“The Chocolate Box” and Curtain: a compare/contrast

***SPOILERS for both stories!***

In Christie’s Poirot canon, one of the most obvious side-by-side story comparisons one can do is The Mysterious Affair at Styles and Curtain. Christie herself, in Curtain, takes pains to point out the similarities between the first and the last of the Poirot novels. In this way, she brings Poirot “full circle.”

A less-obvious comparison might be “The Chocolate Box” and Curtain. But again, we have a matter of extremes: “The Chocolate Box” is the earliest chronological case that we ever hear about, when Poirot is a policeman in Belgium, while Curtain is the final case of Poirot’s life. You mightn’t think it at first– and I don’t suggest that this was all deliberate on Christie’s part– but there are some really unique points shared in these stories. Let’s do a little compare/contrast! 🙂

**********

-In each story, there is a “big reveal” murderer who is a sympathetic figure (Madame Déroulard, Poirot). This person has killed the “secondary” murderer (a villain) out of beneficence: to avenge untraceable murder and to protect future victims. We only discover how dirty the secondary murderer played when the big reveal comes.

-Each of these involve the rare cases of Poirot stories in which murderers get away with their crime without the general public ever knowing. And yet, in Christie (as Poirot often states), no murderer ever really gets away with it. The author is scrupulously fair and is careful when working in her contingencies. Both murderers are sick and elderly– they ARE going to die imminently regardless, long before a trial could ever be held for them. This also happens in “Dead Man’s Mirror,” and is a tactic Christie sometimes uses when the reader is especially sympathetic to the killer. The killer pays for their crime in a way and has a reckoning, but without being exposed to public disgrace. As a contrast, the sick, elderly killers in each story have this difference: as per Christie, Poirot allows nature to take its course with his death, not wishing to become the sort of egomanic, brilliant vigilante murderer that his own nature could have succumbed to. (Sorry, TV adaptation, but I don’t buy the idea that refraining from the amyl nitrite was itself “suicide remorse” and an attempt to avoid the hangman; I give my reasoning here.) Madame D. has not (as far as we know!) orchestrated her own impending death.

-Comparing and contrasting motive and struggle: Poirot and Madame D. are both devout Catholics. There is some measure of religious motivation in the murder of “TCB,” but none in Curtain. (Although I think an excellent paper could be written about Norton as satanic archetype, and how Poirot’s unusual line in the TV adaption about wanting to “damn him to hell” works well along those lines. That’s another blog post…) There is, however, faith-centered soul-searching going on with both characters, and given visual cred in the TV episodes. There is both a personal and a communal– even nation-wide– threat that the villains present to those who eventually murder them. The “last straw” for each of the beneficent killers is, you might say, when things get personal with new, would-be threats to loved ones that are both physical and existential. Paul D. not only killed a woman’s body (his wife), but aims to kill another’s soul (Virginie). Likewise, Norton goes after Hastings as a victim by not only attempting to pin murder and its fatal consequences on him, but by what Poirot sees as a real corruption and distortion of Hastings’ own essence, which is not that of a killer. Also, Poirot and Madame D. are each burdened with the contemplation that in refraining from action, they themselves had complicity with the villains’ murders. Only Madame D. had seen and knew of her son’s murder of his wife, but she was powerless to bring him to justice, as no one would believer her. Only Poirot had the deductive powers to perceive Norton’s game, but was likewise powerless to bring him to justice and (more importantly) to protect his many innocent victims.

-You could say, therefore, that both the beginning and the end of Poirot’s detective career as we know it are stories of failures. There is a sense in which Curtain is a “success,” insofar as Poirot’s plan is carefully weighed, flawlessly executed, and intellectually satisfying. But it is certainly not a happy triumph, but more of a sad inevitability, perceived as a lesser-of-two-evils necessity. This is ironic when one considers how the rest of Poirot’s career reads as unbroken success. What the failures in these two stories reveal is the character’s relation to humility. In “TCB,” Poirot has a humorously short-lived brush with modesty, asking Hastings to say “chocolate box” as a cure for any future conceit on his part. In my opinion, the issue of modesty and humility really finds its full circle for Poirot from “TCB” to Curtain. A contrast between the characters is that Madame D. confesses with her head held high, perfectly willing to answer for her murder before the good God. Poirot, faced with limited options for justice and the protection of the innocent in Curtain, gives in to murder, but does so without such certainly of rectitude and justification. His appeal is to God’s mercy.

-The medication used as a poison in “TCB” was trinitrin, a medicinal form of nitroglycerin that relieves angina pain and is used with various heart conditions. In Curtain, Poirot uses amyl nitrite, a similar substance, as treatment for his angina. The application of the heart med is what kills the victim in “TCB”; the withholding of the heart med seems instrumental to the acceleration of the hero’s death in Curtain. Paul D. was thought to have died of heart failure, which Virginie strongly disbelieves on account of his otherwise excellent health. Poirot actually does die of a heart attack, and no one but Hastings seems to suspect foul play, and that only because Poirot was after the killer, X.

-Let’s talk about the role of chocolate! John Wilson’s tiny trinitrin tablets, used by the murderer were made of chocolate, presumably to disguise the awful taste. Drugged chocolate kills the victim in “TCB.” Drugged chocolate saves Hastings from worse than death in Curtain; it also incapacitates Poirot’s victim!

-Virginie M. and Elizabeth Cole have special roles in their respective stories. Each have a personal intuition that something is not quite right with a past death. Virginie asks Poirot to investigate Paul D.’s death, suspecting murder; Elizabeth Cole confides in Hastings that somehow, she always felt that “it wasn’t Margaret,” her sister, who killed their father. In the TV adaptation TCB, Poirot introduces Virginie (unknowingly) to her future husband. In Curtain, Poirot deliberately introduces Elizabeth Cole to Hastings and later encourages a match.

-In the TV adaptation TCB, Virginie gives a very Judith-like spiel to Saint-Alarde (trying to entrap him) about how some murders are morally justifiable if it means saving others.

-Both stories, including their dramatizations, show Poirot sneaking around houses to burgle and whatnot. This is ALWAYS fun. 🙂

-This might sound trivial, but it is still significant in the adaptations: Poirot’s definite lack of extra padding in both stories, due to either youth or old age. And some significant scene contrasts: just watch Poirot booking it down the stairs of his apartment building in TCB, compared to being carried down the staircase by Curtiss in Curtain!

-Both stories in their televised adaptations are notable for their emphases on Poirot’s loneliness. Not only is he forced to act in a lone-wolf capacity as an investigator due to the unique nature of the cases, but his lack in the area of personal relationships is hard to miss as well.

-Finally, both stories share a factor that sets them apart from all other Poirot stories: a substantial, first-person narrative confession to Hastings. The story “The Lost Mine” also contains a long first-person narrative of Poirot’s, but it is not a confession of error or wrongdoing.

Advertisements

The Chocolate Box: a graphic

I’m working on a longer blog post about this episode, but I thought I’d get this out of my system first. There are a few interesting discrepancies in The Chocolate Box, but this might be my favorite… 🙂

Four and Twenty Blackbirds: episode overview

I haven’t done an episode review for awhile now, so here’s one I’ve been mulling over in the last few days.  🙂

Things I Loved:

Making Poirot’s friend Bonnington his dentist also. Doing this scores a couple of script writing points. First, it provides some insight to Poirot’s character which is reiterated elsewhere in the series (he hates going to the dentist). Second, Poirot’s aching bicuspid makes a convenient excuse for him to meet with Bonnington a second time, so he can hear the news of Henry Gascoigne’s death; in Christie’s original, they meet again randomly on the Tube. Finally and most importantly, it makes the references to the dead man’s teeth seem natural and consistent with the rest of the story, and serves to slightly conceal the vital clue.

The contrast of the opening scene. Brighton’s frivolous outdoor revelry is sharply contrasted by the interior shot of the dying Anthony Gascoigne.

A tiny detail in the closing scene, but I thought it was great anyway– when the lads are gathered again at the restaurant at the end, you see Molly come through the shot from the back left, bearing two plates of a dessert that might conceivably be the blackberry crumble and depositing them before customers. This is an exact parallel of one of the last lines of Christie’s story, and I appreciated the touch.

Mrs Mullen, the neighbor of Henry Gascoigne, treating Poirot like he’s deaf or unable to speak English– SO funny.

-Bringing food into the rest of the story. Many of the early scripts, especially those based on the “slighter” short stories, take elements from Christie’s original and incorporate the themes into the other characters’ storylines. (For example, in The Cornish Mystery, Mrs Pengelley’s digestive troubles and diagnosed “gastritis” parallel Hastings’ stomach issues and diet.) The crux of Four and Twenty Blackbirds is one man’s eating habits which give away a crime. The script writer for this episode adds the delightful scene of Poirot cooking for Hastings, which is also a good excuse to throw in some Belgian references. The line, “Please– do not be stinting with your praise” is one of my all-time favorite moments of Poirot vanity.  🙂

Miss Lemon’s wireless program. She is listening to a radio drama featuring A.J. Raffles, “London’s Man of Mystery.” He and his sidekick Bunny were modeled from Holmes and Watson; she describes Raffles as “such a dashing figure.” You could read this as an early indication that Miss Lemon finds the whole renowned-London-detective-character attractive, and it elicits a very interesting look on Poirot’s face when he hears it. Of course, in the books, Miss Lemon wouldn’t touch detective fiction with a ten-foot pole (see: Dead Man’s Folly), but the discrepancy doesn’t trouble me. Oh, and the fictional Raffles is also a CRICKETER! Considering Hastings’ cricket mania in this episode, is this a coincidence?

-The forensics team at Scotland Yard, which would go on to send Poirot a get-well message after his bout of food poisoning in Evil Under the Sun.  😀  And Japp absolutely cracks me up in the scene at the Yard in which Poirot is trying to wheedle some information out of him. His “scrap heap of scrap” and his “I didn’t”… ha! And in the midst of the humor, and despite his skepticism of Poirot’s interest, you nonetheless get a good sense of Japp’s own intelligence here.

-Speaking of which, I need to hold forth about the denouement of this episode. This is the very first of Poirot’s many dramatic, public reveals. He (rather outrageously) brings the whole Scotland Yard forensic department onto Lorrimer’s stage. When Lorrimer tries to make a dash for it, he is blinded by stage lighting and cops appear to cover all exits. It is done in truly over-the-top theatrical style– practically music-hall, indeed– and foreshadows future denouements with a calculated theatrical setting (Problem at Sea, Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan, Lord Edgware Dies, Three Act Tragedy, The Big Four). But what stood out to me in this early “big reveal” was a reminder of one of the reasons that David Suchet manages the character of Hercule Poirot so well. It’s one thing to say that he’s a great actor and does his homework and all that– true, but the same can be said for Ustinov and Branagh, and I don’t really want their Poirots. There is a combination of characteristics that Suchet seems to have a natural facility for playing really, really well. The “foreigner” is an obvious one. But in dramatic reveals like this one, a duality in Poirot’s personality is displayed in striking fashion: on the one hand, an extremely charming and/or charismatic gentleman; on the other, a figure who is ruthless to the point of death, and deadly terrifying as a result. Several of Suchet’s very best roles of screen and stage have featured this duality of character, including Robert Maxwell, Rudi Waltz, Melmotte, and Iago. Christie wrote this contrast into her own character, and to see someone of Suchet’s experience and skill have at it is absolutely inspirational.

Things I Didn’t Love:

-Hastings himself was a bit weirded out by the vaguely voyeuristic overtones of the awkward moment in the gallery when Dulcie Lang is posing for a life class. I mean, points for character representation of Hastings, I guess. Not devastating or anything as a moment, but awkward.

-For all the fun of the denouement, there were some curious choices in the general unraveling of the crime. The biggest clue in the story were the “blackbirds”– or blackberries– that the dead man with the unstained teeth was supposed to have eaten. This discovery of Poirot’s was revealed not at the climax of the story, but in the middle. Likewise, the supposition that the last meal that Gascoigne had eaten was not dinner, but lunch, became a deduction made along the way. The dramatic denouement was really more about informing Lorrimer how much tangible evidence they had against him. Part of me wanted a bit more recap at the very end as to just why Lorrimer’s performance was “fatally flawed” (mainly, because he forgot to eat like his uncle).

Things That Confused Me:

-If you were already familiar with the story, the dynamic shifts in the TV plot may cause a little confusion generally. In the book, Anthony Gascoigne had married a rich wife and was consequently well off, while brother Henry was an “extremely bad” artist who was poor. Lorrimer had to wait until Anthony died, because the money would come to his brother, who he had to kill shortly afterward, hence the careful timing of the murder. In the episode, Anthony may or may not have been well off, but Henry was, including assets that could only be sold after his death. If Henry Gascoigne is the rich one, why does Lorrimer have to wait until after Anthony dies to kill Henry? Instead of the chain of inheritance, the focus is shifted so that the very existence of Anthony serves to provide other plot elements: another suspect for the impersonator, some background as to the brothers’ quarrel and the influence of an artist’s model, and just general red herring-ness. It seems the story almost could have been told without Anthony.

-It was something that puzzled me in the book as well– how does George Lorrimer know that Anthony Gascoigne had made no will (or in the book, no recent will at least)? Since the twin brothers had a very long-standing quarrel, it makes sense that they’d consider cutting each other out of their wills if they’d had any.

-Why does Mrs Mullen, the observant neighbor, unlock the door of Gascoigne’s house and let Poirot and Hastings in, since she’s so suspicious of them? And if she knew that Dulcie Lang was upstairs, why “break in” at all– why not just ring?

-In Poirot’s first meeting with Dulcie Lang, he surreptitiously cuts a small piece of blotting paper from the blotter on Henry Gascoigne’s desk. We don’t discover what this is all about until the stage scene, where he reveals how the deception with the smudged postmark was done. But surely there is no way Poirot could have guessed at that point that the tiny blotter smudges he first saw on Gascoigne’s desk were of any relevance to his death.

-Are we supposed to believe that Dulcie Lang’s passionate retort that she would never part with Gascoigne’s paintings at any price indicates some romantic interest? It kind of comes across that way– and the deceased was not young, just saying.

-The restaurant in the book was called the Gallant Endeavor. This was changed to the Bishop’s Chophouse in the episode, and was accordingly filmed at the oldest chophouse in England, Simpson’s Tavern. This is all well and good, since the Gallant Endeavor is supposed to be extremely British in its cuisine, shunning all things hinting of the continental, and has all the marks of a chophouse. However, I don’t really understand why the sign “Simpson’s” is clearly visible on the outside of the restaurant as it was filmed, as characters in the episode clearly refer to it as the Bishop’s Chophouse.

************

Conclusion: What can I say? I do love it! In all of its inimitable, sweater-vested glory!  🙂

Poirot, Jeeves & Wooster

Now that I’ve watched through the Jeeves & Wooster series several times and read a number of the books (all highly recommended), I feel vaguely qualified to do a bit of comparing and contrasting between it and Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

It seemed a logical move. After all, the two series do have several rather notable things in common. Here’s some listage for you.


Compare…

• Both were produced, in the late ’80s- early ’90s, by Brian Eastman.
• Both are heavily defined by some excellent Clive Exton scripts. He adapted well and maintained quite a lot of the original authors’ dialogue and atmosphere, to the lasting satisfaction of hard-core fans. Speaking of which…
• Both series feature source material from 20th-century British authors that are known to be #1 in their genre. Not just close, but actually at the very top. You don’t get more superlative than Christie in mystery and Wodehouse in humor.
• The title character actors in the two series– namely, David Suchet, Stephen Fry, and Hugh Laurie– are unquestionably some of the greatest talents England has ever seen fit to put on screen. And they all do great accents. 🙂
• Gorgeous sets, gorgeous locations, gorgeous clothes. All the great visuals of well-done period drama. Not to mention snappy theme songs.
• Eastman deliberately infused both shows with a cultivated domesticity that further endeared the characters to the viewer. There is an unmistakable “family” atmosphere at Whitehaven Mansions and Berkeley Mansions.
• Likewise, the shows are quite family-friendly, remaining consistent with the original authors’ material.
• The original stories which form both series include bachelor gentlemen friends sharing a flat and moving in more-or-less upper-class English society. One of the pair is super-intelligent, sartorially impeccable, and great at solving problems; the other is pleasant but not terribly bright, and serves as a frequent stooge and an admiring chronicler of the tales. This is very “Sherlock Holmes” in setup, but in both cases, the authors subvert things in their own ways: Christie makes her brainy cove an eccentric Belgian, while Wodehouse makes his “hero” the servant.

Contrast…

• Brian Eastman made a deliberate decision with Poirot to not include the character of George in those early episodes. This was entirely because he was working on Jeeves & Wooster simultaneously, and didn’t want another series with a valet! This led to greater emphasis on the character of Miss Lemon instead. Another result is that Hastings (patient soul that he is) ends up performing a number of minor tasks that you might normally associate with a valet, although he isn’t really employed in that capacity– paying cab fare and tips, helping with the jacket, nabbing drinks, and so on. To contrast Poirot’s actual valet, George, with Jeeves– it is clear that although George is a sort of paragon in his own way (he must be to come up to Poirot’s standard), he doesn’t possess nearly as much imagination or intelligence as Jeeves. Still, in the books at least, George is instrumental in helping Poirot with some of his cases (“The Under Dog,” “The Lernean Hydra”).
• Because Eastman produced, and Clive Exton scripted, ALL of Jeeves, there is greater consistency in the feel of the shows in many respects. The fact that it ran only four seasons would also be a contributing factor. Poirot, on the other hand, spanned some 25 years, with various script writers and others dealing with production. On the other hand, Jeeves & Wooster has a tremendous inconsistency in casting; Fry and Laurie are in every episode, but nearly every other important character is played by multiple actors, which can result in very confusing viewing. Only rarely in Poirot is a different actor cast for the same role (e.g. Vera Rossakoff). And Suchet’s consistency in the role over a 25-year-span is impressive, to say the least.
• There are some locations shared in common, as is typical in British period drama. Halton House, for example, appears in The Labours of Hercules as well as “Bertie Sets Sail.” Yet there isn’t quite as much location overlap as one might expect. Since Jeeves & Wooster leans “1920s” and Poirot is set firmly in the 1930s, and careful decisions were made regarding period architecture, there is some significant divergence here. Including…
• Although we often think of Agatha Christie’s cozy mysteries in an English country house setting, it seemed to me (correct me if I’m wrong) that Jeeves & Wooster takes us out into the country more often, despite Bertie’s preference for the metrop, while Poirot’s cases were quite often right in the city. Obviously there are a number of exceptions. But this may be because the Jeeves stories generally revolve around Bertie’s family and friends, many of whom are extremely rich and live in these huge country houses.
• If we are contrasting Hastings with the character of Bertie Wooster, we will find that Hastings is, understandably, not nearly so silly. Their manners of speech are quite different. In themselves, there are few great similarities beyond their time at Eton. But I’ve been wondering if Clive Exton didn’t deliberately (or not) imbue some of his Poirot scripts with Wodehousian moments. Hugh Fraser’s Hastings becomes known for his catch-phrases, including “I say!” But offhand, I can only recall Christie putting those words into Hastings’ mouth once– in Black Coffee! But Wooster is always dropping “I says” all over the place. Consider his very first words after meeting Jeeves. Another scene that suggests Wodehouse is at the beginning of The Incredible Theft, in which Hastings is lying on the couch, rambling about cubic “whatsits” and “thingummies.” Again, words never used by Christie’s character, but by Wodehouse’s. Exton’s adaptation of The Veiled Lady includes Poirot chastening Hastings for leaving him “in the soup”– never used by Poirot in the books, but a ubiquitous phrase Wodehouse uses for describing Bertie Wooster getting into trouble. And in Murder in the Mews, Poirot disparagingly asks: “‘The thing,’ Hastings? You think Poirot concerns himself with mere thingness?” The use of “thingness” is pure Wodehouse.

Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse– I don’t think you can possibly enjoy one without loving the other as well. Hercule Poirot is even mentioned in more than one of the Jeeves novels (Wooster being a big fan of detective fiction). For example:

“I mean, imagine how some unfortunate Master Criminal would feel, on coming down to do a murder at the old Grange, if he found that not only was Sherlock Holmes putting in the weekend there, but Hercule Poirot, as well” (The Code of the Woosters).

Christie, for her part, dedicated her Poirot novel Hallowe’en Party to Wodehouse.

“To P.G. Wodehouse – whose books and stories have brightened up my life for many years. Also, to show my pleasure in his having been kind enough to tell me he enjoyed my books.”

So, gentle blog reader, not only should you get watching– get reading, too! 🙂

Poirot sings

A few random notes about Poirot’s singing. Off the top of my head, I can think of two instances in the books where he sings (diligent readers may possibly think of others). He is said to sing in “a hesitant baritone” as well as affecting “an abominable falsetto voice”!

Hercule Poirot essayed in a hesitant baritone.

‘The proud have laid a snare for me,’ he sang, ‘and spread a net with cords: yea, and set traps in my way…’

-One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

***

‘Yes. To hum a tune is extremely dangerous. It reveals the unconscious mind. The tune you hummed dates, I think from the days of the war. Comme ça,’ Poirot sang in an abominable falsetto voice:

‘Some of the time I love a brunette,
Some of the time I love a blonde
(Who comes from Eden by way of Sweden).’

-The A.B.C. Murders

***

I think it is safe to say that Poirot is not much of a singer. 🙂  In the television series, we distinctly hear Poirot’s singing voice (hesitant remains a pretty good adjective to use) in a few places: The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly, The Theft of the Royal Ruby, and The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Neither adaptions of One, Two, Buckle My Shoe nor The A.B.C. Murders feature Christie’s scenes of Poirot’s singing in church and to tease Hastings, respectively.

In Johnnie Waverly, Poirot and Hastings encounter a disappointing buffet breakfast at the home of their host, and subsequently decide to nip off in the car in pursuit of sustenance at an inn. While riding back, Hastings (perhaps cheered by his recent pint) seems to initiate the singing of the children’s folk song, “One Man Went to Mow.”

The Theft of the Royal Ruby sees Poirot as a guest of a renowned Egyptologist and his family at Christmastime. On Christmas Day, we see Poirot and company in church while our favorite detective is schooled on the proper vocal arrangement of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”

And in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Poirot (in a burst of enthusiasm for the British war effort) leads his merry band of fellow Belgian refugees in a sort-of rousing chorus of “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.”

Perhaps I shouldn’t mention it here, but since I have the photo up anyway– remember how Poirot points out that Mrs. Inglethorp has extended hospitality to himself and *seven* of his fellow countrymen who are refugees? Count the number of Belgians trailing along after Poirot. Are my eyes deceiving me, or is that actually eight men?

Here’s another photo. Who’s the mysterious extra man?

Anyway, getting back to the point of singing…

Suchet does not consider himself much of a singer, and as a matter of fact you’ll rarely see him singing in his screen roles. But there is a rare occurrence of such in the film When the Whales Came, and coincidentally, his character is once again singing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” In a decidedly inebriated state! (When the Whales Came is also set at the time of the Great War, hence the choice of song, and the music for the film was by Christopher Gunning. Small world, eh?)

Problem at Sea: episode overview

***Spoilers as always***

Things I loved:

1.) Everything Hastings! “Problem at Sea” was a Hastings-less short story of Christie’s, but as usual, he was written into this earlier episode. In some ways, his involvement with this plot is more incidental than terrifically important, but whenever he shows up, he’s adorable and endearing. Some notable moments: his arrangement of the clay pigeon shooting tournament; Poirot’s unsuccessful attempt to engage him in conversation with Miss Henderson (“Oh, Hastings, Hastings, Hastings”); his participation in the “usual sort of tourist things” he’d planned to avoid in Egypt (and Poirot’s serious analysis of the photo poses); his successful nabbing of a jewel thief. If you didn’t love Hastings already, you definitely loved him by this first-season episode.

2.) Some of the additions used to bolster the plot. “Problem at Sea” is one of Christie’s more “slight” stories, one that requires some padding to make it work onscreen. Using the arranged entertainment on the ship was a clever way to introduce Ismene and her dolls, tying it into the ventriloquism thing. To make General Forbes have a romantic interest in Mrs. Clapperton was also natural, I think, considering that in the book, he rails against Col. Clapperton as a fraud. It might feel a bit of a stretch to think of anyone sustaining an interest in Mrs. Clapperton, but that’s just because the role was played with such perfectly-appropriate odiousness.

3.) Pamela and Kitty were hilarious. Well done.  🙂

4.) The wardrobe. I mentioned the wardrobe already in my review of Triangle at Rhodes— it’s great throughout the series– but what stands out to me in Problem at Sea is Poirot’s wardrobe. Some of my favorite outfits of his are unique to this episode. Hastings, also, sports some great clothes, including casual wear that is not often seen in the series.

5.) Suchet’s dramatic delivery of the denouement. Absolutely spine-tingling, just as it was intended to be in the book.

Things I didn’t love:

1.) Despite the wonderful delivery mentioned above, the script’s climax was written to be much less dramatic than the book. And this is my primary criticism. What makes the story interesting is not really Clapperton being a ventriloquist; in fact, that’s certainly one of Christie’s most unoriginal solutions, in my opinion. What makes the story fascinating is that Poirot knows that Clapperton has a weak heart and deliberately shocks the crud out of everyone with his dramatic denouement– purposefully sending Clapperton to his death from shock. When confronted by Ellie Henderson for his “cruel trick,” the story ends with this ominous, ironic, and chilling statement:

“I do not approve of murder,” said Hercule Poirot.

In other words, Poirot basically murdered the guy because he didn’t approve of murder. This was, perhaps, considered too much for the TV audience to handle, or something. But it’s what makes the whole story intriguing.

2.) I wanted Mrs. Clapperton’s voice to be more distinctively annoying than it was. Its very shrillness is part of what made it possible for her husband to imitate it so convincingly. In the episode, it was a little hard to believe he had so accurately imitated the woman’s voice that came through the other side of the door…

3.) Col. Clapperton’s stiffness at supposedly being “found out” during the card trick rang a bit hollow to me, and sounded more like he was angry or offended rather than embarrassed.

4.) I didn’t understand the point of some of the characters. The Tollivers, for example, seemed to have no real reason for existing. (And their first names are Oliver and Molly– Ollie and Molly Tolliver! Ack.) Also, although no one (except Forbes, apparently) likes Mrs. Clapperton, it is perhaps a bit difficult for the viewer to formulate ideas on why she would have been murdered. There’s the money and jewel-robbery angle, but that is pretty quickly diffused by Poirot. It’s impossible to suspect the two girls. Forbes, old Mr. Russell, a random bead-seller, or the Morgan sisters? Meh. The only people one suspects at all are the husband or Ellie Henderson.

Things that really confused me:

1.) Pamela and Kitty are chasing after Col. Clapperton, described by Christie as a “tall, soldierly-looking man.” Now, no disrespect intended to John Normington. But HASTINGS IS ON BOARD. Seriously– who ought Pam and Kitty be clamoring after? Seriously? I’ll tell you:

And there’s no excuse. Pam and Kitty can’t even be mere gold-diggers, because Clapperton’s wife is the one who has all the money.

2.) The amber beads. First, when they were found near the body, Poirot doesn’t scold Hastings for picking them up and possibly ruining fingerprint evidence. Second, Poirot asserts at the end that the beads were definitely not Ellie Henderson’s, despite the fact that they look identical to the ones she bought. How does he know they weren’t hers, and that someone didn’t just take them because they were convenient to plant suspicion on either her or a bead-seller? She had mentioned earlier that she lost her beads; why insist those weren’t hers? That seems rather an odd coincidence.

problem25

3.) I really wanted to know more of the back story hinted at when Hastings and Bates are standing on the deck. Hastings bemoans the woman inside singing “The Army of Today’s All Right” and “The Kashmiri Love Song,” after he’d explicitly asked for no soldier songs or Indian love lyrics. “We’re all civilians now, Bates.” In the midst of all the comic moments Hastings supplies, this is a rare glimpse of something dark in Hastings’ past, probably related to his military service. The Mysterious Affair at Styles and Curtain are almost the only stories that hint of this past, but incorrigible fans want to know more!

Conclusion: An episode with plenty of fun. Not the most brilliant of scripts, but very well-delivered, including one of Poirot’s best denouement speeches of the earlier episodes. Some great character development for Hastings, too.

 

Miniature room box #2: The study

I’ve been mostly finished the miniature study for some time, but I’ve been waiting for ages to get the shelves I ordered. Well, they came yesterday at last! There are still one or two things I’m waiting on, a standing lamp in particular, so I borrowed a lamp from the sitting room to help light things up in the meantime. Here it is…

Here’s a bit of an overhead view of the desk. On it, you can see a little green-shaded desk lamp, a calendar (anachronistically dated 2006!), a black vintage phone, a letter-holder, an inkstand and letter-opener, and that little verdigris antelope statuette that Poirot has on his desk in the latter episodes. (I made that out of Sculpey and painted it.) Also part of the desk set is a blotter, a fountain pen, a magnifying glass, and a bridge score pad. Perhaps Poirot is investigating Cards on the Table?  🙂  I made the chair on the right with some bendy brass rods and upholstered it with the same fabric I used on the window curtain and the cushions in the sitting room– the chair is actually very unstable! I was delighted to have found the brass clothing valet in the back left there, which you can also see in his study in the latter episodes. The floor lamp actually belongs on a table in the sitting room; I brought it here for a bit more light. The little bonsai tree I also made, not liking the ones I saw in stores, and put it on a little Art Deco table with scissors on the shelf beneath.

You may have seen this shot before, but I’ve made changes. The Japanese prints are still there, but I’ve exchanged white lilies for yellow irises (in reference to the story). The mini clock here really works; it’s very Art Deco-looking. I scored it off a friend of a friend for $1.  🙂  The ashtray includes a tiny black cigarette, the kind it is Poirot’s affectation to smoke. The brass coat rack really doesn’t belong here; that’s where the standing lamp is supposed to be. It would be an inconvenient location for a coat rack. But I live in hope of one day making a fourth room, a hallway and perhaps Miss Lemon’s office.

The scene of Prague appears in several places in the earlier episodes, most noticeably in the sitting room of his flat. I stuck it here in the study with a picture light. The mini barometer I made as a model of the one in his second flat (see the first bit of Third Girl for a good glimpse of it). I believe that one was loaned to the set by Suchet, who apparently collects barometers. The chess set is pretty self-explanatory. The umbrella and cane stand is meant to be transferred to Future Room #4 as mentioned above.  🙂  The Chinese curio shelf includes such trifles as a ball of malachite, a sheep figurine, a compass, a crystal specimen or two, and a Chinese coin.

The bookshelf is one of the most fun parts of the room. Delightful to fill it up! The “pottery” on the top shelf are actually dollar store beads.  🙂 I moved things from elsewhere to the shelf, including the running deer statue, the copy of Murder on the Orient Express, the copy of Blue Train (on the top left, propped up), and the globe that I used to have on the desk.

Detail. Notice the golden sphinx figurine (a reference to Poirot’s journeys to Egypt). I also moved First Steps in Russian to the bottom left shelf, as it was too big to stand up!

On the second shelf on the left, you can see a Pieta statuette; it is holding up the loose books in that shelf, including the one right next to it: Agatha Christie’s A Pocket Full of Rye!

More detail. On the bottom shelf is a series of medical reference books– VERY useful! Also, I painted up a series of Ariadne Oliver novels, which are next to them. You may remember that Poirot has a set of her books in his office, right behind his chair.  🙂  The turquoise “jar” is another bead.

Poirot bikes past Claude Langton’s house in The Veiled Lady

Remember Claude Langton from Wasps’ Nest? Who can forget either Peter Capaldi’s performance or that funky zigzag door on his character’s stylish Art Deco house?  🙂

I only just noticed, while re-watching The Veiled Lady yesterday, that Poirot bikes past this same house while on his way to the blackmailer Lavington’s to “case the joint.” Lavington is said to live in Wimbledon. I don’t know exactly where this house is located, except that it’s somewhere in Surrey. So, that’s all right.  🙂

“Good pictures”: the Japanese prints in Poirot’s study

When I see art used for the set, I tend to be curious as to where it came from. In Taken at the Flood, David Hunter and Rosalind are perusing Poirot’s new flat. Hunter wryly comments on the “good pictures” that Poirot has, referencing a couple of Japanese wood block prints. You were wondering about those prints that caught Hunter’s eye, weren’t you? Of course you were…  😉

I finally managed to track down the one on the right, anyway. It appears to be by Kunisada II: “Actors Bandô Hikosaburô V as Akogi Gennojô and Onoe Kikugorô IV as the Female Street Musician (Onnadayû) Ohaya.” This print was purchased and had been donated to an American museum by the early 20th century.

Japanese wood block prints became fashionable throughout Europe in the 19th century, and the art of Japan came to influence genres from clothing fashion to the fine arts. Van Gogh was an avid collector of Japanese prints, and the flat, vivid, outlined imagery would come to be seen in his own work and that of others of the Post-Impressionist and Expressionist movements. Poirot’s second flat was full of the fashionably continental.

And it would be a picture of actors, wouldn’t it.  🙂

I included miniature paintings of these two prints in my own 1:12-scale Poirot study.

Poirot’s sitting-room painting of… Prague?

Since I’ve been creating certain set pieces in miniature, it has led to an investigation of various artworks that appear in Poirot’s flat(s). For fans of the show, one of the best-known paintings has to be the muted architectural scene that appears behind the fruit bowl in Flat #1. I’ve previously blogged about how Poirot seems to have been abnormally attached to this piece: it was first situated in his Belgian apartment building; then he seems to have nabbed it and take it to his first English residence in Styles St. Mary; and even after he “retires” to grow vegetable marrows, he conveys it to The Larches!

I became curious about that image, and reverse-image-searching for it online had yielded no results. After creating a miniature of it, however, I decided to try again. The painting seemed a bit of an anomaly with Poirot’s other flat furnishings, I thought. In light of how the painting travels with him from Belgium, it would make sense if the picture itself was by a Belgian artist, just to connect it with the character. Indeed, I wondered if it might be a copy or print of a François Jean Louis Boulanger, a 19th-century Belgian artist (he’s called French in that link– don’t believe it!) whose style of “romantic realism” is strongly allied to the image. He painted a number of Ghent and Brussels cityscapes, so surely that would be a logical reason for the presence of that picture in the sitting room. But searching yielded nothing.

But a closer scrutiny revealed the building in Poirot’s picture as actually being the Bridge Tower of the famous Charles Bridge of Prague, Czech Republic! So much for the Belgian angle. After that revelation, further searching finally revealed the origin of the image. No paintings came up, incidentally, but a lithograph by one Vinzenz Morstadt (Czech) did:

Considering the composition, I think there can be no doubt that the painting in the sitting room was modeled after this particular lithograph. Whether the lithograph was also a painting by Morstadt that was copied, or was painted by another of his contemporaries (of whom Boulanger was one), or was just created by Joe Set Designer for the room because it looked Fittingly Continental, I cannot say. But at least most of that mystery is now elucidated, though why Poirot would be keen on a painting of Prague landmarks I also can’t say. (Incidentally, Suchet traveled to Prague for the very first time a couple of years ago. I wonder if fans in Prague have long been delighted at the sight of one of their best-known landmarks behind Poirot’s fruit bowl…?)  🙂

Framed miniature: acrylic paint, illustration board, and balsa wood.