is due to replace another. We have soldiers in the streets with period tanks and troop carriers to lend authenticity to the whole. The inventiveness of the location finders and the way the scenes are set up is a delight to behold. However, nothing visual can cover up the thinness of the material. Essentially Hercule Poirot is supposed to be passing through Buenos Aires on the way to visit Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) but, before he can navigate through his stop-over, he’s a witness to a death in a French restaurant. Then, before you can say [whatever long word captures your imagination], he’s arrested and deported as a spy. The Argentine General’s threat to call in the French Consul is a nicely judged insult. This unhappy combination of events gives Hercule Poirot an unsolved crime (if such it be) in his resumé. This rankles so, when Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran) brings him a yellow iris almost two years later, he’s immediately interested. There were yellow irises on the table when the first death occurred. Captain Hastings confirms a new French restaurant with the same name is due to open in London. Such a coincidence is not to be ignored and a quick visit confirms a table has been reserved on the opening night by the same group (less the dead woman, of course).

Death by yellow iris

The first scenes in the Argentinian version of the restaurant are well done although there’s a relentless padding to fill out the time. This involves a tango between two of the diners and a sultry song being sung. However, when the meal is rerun in London, it’s immediately obvious who the killer must be and how the murder was committed. Perhaps I’ve just read too many detective novels but, despite the best efforts of the scriptwriter, Anthony Horowitz, and the director Peter Barber-Fleming, to distract us, the last ten minutes are just treading water until our suspicions are confirmed. There’s actually a much better version of the same methodology in a Father Brown story where he solves the crime without ever leaving a room — it’s all in the footsteps he hears. Anyway, it’s always good to see David Troughton, in this case as the grieving husband, and the rest of the cast acquit themselves well despite the limited nature of the plot. It’s fairly good despite the threadbare story and, if you want to prove yourself as a superior armchair detective, this is a perfect opportunity for you to identify the killer early.

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 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 Case of the Missing Will (1993)

March 14, 2012 6 comments

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Case of the Missing Will (1993) (Season V, Episode 4) is something of an oddity. For all we have the usual cast of stalwarts with David Suchet as Hercule Poirot, Hugh Fraser as Captain Hastings, Pauline Moran as Miss Lemon and Philip Jackson as Inspector Japp, this is essentially an original story rather than an adaptation of the short story bearing the title which first appears in 1923 before being collected in Poirot Investigates, first published in 1924. In most of the other television shows featuring Poirot, there’s at least a tip of the hat by the scriptwriter to the Agatha Christie original. Perhaps surprisingly, Douglas Watkinson obviously wrote down the title at the top of a blank sheet of paper and then decided to write his own story to go with the title. Or perhaps someone at Granada Television instructed this change. Who knows after so many years.

Beth Goddard as a very modern girl

So let’s take this step by step. The original has a young lady approach Poirot with a puzzle. A will has “gone missing” and she would like him to find it for her. After a little thought, Hercule Poirot complies and so, through his agency, the woman meets the condition in the discovered will and inherits the estate. Hercule Poirot accepts her intelligence in asking the best detective in the world to crack the mystery and walks away. This story has us start with the childless Andrew Marsh (Mark Kingston), a wealthy businessman, announcing the terms of his will in the 1920s. Some years later, as Hitler and Mussolini are starting to make waves in Europe, the action relocates to Cambridge University where two of the three children who heard the announcement are now students. The theme of this episode is the pressure for more gender equality. Under the terms of his will, Violet (Beth Goddard) is expected to marry and effectively gets nothing. The patriarchal Marsh assumes her future husband will provide for her. John Sidaway (Terrence Hardiman) and Peter Baker (Neil Stuke) are to receive what would, in those days, have been a reasonable capital sum. They are, respectively the children of Sarah Siddaway (Rowena Cooper), a friend of the family and an Australian woman who had come over to England as Marsh’s housekeeper. When Hercule Poirot comes to meet the family again, Marsh tell him that the will is to be changed and our detective hero is to act as the executor. The intention is to remove the bequest of the bulk of his estate from a medical foundation, and to leave everything to Violet. Before he can make this change, he’s found dead.

Rowena Cooper as a loving mother and loyal friend

So far, so good. There’s a good command of the two different periods with the Cambridge scenes particularly well done. There’s also a nice moment in the London underground. A researcher must have found one of the older style escalators. Except the plot left me somewhat confused. When the family and Hercule Poirot come to the offices of the family solicitor, he announces that the will has gone missing. At no point thereafter does there seem to be any serious attempt to find the will. The police are not informed. It’s just assumed the property will now pass on intestacy. Frankly, this is incomprehensible. There are innumerable witnesses to attest to the terms of the will and the solicitor would confirm that his client had given no instructions to destroy or otherwise revoke the will. The fact the will had evidently been removed from the solicitor’s office without permission would fuel a murder enquiry. The Probate Court would have granted probate on the original will, giving all the property to the medical foundation. If anyone tried to establish a claim based on intestacy, this would have been taken as prima facie evidence of the murder.

Anyway, Hercule Poirot defines the terms of the investigation to decide which of the three children is Marsh’s illegitimate heir. Since I was having real difficulty in distinguishing between the two young men (even though one was at University and the other was in the army) I rather gave up trying to follow who might be the child of whom or might have been the killer. If I had watched this from the DVD, it would have been easy go back through the episode to work it out after the event. But since I’m watching these episodes rerunning on a terrestrial channel, I’m left with an imperfect grasp of what happened. I understand how and why the murder took place but, even now, I can’t honestly say I care. This is one of the worst episodes of all time. If a scriptwriter is doing nothing more than adapt an existing plot, he or she can blame the quality of the source material if the adaptation faithfully reproduces it. But if you are writing an original, then a professional writer researches the law and gets a plot to make sense. Then, in the casting, we should get people more easily distinguishable.

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 Adventure of the Italian Nobleman (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Big Four (2013)
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: Underdog (1993)

March 11, 2012 4 comments

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Underdog (1993) (Season V, Episode 2) is a wonderful example of what a television company can do with a slight short story if it decides to go all out. This first appeared in 1929 as “Under Dog” and so is more than ready for the full-blast of an art deco adaptation. The opening scenes in the factory is completely stunning. It actually reminded me of Mon Oncle by Jacques Tati which has a wonderful sequence in which Monsieur Hulot confronts modern architecture and loses. He accidentally damages the tree espaliered to the wall of the monstrous house and returns at night to cut it into a more symmetrical shape. When a noise wakes the Arpels, the owners, their heads appear in two circular windows making the house look like a face. In Underdog, a burglar comes down a beautiful multiple horseshoe staircase inside the factory. With the stairs backlit, he moves up and down in synchronisation with other employees until he can get to the floor he wants without being seen. It’s a wonderful moment with which to start the show, as are all the remaining scenes inside this factory. Similarly, the house chosen for occupation by Sir Reuben Astwell (Dennis Lill) is breathtaking. These locations are stars in their own right. Although I know the building that stands in for Whitehaven Mansions, the home for Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) in London, is actually called Florin Court and is to be found in Charterhouse Square, it would be good to discover where these other buildings are located. I would pay to go on a charabanc architectural tour. Now, courtesy of Ian Clark, one of my readers, I’m able to reveal the factory is in Nottingham. What we see is owned by Boots the Chemists, now part of Alliance Boots. The external scene is the D6 building. The interior staircase scene is actually from the D10 factory unit next door.

The staircase and real star of the show

Anyway, back to the story, we have Hugh Fraser reprising his role as Captain Hastings and Pauline Moran as Miss Lemon. The good Captain is off to play in one of these gentlemen’s golf competitions while Hercule Poirot is invited to view the Astwell collection of Belgian miniatures — statues that are notorious for being the largest miniatures ever made. This gets us into the house where the unlikeable Sir Reuben is struck down in his study. This interpretation of the plot gives the impression we’re looking for a nest of Nazi spies intent on stealing the formula for this new synthetic rubber. Except it appears Sir Reuben was intent on selling the manufacturing rights to IG Farben, the major German chemical company of the day. So perhaps we’re looking for a hero who wanted to keep the secret for the British military. Or perhaps everyone who knew Sir Reuben recognised a deeply unpleasant man and wanted to kill him. This would make the synthetic rubber a red herring — a fish endowed with great tensile strength. Lining up as obvious suspects are the research scientist doing the work, Horace Trefusis (Bill Wallis), the brother Victor Astwell (Ian Gelder), Lady Astwell (Ann Bell) the wife in a loveless marriage, and Charles (Jonny Phillips), the son. There’s also the dodgy companion, Lilly Margrave (Adie Allen), and the burglar apparently called Humphrey Nailor (Andrew Seear).

Dennis Lill as the unlovable Sir Reuben Astwell

There are moments of silliness, of course. For example, the chase to London is based on the hypothesis that a criminal would give his correct home address when signing the register to stay at a hotel. Miss Lemon suddenly being recruited as a hypnotist is also memorably risible. But, taken as a whole, this is probably the best shot Bill Craig could make to stretch everything out to an hour, allowing for ad breaks. The answer comes by a process of elimination. When you have everyone in the same room and work your way carefully through what they actually did, there’s only one person left. The reason is not something we could have known. Poirot knows because he read a file but forget to tell us what he read.

In the end, Captain Hastings is allowed to get a hole-in-one (not in the least due to Miss Lemon’s powers of hypnotism, of course) while the good Hercule Poirot looks on through his telescope, proud of the little people he surrounds himself with. Underdog makes good television.

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 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: 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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