After traveling on the Blue Train from Calais to Nice, Hercule Poirot is pressed into service to help solve the murder of heiress Ruth Kettering who is found savagely beaten in her compartment. She was the daughter of wealthy industrialist Rufus Van Alden and very much wanted a divorce. Both her husband and her lover were on the train but she had changed rooms with another passenger, Katherine Grey, so the question naturally arises as to whether she was the intended victim. Grey may also have had enemies as she had recently inherited a very large sum of money and greedy relatives had suddenly taken a interest in her. When an attempt is subsequently made on Grey's life, this appears to the case but Poirot methodically sifts through all of the clues to determine the motive and identify the killer. Written by
It's easy to tell this latter-day batch of Poirot adventures are not being made by the production company that turned out the hour-long episodes and the first group of feature-length TV movies with David Suchet. Not only are Hastings, Japp and Miss Lemon gone (along with the fine actors who played them), but so is Poirot's Arte Moderne apartment building--and any reasonable sense of time and place. These were virtues; they are sorely missed.
"Mystery of the Blue Train" has a pretty good Poirot plot with some colorful supporting players and a few effective performances, but it is so badly directed--no, ATROCIOUSLY directed--as to be a headache-inducing pain to watch. There are no establishing shots of buildings, no wide shots of ballrooms and the like, and there are dozens upon dozens of off-center closeups. Furthermore, many of the closeups are hand-held, an extremely poor choice of technique for a story set in the 1930s. The director also resorts to the very tired effects of an extraordinarily unimaginative mind: virtually every set, including some exteriors, is drenched in thick, almost impenetrable smoke. This is usually "explained" by having one or more of the characters puffing away on cigarettes--so obtrusively (including many crushed out under foot) that you begin to assume that cigarette smoking has something important to do with the plot. Especially early in the film, the director grotesquely overuses shots in or of mirrors--again so frequently that it seems that it must have an important plot explanation. In the last half, set on the Riviera, there are fewer mirror shots, but now she chooses to have blurry objects in the foreground in many, many shots. At other times, we glimpse characters in the middle distance, almost hidden by objects in the near foreground. Finally, most of this stuff--hard to see, hard to follow--is reduced further in simple watchability by being edited like a rock video. I wouldn't blame anyone who, first coming to a Suchet Poirot story with this one, swearing off ever watching another.
But ultimately, Poirot and Agatha Christie win out. Even though the gathering-of-the-suspects scene is again jaggedly edited, full of thick, opaque smoke and hampered by an overuse of extreme closeups, the story wins out over the director--who I hope never, EVER again is invited to direct an Hercule Poirot mystery.
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