Talk about using your “leetle grey cellzz”! This DVD release is Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Collector’s Sets 11 & 12 of this 1989 series originally produced for television in England. David Suchet stars as the popular Belgian (not French or “Froggie,” as Poirot would tell you himself) sleuth made popular by everyone’s fave babe of British blood, Dame Agatha Christie. From the credits forward, I was treated to total immersion in the era, from the art deco feel of the ’30s right down to the most minor of costume details. A lot of care went into the production of this series and it shows throughout. Suchet plays the role of Hercule Poirot with such whimsy, pride, genius, humility, and has such interaction with all the other cast members during his crime solving antics that its hard not to crack a smile even though the subject is always murder most foul. Without giving away the whodunit, this set has all the twists, turns, and misdirections you’d expect, topped off with a lead character portrayed by an actor born to play this role.
Collector’s Set 11 Opens with “The Third Floor Flat,” finding Poirot restless to solve crime but instead nursing a cold in his apartment at Whitehaven Mansions. Poirot’s ever present Inspector Hastings suggests an evening’s wager over a murder mystery theatrical production that he believes Poirot incapable of solving. As one expects with Christie, murder is discovered, this time when two gentlemen (Donovan and Jimmy) mistakenly enter the victim’s apartment, 36B, while attempting to let in the keyless Patricia and Mildred of 46B. Mrs. Grant, the occupant of 36B (played by the British Who’s Line is it Anyway? regular Josie Lawrence), has been shot. What is wonderful to see is that even with dark dealings such as murder, there are moments of levity that play out. Always on tap are the very human and often humorous interplays of the people (Poirot and the inspectors for instance) who surround themselves with murder and crimes all the time. There is one exchange between Chief Inspector Japp and Poirot, simply done with the eyes and a few telling looks, that is just one example showing that the atmosphere never becomes too grim.
“Triangle at Rhodes” finds Poirot alone on holiday in Greece, where as luck conveniently has it, there is a small flock of Englishmen and ladies on holiday also. It seems no matter where the Brits are, they like to murder each other, and these wealthy socialites are no exception. The triangle is, of course, a lovers’ one, and this particular episode takes its time and delves well into the various relationships long before murder appears on the horizon. The key players in this particular murder abroad are Commander Chantry (an officious and neverendingly angry man), Valentine Chantry (his beautiful and cultured wife), Douglas Gold (a likeable young sap who seemingly has eyes for Valentine), and Marjorie Gold (his somewhat homely wife, lending believability to Doug wanting to trade up to Val). Poirot lends his unique brand of crime solving with the help of fellow Brits Major Barnes (the comic relief braggart of a military man who fakes his way through many a tall tale of fishing) and the feisty Pamela Lyall (who seems to know her way around Rhodes and clutches Poirot’s arm like a dog would a mailman covered in Snausages). All in all, it was truly amazing to see how involved in everyone’s life the cast and director made me get so that the murder actual matteredwhen it happened . . . and all this in less than an hour! Bravo, old chaps, well played!
The last episode on Set 11, “Problem At Sea”, once again finds Agatha Christie characters doing what they do best: going on holiday. As Inspector Hastings obsesses over clay pigeon shooting on a Mediterranean boat cruise, Poirot slowly gets to know the usual assortment of quirky British characters. There are the young girls on holiday, the over-the-top songstress well past her prime, a retired General, a mysterious crewman with an eyepatch and a host of others. Sadly it is Colonel John Clapperton’s wife, an odious woman who just about everyone on the ship would gladly take a hatchet to, who passes away. The best line comes when Poirot , who has gathered everyone together for the big reveal says “You are thinking the little Belgian detective is taking leave of his rocker, no?” I’d love to be a criminal because I think it would be a pleasure to be caught by Poirot, ever inventive and charming as he draws a crime to a close.
Moving on to Set 12, we broaden our view of Poirot. His contacts and acquaintances are varied and from all walks of life, and in the “King of Clubs” we are taken into the world of film-making. After Hastings and Poirot pay a visit to Bunny Saunders, (a director of “talkies”), the two sleuths quickly become involved when surly studio head Henry Reedburn is found dead at home in his library. Again, there are a variety of potential murderers, all cut from the movieworld cloth. There is Valerie Saint Clair, the famous young actress whose secret romance with Poirot’s friend, Prince Paul of Maurania, must remain under wraps. Next is disgrunted actor Ralph Walton, a terrible performer of the talkie era (within the context of the episode, not as a real actor) who was seen speeding drunkenly towards the producer’s house the night of the murder. Again we are treated to the comic rivalry between Poirot and the misguided Chief Inspector Japp, who is intent on collecting shoes from a group of local gypsies in an effort to find the murderer. Without saying too much, the ending of this one was rather surprising.
Moving on to the set’s most convoluted episode entitled “The Dream,” we see Poirot dabble in a crime that has only happened in . . . wait for it . . . yep, a dream. Late one night, with Hastings left waiting outside, Poirot is summoned to a meeting with eccentric pork pie magnate Benedict Farley in which he is told the specific details of a dream where the old millionaire sees himself committing suicide at a certain time and in a specific fashion. Poirot is unable to give him a solid opinion on this crime that has not happened and is released, only to find out later that Mr. Farley does indeed die in the manner he describes. There is speculation over possible hypnotism, but little else to go on, and Poirot finds himself vexed until he turns to his trusty aide Miss Lemon. Poirot is best when working with the reoccurring characters and this is the first time in this collection that we really get to see the chemistry between Miss Lemon and Poirot, including a highly humorous gift-giving scene.
For those who fancy a spot of relief from murder, they need look no further than the last offering on Set 12, “The Incredible Theft”. No corpses in this one, but there are much goings-on surrounding the disappearance of a crucial page of top-secret warplane plans. Much dinner party discussion (again, among the social elite) of Mussolini and Hitler show Britain on the brink of all out war in this tale of international intrigue. For if the plans fall into the wrong hands, the tides of war could indeed change with such technology gone missing. Among the suspects are Lord and Lady Mayfield (the investors on such plans), Sir George and Lady Carrington, their son, and for the first time in this entire collection, an American woman, whose spinal column (in full display with her slinky silver dress) is only rivaled by that of the Borg Hive Queen from the Star Trek series. Inspector Hastings and Chief Inspector Japp are on the scene to investigate as well with Japp once again on the wrong investigative trail as usual. The absence of murder is a nice change of pace and a fitting conclusion to this final episode of the collection.
In conclusion, this series must simply be commended on just about every level, most notably the attention to period details. Not a shot goes by without a constant reminder that you are in the upper crust, socialite ridden world of mid-1930s England. David Suchet is so engaging as Poirot that it is impossible to tire of him. His nuances with such a literary character are staggering, both comedic and serious. Moments such as Poirot roiling in frustration when his “little grey cells” are failing him, worried that old age shall affect his mental faculties, gives such depth to his passion for logic and thinking that you can’t help but join Poirot on his journey, even when he makes solving crime seem so effortless at times. Such a pleasure is this expertly crafted series that I can only hope the rest of it falls into my reviewery little clutches.
(Acorn Media, 2004)