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Classic Hollywood movie fan ever since I was a kid!
Favorite genres: Film Noir, crime in general, horror, adventure, comedy, history.
A classic Poirot story brought from the book right to the TV screen
For the first episodes of the then new TV series "Agatha Christie's Poirot", which was still in its 'experimental' phase - and nobody would have dreamed back then that it was to last TWENTY-FIVE seasons! - the producers picked some of Agatha Christie's short stories featuring the great detective; and they certainly made VERY good picks. Like in this case, with the fascinating case of the mysterious 'coincidence' of two brothers dying within just a few days, and the seemingly small, but Immensely important details of the meal one of them ate at his restaurant shortly before his death...
This was only the fourth episode of the first season of the series - and yet, everything's already there: David Suchet has practically 'become' Hercule Poirot (not without some additional humor for the delectation of the TV audience, but that only adds to his lovable eccentricity), the supporting cast also is formidable, and set design, costumes, hairstyles and everything else visible (or audible) are GENUINELY 20s' style in every little detail. It was already more than clear that this series would turn into something big! But this episode has also got a VERY interesting additional attraction: it takes us into both the painters' and the theatrical world of the time, AND, as the biggest contrast imaginable, in the very next scene we get an insight into a forensic laboratory of the 1920s... All in all: it's really unbelievable what a great artistic and entertainment value a 50-minute TV series episode can achieve!
David 'Poirot' Suchet really gets going!
Although this is only the third episode of this GREAT, long-running series starring David Suchet as Agatha Christie's world famous master sleuth Hercule Poirot, Mr. Suchet has already perfected his role. His French accent, his gentlemanly but slightly haughty behavior, his dry humor, his pedantry make all the keen readers of Agatha Christie's novels feel like Poirot has actually 'jumped' right out of the book and onto the TV screen! Hugh Fraser as Hastings, Philip Jackson as Japp, and Pauline Moran as Miss Lemon are also present already as the (almost) steady supporting cast - so the foundations are laid for a series that would rise to unforeseen heights in the course of the next 25 (!) years...
And besides the magnificent acting on ALL parts, we can also admire a PERFECT recreation of the atmosphere of the 1920s - everything from clothes and hairstyles to interiors to cars. Really a BIG achievement for a TV series that's still in its 'infancy', so to speak! But the producers started out with ALL the right stuff from the very beginning - and the reward turned out to be one of the most popular, most high-class and longest-running British TV series ever.
This episode, adapted from one of Poirot's 'minor' early cases, a short story first published in 1923, isn't too complicated, maybe you could even call it a little bit predictable; and yet, it's quite suspenseful, stylish, entertaining - and 'spiced' with a good dose of humor! A WONDERFUL hour of entertainment for Poirot fans, and not only...
Thirteen at Dinner (1985)
Great cast, good screenplay, but - lack of atmosphere...
Since Peter Ustinov had gained such a huge popularity playing Hercule Poirot in two great movie masterpieces, "Death on the Nile" and "Evil Under the Sun", US TV producers decided to start a series of TV movies starring him as Agatha Christie's great Belgian detective. The first one was "Thirteen at Dinner", an adaptation of one of Christie's most successful books, "Lord Edgware Dies" - and the recipe seemed perfect for a big audience success; which it actually was. Ustinov once again delivers his very own, distinctive and lovable performance of 'his' Poirot, Faye Dunaway gives a great performance in a double role, and the third 'big name' in the cast, Lee Horsley, very popular at the time among the young viewers, is an additional attraction; and the script is remarkably close to Christie's novel - the only thing missing is... any trace of a period atmosphere...
"Lord Edgware Dies" had been written in 1933 - and yet, the clothes, hairstyles, interiors (except for those of the old British manors), and even cars here are 'purely' 80s. Now, whether that choice was made for the sake of the audience or for saving extra production expenses is a mystery; fact is that it considerably weakens the artistic value of the otherwise very suspenseful and entertaining film. Alright, being a lifelong Agatha Christie fanatic, and inevitably comparing this adaptation to others, I may be a bit preoccupied; especially a young audience will certainly enjoy the movie just as it is - a well-done, highly entertaining murder mystery, with Peter Ustinov at his very best as always.
And by the way: Chief Inspector Japp, who's as always one or more steps behind Poirot in the procedure of solving the crime, is played by - David Suchet, who only a few years later would become THE perfect Hercule Poirot in the long-running, extremely successful and very authentic 30s' style British TV series!
Appointment with Death (1988)
The last, but not least of the Peter Ustinov 'Poirots'
After the two big all-star masterpieces "Death on the Nile" and "Evil Under the Sun", Peter Ustinov had really established himself in the role of Agatha Christie's master sleuth Hercule Poirot (although his outward appearance didn't quite match that of the Poirot Christie had created; but Ustinov simply gave a WONDERFUL note of his own to 'his' Poirot, which the audience took to very much); but during the 80s, unfortunately, the Poirot (TV) movies starring Ustinov were unable to keep up this former grandeur - mainly because the TV producers seemed unable or unwilling (or both) to recreate a genuine 30s' atmosphere for the adaptations of Agatha Christie's novels.
With "Appointment with Death", however, the 'old' tradition was resumed (it was a feature movie, not made for TV): once again, the costumes and hairstyles were carefully kept in late 30s' style, old cars and an old-fashioned luxury liner enhanced the period feeling - and, just like in "Death on the Nile", here, too, the audience also got to see famous landmarks in Italy and Jerusalem, and the ancient site of Qumran in Israel (not Petra in Jordan, as in the novel, because the production company was Israeli). And, once again, there also were quite some BIG names among the cast - Lauren Bacall, Piper Laurie, John Gielgud, Carrie Fisher, Hayley Mills, David Soul - ; not as many perhaps as in the two previous all-star movies, but the other, lesser-known cast members were VERY competent as well.
Except for some minor changes, the plot line is very true to Agatha Christie's original: Emily Boynton is tyrannizing her family, blackmailing her lawyer, even bullying strangers who 'threaten' to interfere with the family - in short: she is one of those people of whom you could say that they 'deserve to be murdered'; and since this is an Agatha Christie murder mystery, she IS murdered, of course... And due to her 'popularity', simply all the people who were near the scene of the crime at the time are suspicious - good that Hercule Poirot once again 'happens' to be there, too, and will no doubt throw light on the case. So now it's a kind of 'contest': which clever, experienced murder mystery fans will be able to find out the identity of the murderer before Poirot reveals it?? An enormously entertaining 'murder hunt', very stylish, with great performances and magnificent settings - one of the great neglected modern classics of the mystery genre!
Death on the Nile (1978)
A magnificent cast, opulent settings, a genuine ambiance - simply a MASTERPIECE!
After Agatha Christie's world famous fictional sleuth Hercule Poirot, the eccentric Belgian with the distinguished mustache and the brilliant 'little grey cells', had been brought to the screen again at last after many years in 1974 with "Murder on the Orient Express" starring Albert Finney, it took the producers four more years to 'dare' trying their hand at another one of Christie's most famous novels; anyway, it had to become an oeuvre able to compete with the previous film, which had been celebrated from the day of its release as one of the GREATEST movie masterpieces of all times - and yet, they DID manage!
The atmosphere of the 30s here is recreated in just the same careful way, with magnificent settings (most of them ACTUALLY genuine, since many scenes were shot on location: the Cataract Hotel in Alexandria, the Pyramids and temples of Ancient Egypt, even the original S.S. Karnak) and most beautifully designed costumes (for which Anthony Powell was awarded an Oscar), the plot, with a few little changes, is kept VERY close to the novel - and the cast, of course, quite equals that of "Murder on the Orient Express": the 'creme de la creme' of Hollywood's past and present superstars give the picture a touch of GREAT glamor. Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, Mia Farrow, Maggie Smith, David Niven, Olivia Hussey - and, of course, Peter Ustinov in the role of Hercule Poirot!
Now, inevitably we're being tempted to compare Albert Finney and Peter Ustinov and ask ourselves: who was the 'better' Poirot? From his appearance, Finney matched Agatha Christie's description more, and his behavior and movements also made us feel that the fictional Poirot had actually come 'alive'. But, on the other hand, Peter Ustinov undeniably spoke better French - and not only that: he actually managed to put his OWN stamp on the role of Hercule Poirot; and one that was so popular with the audience that he'd play the master detective five more times, both on the screen and on TV! In fact, for many people he really became 'identified' with Poirot - thanks to his continental charm, his unique humor, and of course his enormous range of facial expressions and tones of voice.
And so, with all these ingredients, this big scale production turned out not only an immediate box office hit, acclaimed and highly praised by the critics and beloved by the audience - but in the course of more than 35 years, has become a REAL modern classic, a sort of 'cult movie' for both Agatha Christie and Peter Ustinov fans; and a wonderfully suspenseful and at the same time entertaining movie to simply watch over and over again!
Evil Under the Sun (1982)
Entertainment, suspense and style brought to absolute perfection
Following the huge success of Peter Ustinov's first appearance as Hercule Poirot in "Death on the Nile" (whose artistic value certainly is equally high), the producers ventured into yet another big-scale, all-star movie adaptation of one of Agatha Christie's most famous novels: "Evil Under the Sun". Again, the cast list almost sounds like a 'Who's Who' of the most popular and brilliant actors of the time: Diana Rigg, James Mason, Maggie Smith, Jane Birkin (who both had also been with Ustinov in "Death on the Nile"), Roddy McDowall, and Colin Blakely and Denis Quilley, who both had been among the cast members of the first, and perhaps greatest, all-star Poirot movie of the 70s, "Murder on the Orient Express", with Albert Finney in the title role.
But, although not exactly responding to Poirot's appearance as Agatha Christie had always described him (a short, stocky man with pitch black hair and mustache, both smoothened with brilliantine), by now it was hugely versatile polyglot Peter Ustinov, who not only delivered a perfect French accent (no, of course Poirot is NOT French, he's Belgian, as he has got to underline constantly here as well; but his mother language IS French...), but also put his own personal stamp on the role - which would last through four more movies starring him as Poirot, until the audience had almost identified him with the Belgian sleuth.
So we must simply take "Evil Under the Sun" as it is - anyway, the 'different' Poirot is not the only change made in comparison with Agatha Christie's novel: the story was originally set on an island off the coast of Devon, and not on the obscure Mediterranean island of "Tyrania"... But then, who cares - the exotic atmosphere adds to the glamor of the cast - and of the characters: there, too, some changes were made, so that half of them are in one way or the other linked to show business. Besides that, a wonderful musical score filled with Cole Porter's greatest hits further enhances the carefully recreated late 30s' atmosphere - and contributes to the overall feeling of lightness and entertainment despite the dark and deadly goings-on...
Needless to say that there NEVER is a dull moment throughout the whole movie (actually, it's one of those movies you can just watch over and over again without getting tired of it!); and it's LITERALLY a murder hunt, not only for Poirot, but also for the audience: very cleverly presenting a 'jigsaw puzzle' of evidence and testimonies, it gives you the chance until the last moment to find out the murderer - if you can...
So, considering all those elements that so magnificently complement one another, from cast to screenplay and directing to settings and musical score, "Evil Under the Sun" undoubtedly ranks among the VERY best movie adaptations ever of the great works of Agatha Christie!
Dead Man's Folly (1986)
A very good adaptation - except for the lack of 50s' atmosphere
Of the three TV movies in which Peter Ustinov starred as Hercule Poirot (the other two being "Thirteen at Dinner" and "Murder in Three Acts"), in my humble opinion "Dead Man's Folly" is the most entertaining and suspenseful one; the script is marvelously close to Agatha Christie's novel, the cast is quite good for US TV standards, and the setting is a real old British manor, elaborately decorated, which tries to give the film a feeling of 'Old England'. BUT unfortunately, just like in the other two TV adaptations I mentioned, the producers obviously refused to create a REAL 1950s' atmosphere (the novel was written in 1956), and instead let the actors wear contemporary clothes and hairstyles of the 80s (and even use mobile phones!) - probably because that was what the audience wanted...
Anyway, as far as you can overlook those anachronisms (or in case you don't even notice them), this movie has got a very high entertainment value - mostly thanks to the protagonists, Peter Ustinov, Jean Stapleton as Poirot's highly imaginative writer friend, and Jonathan Cecil as Hastings. There's some nice humor in it (probably also for the sake of the TV audience; because in tone, the novel was quite a bit darker...), and it's a REAL murder mystery: the complicated plot unfolds slowly, and if you pay good attention to every detail and every word that's being said, you may be able to guess the murderer before Poirot presents the solution. If you're not too particular about the authenticity of the wardrobe, hairstyles, cars and music, this is an enormously enjoyable crime puzzle for every fan of the genre!
Finally on screen!!
It's a mystery worth being solved by Poirot himself why one of the VERY greatest novels Agatha Christie ever wrote had never been filmed before - but the magnificent TV series starring David Suchet, which 'took care' of literally EVERY one of Poirot's cases, finally fixed that in 2001. And the result - as was almost to be expected, considering the great expertise that everyone involved in the series had already acquired at that point - is a most STUNNING piece of TV art (which can easily compete with even the most expensive and most successful movies of its era), equally suspenseful as the novel (and that IS saying something...), with a wonderful performance, as always, by David Suchet, the undeniably BEST Poirot in film and TV history, and literally a LOVE for every little detail to be authentic 30s' style.
The settings are exotic once more here: an archaeological dig in Mesopotamia (due to the political circumstances at the time, the episode was shot in Tunisia, but actually at a REAL dig), with an expedition team consisting of various nationalities - and, of course, also all the human weaknesses that show so very clearly when a group of people is living so close together: passion, jealousy, hatred, drugs, theft... And together they all lead inevitably to - murder...
And once again, Poirot 'happens' to be at the scene of the crime; he came to Bagdad at the request of a Baroness, an 'old flame' of his (we're getting to know entirely new things about him!), and visits the dig with his friend Hastings, whose nephew happens to work there... Of course, all this wasn't in the book, but never mind - all the rest WAS; and it simply COULDN'T have been brought to the screen in a more clever, more stylish, and even more entertaining way! And in a way that lets us guess literally until the last moment about the identity of the murderer...
So, of course, we mustn't spoil anything for those who haven't seen it yet - the only thing I believe I can state with certainty is that this is one of the VERY best episodes of the whole series (which ran for 25 years!); a REAL treat for every fan of Agatha Christie, of Hercule Poirot, and of murder mysteries in general!
Back to the roots in Devon...
For every 'newbie' Agatha Christie enthusiast, this episode of the David Suchet Poirot series certainly is a great experience; a most intricate murder case set on a small island off the coast of Devon, the series' well-known protagonists Poirot, Hastings, Miss Lemon and Chief Inspector Japp in their very best shape, a very competent supporting cast, and, as always throughout the series a carefully and beautifully reconstructed 1930s' atmosphere. Those who have read the novel will find certain alterations, but none that would spoil either the plot or the atmosphere.
But it's us 'lifetime' Agatha Christie fans, who of course will know the 1982 movie starring Peter Ustinov, who will find it very difficult to answer the question: which is the better version?? Of course, the 1982 version 'transported' the whole goings-on into the Adriatic, with not only a stylish Mediterranean flair, but also a great all-star cast; the atmosphere of the 30s was being captured equally well, and there even were some elements from the novel that were changed in the 2001 version. BUT: fact is that Agatha Christie had never meant the ADRIATIC sun when she wrote that famous book with that famous title...
So I believe we must admit, that, although regarding their artistic value we could call it a tie between the two versions, there is one VITAL element here that had been eliminated in the 1982 version: the VERY British surroundings of Devon (which are captured in some magnificent landscape shots), which give us back the GENUINE atmosphere of the novel.
Besides, as mentioned before, David Suchet is simply THE 'Poirot', not only concerning his appearance, but also every little detail of his demeanor, his speech, and even his movements. The fact that the roles of Hastings, Miss Lemon and Inspector Japp are much bigger here than in the novel is probably due to their popularity with the audience, and they certainly are quite useful for the purpose of adding humor to the case; and so, in my opinion, this is one of the very best episodes of the whole series - and a rare case where an episode of a TV serial equals and in some points even surpasses a great, elaborate and hugely successful movie...
Neither classic nor classy...
Well, so from the more than 20 adaptations of one of the very best 'Sherlock Holmes' adventures, the two that are probably considered as the classic ones are the 1939 version starring Basil Rathbone - and this 1959 version starring Peter Cushing. Now, of course we should always watch a movie unbiased and without comparing it to another version - but this version is, with or without comparison a pretty mediocre adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous novel; and the fact that it's the first 'Sherlock Holmes' movie in color doesn't make it better. Rather the opposite, in fact, because the well-known British Hammer horror movies weren't exactly famed for the quality of their special effects... (If you but take a look at those great AIP 19th century period horror pictures, with Roger Corman as director and renowned stars like Vincent Price and Peter Lorre, which were made at exactly the same time...)
And what's worse, the protagonists are REALLY overdoing it and trying to surpass one another at being snobby Brits - both Peter Cushing as Holmes, and Christopher Lee as Baskerville (and they'd already starred together in another remake of a great 19th century novel adaptation which is surely inferior to the b&w version: "Dracula"...); the only sympathetic character is that of Dr. Watson, impersonated by Rene Morell (but even he couldn't reach the amiable type of Nigel Bruce from the 1939 version). The only thing that's REALLY well done here are the set decorations, through which the very synthetic 'fog' flows, and which are unfortunately much too well lighted to create a really frightening atmosphere; REAL fans of Sherlock Holmes may find this film fascinating, while to others it'll probably be a nice little mystery from 19th century England at best...