The ghost that took over his life: Poirot’s handwriting in Curtain

“I am writing a letter to Hastings to explain all that has happened, and what makes it extraordinary is that the art department have discovered a way to create my handwriting so that I do not have to write every word myself time after time. It is as though a ghost has taken over my life.”

-David Suchet, Poirot and Me

This little detail about the final scenes of Curtain, mentioned in passing in Suchet’s book, intrigued me when I first read it. Art departments and handwriting are always of special interest! But it was only when I took a close look at what is shown on screen in this episode that his meaning became clear. (In advance: please understand that in this post, I’m not attempting any sort of “gotcha!” to said fine art department– I may have never noticed, had it not been obliquely pointed out by Suchet himself. I merely note this as something that interests me.)

It began simply by noticing that the letter that Poirot was writing to Hastings looked an awful lot, but not quite, like Suchet’s own handwriting. Curious, because the letters all looked like he wrote them, but something seemed a bit off about it. Then I remembered the quote from his book. Do you notice?

Font-lovers may notice what is so curious about the FIRST sentence of Poirot’s writing here: what we’re looking at is essentially a “David Suchet’s Poirot” font. Zoom in (click on the picture) and look at any single letter– try the lower-case “h,” “y,” “m,” for easy examples. Every one of those letters looks exactly the same as every other in that sentence! That’s what looks unusual– the first part of the page is uncommonly smooth and regularized. Now starting at “But really, my friend,” look at the rest of the words. Those are hand-written by Suchet himself, and contain variations on the letters rather than uniformity, appearing much looser that the words that came before. The camera had to show him actually writing with his own hand for these shots, but a font was made of his handwriting for the first part of a paragraph so he wouldn’t have to write it all out each time. Presumably print-outs were made to which he added. This is what his quote at the top of the post meant. If you look carefully, you may even notice that the color of the ink appears slightly different between the “font” and the true handwriting.

Once you see this pattern, you can’t un-see it in the other paragraphs of writing shown. I’ve highlighted the real handwriting in blue brackets; the rest is a printed font.

There are at least two possible reasons I can think of as to why the art department would go to the bother of creating this font in the first place. Either it really was merely to convenience their actor; or it might be that doing too much handwriting in those arthritis-heavy prosthetics does not-nice things to them. There may have been other reasons.

The font works perfectly well for the few moments it appears on screen. If, however, you really wish to forge someone’s writing successfully (or even to create a slightly more believable handwriting font for closer scrutiny, though it is far more expensive to do so), always remember to use multiple variants of letters.  Poirot himself knows enough about forgery to let you in on that.  😉

Triangle at Rhodes: episode overview

***Spoilers as always***

Things I Loved

1.) Location! Perhaps the most noticeable thing about the episode is the wonderful location. It is the first time in the series that we see Poirot vacationing off in exotic places (yet perpetually unable to escape the murderous English). The filming was really done in Rhodes, and there are many amazing shots of famous landmarks. In Christie’s original short story, the only landmark to speak of is the Mount of the Prophet, and adding more touristy eye candy spices up the story.

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L: The castle of Monolithos. R: The temple of Apollo.

2.) Music. Admit it– you’ve always wanted to hear the Poirot theme song on a santouri!

3.)  The wardrobe.  🙂  What marvelous costumes…

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4.) Making it a real mystery with discernible clues. Christie usually does play fair, but “Triangle at Rhodes,” like “The Veiled Lady” and a couple others, really don’t include fair clue-dropping for the reader. In the original short story, Poirot just seems to know instinctively that Marjorie Gold is a baddie because, as he tells us at the very end, he’s known nice, respectable women criminals like her before. In the episode, his suspicion is first aroused by Mrs. Gold’s claim that it was her husband’s idea to come to Rhodes when Poirot knows it wasn’t (but see “Things That Really Confused Me” below), and he becomes sure when he realizes that the Catholic Mr. Gold would have been unlikely to demand a divorce from his wife, again contra her claims. A plot device borrowed, perhaps, from Lord Edgware Dies.

5.) Poirot crossing himself at the chapel at Monolithos. An early display of an important character trait of our favorite detective.

6.) Poirot speaking Italian! Christie’s canon (e.g. Black Coffee) reveals that Poirot is fluent in Italian, and this might be the only episode where we hear him speaking the language. When it is discovered that certain passports are missing, he asks the desk what happened, and is answered, in that language. He also asks at the harbor about the boat departures when he and Miss Lyall are chasing the villains. One wonders why he mightn’t have used those linguistic skills with those obstinate customs officials, to score a few more points.  🙂

7.) These glasses. That is all.

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Things I Didn’t Love

1.) Chase scene? Poirot on a speedboat, zipping out of Rhodes harbor to nab the villains as they try to book it to Turkey. I understand that it makes for an exciting chase scene (with dynamite, no less) but I cannot in a million years imagine this actually happening. The mal de mer!

2.) Hunting down the poison-seller. Considering the fact that Poirot warns Mrs. Gold before the murder takes place, why does he waste time after the murder by personally hunting about for who sold the poison to whom when he knows perfectly well whodunnit already? I know, I know… TV pacing. But really, by the time he gets back to the hotel, the villains have left and they have to go running after them, nearly missing them. Seems a little inefficient for Poirot.

Things That Really Confused Me

1.) Douglas Gold’s grumpiness on arrival. Poirot overhears Gold grumbling as he and his wife enter the hotel; one gets the impression that his wife insisted that they come to Rhodes, and he himself wasn’t keen. Later on the beach, Marjorie Gold mentions that it was actually HIS idea to come. Poirot looks up in surprise at this contradiction. It makes sense for the wife to have insisted that they come, since she and Chantry have a plot they’re hatching, and for her to make a pretense that it was her husband’s idea, not hers, to divert suspicion from herself. Well and good. But why doesn’t Douglas Gold  contradict his wife when she says this, since he knows better? In the original story, Mr. Gold does make a couple of comments about what a long way to come it is and such like, but it’s not portrayed as grumpiness, just conventional commentary. Also, when explaining the solution to Miss Lyall in the episode, Poirot doesn’t mention the above contradiction as one of the things that alerted his suspicions– just the Catholic thing. But he certainly suspected Mrs. Gold before mention of divorce came about.

2.) Miss Pamela Lyall. It didn’t really confuse me, but it’s a curious anomaly in the Poirot TV series and is worth commentary. In the book, Christie’s own Miss Lyall is an enthusiastic young tanner who wears minimal bathing dress and gets Poirot to rub oil on her back! The scriptwriters turn her into a Poirot fangirl who uses Major Barnes’ unwanted advances as a way to attach herself to Poirot, thus providing him with a necessary and ever-present sidekick for crime-solving. Still, this leads to a couple moments of (in my opinion) a curious awkwardness, particularly the scene below, which needs to be filed under “Failed Poirot pick-up lines” for a future blog post.  🙂

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

Overall? An enjoyable romp with notably spectacular visuals.  🙂

The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge: episode overview

I realized I hadn’t done much analysis on my blog lately– too busy making artworks and getting The London Syndicate finished. But I missed writing about the books and the show, so I thought I’d set a task for myself. A random episode was selected, in this case The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge. What follows are Things I Loved, Things I Didn’t Love, and Things That Really Confused Me. One must be methodical.  😉  And if any of you dear readers can help me out with stuff in that final category, all the better! Here we go.
***Spoilers, as always***

Things I Loved

1.  This money shot! What a location. The moors, the rolling hills… the random sheep! “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”

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2. Hastings as impromptu valet. Producer Brian Eastman had decided not to include George the valet in these early episodes for reasons of his own, and occasionally you’ll see Hastings picking up some of this slack throughout the series– he seems expected to pay cabs, tip servicemen, arrange Poirot’s jacket, and generally keep an eye on his health. In this episode, Poirot matter-of-factly orders Hastings to shoot eight grouse for him (to his friend’s exasperated amusement) and equally matter-of-factly expects Hastings to fluff his pillow when he’s sick! Good thing Hastings is such a sport.

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3. Many hilarious moments of dialog and action. Highlights include: Poirot complaining that his lungs are full of the gunpowder and the fresh air; “You are leaving? One can leave??”; Hastings tapping his nose “in that theatrical manner”; “Mon Dieu. Look at this, Hastings. I am a corpse waiting to die! I shall not survive to enjoy my tetras a l’anglois” (later fed to the cat); Japp heckling the local police; sickly Poirot vaguely waving his hand out from under his blankets. I have to stop now because I’m still giggling. There were some funny moments in the original story that, alas, were left out (Poirot’s article in society gossip about his ‘flu; telling Hastings that his crime scene photographs were bound to be “underexposed and not in the least artistic”), but plenty of fun to make up for it.

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4. A clever way for Poirot to catch the culprits. In Christie’s original short story, the Haverings get away with their murder because Poirot and Japp don’t have enough evidence to convict. The TV adaptations always find a way for Poirot to get his man, though, and in this case, a scent hound is cleverly and appropriately employed to prove Poirot’s theory about the missing Mrs. Middleton.

Things I Didn’t Love

1. Hastings’ firearms mistake. Hastings tells Poirot that Mr. Pace was shot with one of his own revolvers. Now, I’m no gun expert, but that thar looks like a semi-automatic to me. “Gun” or “pistol” would be the generic term if he weren’t sure what was used. Anyway, the police did know which gun it was from the very beginning; there was no mystery there (at least in the TV adaptation). Well, if Hastings did make a mistake, I can forgive him for that… he gets muddled. For me, what’s worse is…

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2.  Inexplicable Archie. Perhaps the worst of the underdeveloped red herrings in this episode is Archie– a poor, bike-riding, awkward, and perhaps vaguely communistic relation of the murdered man. Early in the episode, he accidentally (or maybe not? the viewer wonders) shoots and wounds his obnoxious uncle who had just yelled at him. This makes him suspicious– fine and good. Later, when we hear of the bicycle that is stolen by a suspicious character in a fake beard, Poirot says that he would very much like to establish whether or not Archie had an alibi for the time of the murder; again, very sensible. Hastings goes out to interview him, and never finds out nor reports anything whatsoever about whether Archie has an alibi or not. Archie just yells at him for suspecting him, asks why on earth he should want to kill a man like his uncle, and proceeds to give a number of very good reasons why he should want to do just that. Okay then. Speaking of things that aren’t explained, there seems to be a weird love interest on his part for his cousin Zoe, who’s married to Roger. That is also never explained. In theory, if Archie had been the murderer, he might have also conceived of framing Roger Havering for the deed to clear the way for himself and Zoe– but this is never speculated upon by anyone. One more thing about Archie: Poirot is entrusted with the task of keeping the hapless fellow from brooding at lunchtime, but immediately forgets to do this, being preoccupied with his own discomfort from the cold. Conclusion: Archie is useless and no one really cares.

3.  Jack Stoddard on the night of the murder, just chillin’ in the freezing cold with his rifle. This character is considerably more interesting than Archie, and he also has a motive for wishing his brother’s death. We see him take his rifle from his house on the night of the murder and wander down to Hunter’s Lodge. This clearly is meant to make him look extra suspicious to the viewer, but he seems to have no purpose for being there. It’s possible that he actually meant to shoot his brother and the killer managed it before he did, but again– it’s never speculated upon. No one seems to comment on the fact that the man was right outside the house with a gun and that this is weird and suspicious. Other things confused me about Stoddard, including…

Things That Really Confused Me

1.   The account Stoddard gave to Poirot about Mrs. Middleton sending him for the police. Stoddard tells Poirot that Mrs. Middleton had said that she didn’t ring for the police because Zoe was freaking out and she wanted to get Zoe to sleep “before the police came.” So she ran outside like a maniac, happened to spot Stoddard, and sent him running somewhere else to get the police. Even Stoddard is bright enough to have found this very weird. The excuse that Mrs. Middleton WANTED the delay just to conk Zoe out before the police came is extraordinarily suspicious on “both” ladies. If Zoe had really been freaking out, Mrs. Middleton (had she existed) could have calmed her down upstairs while Stoddard entered Hunter’s Lodge to phone himself, even after a suitable delay, had there been need of delay. Of course, any excuse for needing a delay was ridiculous in light of the fact that there was a dangerous killer on the loose. If the local police had had any sense at all, they’d have detained the housekeeper then and there, and the crime would have been solved pretty speedily.

2.  Along the same lines– why, exactly, DOES the disguised “Mrs. Middleton” decide to dash outside in the first place? She probably didn’t realize she’d find Stoddard standing right there. Why not fire the shot, change disguise, wait a spell, and then call the police from the Lodge? Did she run outside to see if there might be a person in earshot that she would have to send away in a panic, lest they come into the house to investigate while she was changing her disguise? Her plan would be upset if there were more than one person outside in the vicinity. All this is most unsatisfactory…

3.  The escape of the killer. The police notice the open window and assume the murderer had escaped that way. But the “ladies” only describe having heard the shot. Do they actually see the man leave the house? They never say. Had an outside killer really been involved, wouldn’t it have been safer to have invited Stoddard, who was ARMED even, into the house with them, since the killer certainly wasn’t far away? Yet another reason that the police should have seen through this in a heartbeat.

4.   Mr. Anstruther’s bike. The murderers must have known that the man’s bike would definitely be there for the taking at the rail station. Their whole plan depended on it. They mean to initially throw suspicion on Roger Havering, who could theoretically have booked it back to Hunter’s Lodge on that bike, shot his uncle, and then taken a faster train to London to his club. There was even a pre-dug ditch for Zoe to  bury the bike and one of the disguises. But what would Zoe have done if Mr. Anstruther’s bike wasn’t exactly where he had left it? Suppose she couldn’t find it in the dark after all, or that he was keeping it close to himself? So much for the plan. Next time, villains, I recommend planting your own bike nearby to use, thus lessening your chances of not getting a bike at all, or being detained by Mr. Anstruther or anyone nearby he might press into service on his behalf.

5.  What about that delivery of game birds? Mr. Stoddard had been waiting for Mrs. Middleton to stop by to pick up the game birds, but she never arrived. Wouldn’t that have directed immediate suspicion to both the housekeeper and Roger Havering, who was supposed to have dropped her off there? Stoddard surely would have heard the nephew’s car pull up and would have met the housekeeper then and there, had they actually arrived. And if Stoddard gave up waiting for her and was going to (inexplicably) take his rifle for a walk down to Hunter’s Lodge later, why not just bring that delivery of game birds with him? If Mrs. Middleton had been planning to walk back to Hunter’s Lodge herself with them, they couldn’t have been too heavy. In fact, this would have given Stoddard the perfect excuse to have been right outside the lodge that night, rather than standing there for no reason.

6.  The Chief Inspector Japp is most amusing… “for a policeman.” This gentle, retaliatory jibe of Poirot’s is fun, but every-so-slightly odd-sounding to me, only insofar as Poirot is a retired policeman himself. Sooo, he’s kinda dissing himself…? Possible, I guess, but not especially characteristic.

* * * * *

Summary: Whew! I’ve always liked watching the episode, but I never quite realized until now just how many things in it completely confuse me! The plot is substantially altered and added onto from the original short story (which would be un-filmable otherwise), but it seems to have also created either a lot of plot holes, or just a lot of perplexity to myself.  🙂

How does Ariadne Oliver know the ethnicity of Mr. Shaitana?

In the television adaptation of Cards on the Table, Mrs. Oliver and Poirot have a conversation about the mysterious Mr. Shaitana at an art exhibit.

Mrs. Oliver: “Oh look, it’s Mr. Shaitana. What is he? An Armenian? A Greek?”
Poirot: “No one knows. All that is known is that he is one of the richest men in London.”

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After the murder is committed, Mrs. Oliver has plenty of theories about a motive for her (then-) favorite suspect, Dr. Roberts. “Ideas? Ideas? I’ve at least five. For example… say Shaitana was a moneylender, Roberts was in his clutches… or, Shaitana ruined his daughter. Or his sister, if he had a sister… or, or, Roberts is a bigamist and Shaitana knew it… or, how about this: Roberts secretly married Shaitana’s long-forgotten second cousin and stands to inherit a fortune in Syrian gold…”

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The background of Shaitana is supposed to be a mystery unknown to the general public. But Superintendent Wheeler will later reveal the fact that he knows this detail, which causes Poirot to suspect that Wheeler may have been on closer terms with Shaitana than he had previously let on.

Constable: “Perhaps he was Egyptian?”
Wheeler: “No, he was Syrian.”
Poirot: “Syrian?”
Wheeler: “Yes.”
Poirot: “How do you know this?”
Wheeler: “It’s in the files.”

So Shaitana is Syrian… and Mrs. Oliver’s reference to “Syrian gold” in her brainstorming cannot possibly have been mere coincidence. How on earth did she know this detail about Shaitana and when did she find out?

Poirot as linguist

“There is not much against him, except the fact that nothing is known of his antecedents, and that he speaks too many languages for a good Englishman! (Pardon me, mon ami, but, as linguists, you are deplorable!)”
-“The Kidnapped Prime Minister”

* * * * *

Based on what is explicitly stated in Christie’s own books, we can know that Poirot is fluent in at least four languages: French, English, German, and Italian. The French and English are self-evident. In Murder on the Orient Express, he conducts interviews with the passengers in three languages; this is where we learn that he is conversant in German. In the episode The Clocks, Poirot uses his knowledge of the construction of the German language to clear a certain English-speaking (but actually German) couple from suspicion.

We know he speaks Italian from this charming moment in Christie’s play, Black Coffee:

Carelli: Ah! Monsieur Poirot. Vous voulez me questionner?
Poirot: Si, Signor Dottore, si lei permette.
Carelli. Ah! Lei parla Italiano?
Poirot: Si, ma preferisco parlare in Francese.
Carelli: Alors, qu est-ce que vous voulex me demander?
Hastings: I say, what the hell is all this?
Poirot: Ah, the poor Hastings! We had better speak English.

It is also perfectly possible that Poirot was fluent in Flemish (that is, Belgian Dutch), which would seem a useful asset as head of police in the city of Brussels. But to my recollection, nothing is mentioned of this in the books. Hastings once or twice describes Poirot’s habits as “Flemish,” but the language is not commented upon. Only in the televised adaptation of The Chocolate Box is there a conversation at the Déroulard house about the use of the Flemish language.

The television series adds further glimpses of Poirot’s cosmopolitan linguistic skills in episodes such as Triangle at Rhodes, in which he ably poses some questions to the locals in Greek…

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…And in Murder in Mesopotamia, which has the following:

Hastings: “I didn’t know you spoke Arabic, Poirot.”
Poirot: “Just a few words that I have picked up, Hastings. One should never squander the opportunity that travel affords.”

In The Labours of Hercules, it is revealed that Poirot had never studied the Classics, having “got on very well without them,” at which point he is treated to a Homeric epithet in the original Greek, quoted by his friend Dr. Burton. However, in one of his labours, that of the Stymphalean Birds, he is able to solve the crime with his understanding of the average Englishman’s ignorance of foreign languages, inspiring a young man to up his linguistic game.

Poirot also admits that he knows no Russian in the case of “The Double Clue,” which is why he purchases First Steps in Russian to study the Cyrillic alphabet on a hunch. He learns enough of the alphabet to be ready when another Cyrillic clue of the same type– this time a monogrammed handkerchief instead of a cigarette case– presents itself to him in his adventure on the Orient Express some years later.

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Poirot’s English vocabulary is pretty extraordinary– not terribly surprising, considering his long-term residency in London. All the same, there are several funny moments in the books in which he expresses bewilderment at some colloquial turn of phrase. For example, there’s this little conversation with Hastings from The A.B.C. Murders:

“Perhaps some convivial idiot who had had one over the eight.”

Comment? Nine? Nine what?”

“Nothing– just an expression. I meant a fellow who was tight. No, damn it, a fellow who had had a spot too much to drink.”

Merci, Hastings– the expression ‘tight’ I am acquainted with…”

Peter Ustinov, when playing the detective in the 1980s, took issue somewhat with the dialogue that Christie wrote for her detective. “On the printed page, Poirot is no more Belgian than Major Thompson is English. In language terms we probably see him as one of those foreign schoolmasters whose English is too correct– all very fluent and fluid and quite artificial. Remember that Poirot only puts the simplest words into French, the complex ones are always left in English.” Christie herself sometimes describes Poirot, through other characters, as appearing as a sort of “parody” of a Frenchman. For my part, Ustinov’s critique does not deter my (and presumably many fans’) enjoyment of the character’s dialogue. When Poirot uses simple French phrases like “mon ami,” it’s fairly obvious that this isn’t because he doesn’t know how to say “my friend” in English– rather, he relapses into French for comfortable phrases, or idioms that are better expressed in his native tongue and perhaps also known to his English hearers (e.g., “cherchez la femme” or “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”). Also, as the detective explains to Mr. Satterthwaite at the end of Three Act Tragedy:

“It is true that I can speak the exact, the idiomatic English. But, my friend, to speak the broken English is an enormous asset. It leads people to despise you. They say – a foreigner – he can’t even speak English properly… And so, you see, I put people off their guard.”

L.B. Tysoe is in serious need of an editor (or: bizarre news stories in The Big Four)

*Spoilers as always!*

I’ve heaped praise on various locations and props used in The Big Four. Time for some criticism!  😉

In this (loose) adaptation of The Big Four, a journalist named L.B. Tysoe receives communications from a mysterious source about the sinister motives of the so-called “Peace Party.” The party is, allegedly, a cover for an international conspiracy headed by four super-criminals. However– sorry, there’s no nice way to put it– Tysoe seems to be singularly terrible at writing, and not just because he’s prone to sensationalism and doesn’t check his sources. Judging by what’s printed, he actually seems to have no grasp of the English language.

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Observe this little article snippet below. Only part of it is visible, but note the fragments “He suffering blows” and “was found with by his throat brutally slit.” WHAT.

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But wait, it gets worse. Click on the Savaranoff article and you can zoom a bit, if you dare. I had actually typed it out in all of its incoherent, badly-constructed, and poorly-punctuated glory, but finally decided that you shouldn’t have to suffer twice over on my account…

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But there’s more. Having no originality, Tysoe actually plagiarizes parts of his own dreadfully-written articles.

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The horrendous journalism continues with the “unmasking” of Number Three. Mme (or Madame; he can’t decide) Olivier’s friends were “taking her to dinner with at Clarridges.” Hyphens are apparently an optional form of punctuation. And during a quiet spell, the Big Four “seized to act.” AAAAGGGGHHHH!!!!

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Tysoe even gets some of his basic facts wrong here. His article asserts that Olivier was last seen at 3 o’clock at her interview with Poirot and Japp, but the clock deliberately freezes at 4 o’clock, in reference to the Big Four, during her interview. Something similar actually happens in the book.

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Finally, there’s Tysoe’s article about Poirot’s death. It’s probably the best of a bad lot, writing-wise, but there is still some poor construction as well as a few suspicious details. It is curious that Tysoe refers to Poirot’s exile from Belgium as taking place in the context of “the First World War.” The episode is set in 1937, before the Second World War officially began. The “First World War” would have been referred to as “the Great War” at that time.

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I realize that these particular graphics were not meant to be seen for more than a few seconds on-screen. It is fiddly and daft of me to freeze, read, and critique them. But I’ll be honest– I cannot understand why these things should be so badly written.  Why was such poorly-written horror allowed to be displayed at all?

Why…??

A-B-C: The musical landscape of The A. B. C. Murders

On June 21, Kingston Hospital Radio Online tweeted an interesting little tidbit about the music used in The A. B. C. Murders that Hugh Fraser retweeted, and so it came to my feed…

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For my part, I was both delighted and sort of chagrined that I had never noticed this before. Last night I finally re-watched the episode, and the A-B-C motif positively screams to high heaven. Once heard, it cannot be unheard. I also realized that a full-fledged lay analysis was inevitable at that point, and so I watched through the episode sitting at my piano keyboard to see just what happens with the alphabet (musically) throughout the episode. I won’t go through quite the entire thing here– there are about a hundred key changes and transitions– but I’ll share some of the more interesting highlights.  🙂  ***Plot spoilers ahead***

As a bit of an aside, is it coincidence or not that we see, on two different pieces of Hastings luggage, his initials? They happen to start with A, and I'm not sure we see this in any other episode.

As a bit of an aside, is it coincidence or not that we see, on two different pieces of Hastings luggage, his initials? I’m not sure we see this in any other episode.

The very first thing we see in the episode, which I love, is the rack of ABC railway guides at the station where Poirot is waiting for Hastings. A familiar cane appears to straighten those that are sticking out a bit. The very blatant A-B-C notes (representing the first three notes of the A minor scale) are the first things heard, and they quickly mingle with the Poirot theme, which has been transposed up a step from G minor to A minor and also contains those first three notes. This may explain why you can watch the episode so many times without realizing you’re hearing A-B-C… it just sounds like the beginning of the Poirot theme transposed (A-B-C-E-A from G-A-Bb-D-G). Clever.  🙂

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Throughout the episode– for example, early on when Poirot and Hastings are first discussing the first letter–  the A-B-C motif is sometimes paired with Eb-F-Gb to create a series of creepy-sounding diminished fifths. What better way to emphasize the unresolved tension of letters sent from a homicidal maniac? Diminished fifths give that delightful sensation of “something is really sick and wrong here.”

Whenever a new message from A. B. C. appears, the key reverts to A minor, and this also frequently happens when we encounter Cust. (Although he is also an A. B. C. in a manner of speaking, this is a bit deceptive musically because it causes the viewer/hearer to mentally associate that character with the typed letters. Sneaky!) By the time we get to Andover and the sign is zoomed in on, we get a very heavily-hammered A note. I was curious to see whether the same would hold true of the B, C, and D crimes. And sure enough– when the Bexhill poster is shown, we get a blaring B in the key of B minor, even– and later, Churston takes us to C minor! I was very giddy about this…  🙂  🙂  🙂  There are associations with keys for the different crimes in other places, too, such as when Donald Fraser is discussing the Bexhill crime and his dreams with Poirot, and the “ABC” theme plays in B minor again (B-C#-D).

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Doncaster presents some interesting musical moments, too. The drone of the D for Doncaster begins when Japp, in Poirot’s sitting room, contemplates the St Leger as a complication of plans. When Cust enters the train to travel to Doncaster with the rest of the crew, we hear a “A-B… C-D”! And when everyone arrives in town together, sure enough, the key is switched to D minor.

I just want to hug the composer at this point. But moving along.  🙂

One of the most intriguing sections, musically, is when the crowds are congregated at the St Leger, and we see our various characters standing at their posts while Poirot parks somewhere to employ the grey cells. The music starts in A minor, and slowly modulates up by half steps through various keys, so that we get the B minor and C minor moments of earlier crimes as Poirot sits and thinks about them. This is also interspersed with Poirot’s own “regular” G minor theme. And just when he starts to get his revelation, what happens but a determined, final resolve to D minor!

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We first hear the theme in F minor (I think) when Poirot is sitting and thinking about what will happen at Doncaster. Poirot’s denouement begins in his standard G minor, but when he gets to the part of his story where Cust meets the murderer over dominoes, the F minor key returns for the “ABC” theme. This is interesting– F for Franklin, perhaps? The reveal of the murderer takes us back to the original A minor, while the chase scene progresses through Ab minor, D minor, and F minor before returning to A minor. Franklin Clark is finally taken away by the police on a strong drone of F!!

Fascinating stuff!

Poirot vs. the Canucks

*Spoilers, as always.*

Happy Canada Day! Agatha Christie was rather fond of Canada, speaking warmly of the scenery as she tripped out this way on her many travels. In the Poirot series, two of the more prominent mentions that I can recall of the Great White North are from The Adventure of the Cheap Flat and Elephants Can Remember. Both involve a confusion of the nationalities of American and Canadian.

Miss Elsa Hart, the chief villain, is actually a pseudo-Canuck in the TV adaptation of Cheap Flat. On the run from the Mafia in the States, she assumes a different nationality as well as a different name. The shady manager of the Black Cat nightclub, Bernie Cole, offers some amusing dialog on the prospects of Canada’s future influence…

Poirot: “What I want to know is, is it Elsa Hart, the American?”
Cole: “No.”
Poirot. “Ah. I heard her in New York once, you understand.”
Cole: “Oh yes? She’s Canadian. Like those Dionne quintuplets. It’s gonna be all the rage soon. Canadian this, Canadian that. Bernie Cole can always spot a trend! Known for it!”

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“This is my skeptical face, monsieur.”

(For those interested in a bit of trivia this Canada Day: the Dionne quintuplets, born in 1934 near Callander, Ontario, were famous as the first known surviving quintuplets. I remember driving down from Timmins once with the family, and passing a road sign noting that we were near their hometown. The identical sisters became a sort of gimmicky tourist phenomenon and must have had a pretty bizarre childhood in consequence.)

Although it doesn’t occur in the Christie’s original story, I rather enjoy the use of confused nationality. As an American living in Canada who is frequently confused for being Canadian, it always delights me when people confuse Poirot for a Frenchman, and he corrects them right away. It’s funny– but it’s also exactly how it is!  🙂

The other prominent mention of Canada occurs, of course, in Elephants Can Remember, notable for the most blatantly obvious clues ever inserted into a Poirot script. Anyone watching the episode in North America would think, “No way is she from Boston if she says ‘zed.’ No way would she not know what she was doing on St. Patrick’s Day if she were of the Boston Irish.”

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Oh well. What I really want to know is this: in the denouement, Poirot says that her accent gave her away, which we already knew. He gave the example of her use of “zed,” but he also says that he heard the Canadian aspect “immediately.” I wonder if he could actually tell even sooner. When he first speaks with her, it’s in a stream of rapid French, ending with:

Poirot: “Vous ne l’avez vu à l’avance?”
Mary: “Huh? No, I’ve never been down here before.”

Setting aside the fact that “huh” is more of an Americanism (she should have gone for “eh,” eh?) it is perhaps just a little curious that she can process his question at all, and maybe Poirot files that fact away for later. Of course, if she spent more than half her life in Montreal– with French-speaking relatives of Zelie Rouxelle’s, no less– she was bound to be pretty conversant in the language.

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By the way, this is the second instance in the series where a young girl is hurried away from her home in England and sent to Montreal after it is feared (incorrectly) that one of the parents killed the other! The other instance is in Five Little Pigs, where the daughter of Caroline Crale comes back for the truth about her mother. We know it’s Montreal from the book, and the daughter had been given the name of Lemarchant in Canada. The daughters in both episodes also, incidentally, come back to wreak revenge… and neither quite manages it. Insert Quebec joke here.  🙂

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In Elephants Can Remember, there is, perhaps, one other sense in which Mary’s accent gives her away. She says that she’s just a simple clerk. She pronounces the word “clark,” which is a British pronunciation, used neither in the United States nor in Canada! So, can we say that this “gives away” the fact that she’s a British actress pretending to be from across the pond?

Sorry, couldn’t help myself.  🙂

Happy Canada Day, all!

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Missing out on domestic love: 15 moments of loss

One of the most touching aspects of Christie’s characterization of Poirot are those glimpses of loneliness inherent in a character who has missed out on the personal relationships that lead to marriage and family life. ***As always, spoilers for everything!***

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‘I, Madame, am not a husband,’ said Hercule Poirot. ‘Alas!’ he added.

‘I’m sure there’s no alas about it. I’m sure you’re quite delighted to be a carefree bachelor.’

‘No, no, Madame, it is terrible all that I have missed in life.’

-Dead Man’s Folly 
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Viewers of the television series will notice that the theme develops and increases over time, especially in the filming of the novels. And yet, glimpses can be seen very early on in the series as well. Some are subtle, and others are blatantly obvious. There are nuances and shades of meaning in these fleeting and poignant moments, but they all share the same characteristic of wistful loss. Here I present 15 gloriously-rendered examples.

1) Third Floor Flat– Perhaps the first clear example in the series. It is unique, and pleasing for Christie readers, in that we get a glimpse of the nostalgic admiration of a girl who resembles an old flame of Poirot’s before the matter is explained to the viewer. So, readers who know the story are gratified to have “inside knowledge” of what lies behind the faraway smile, which will be explained in later scenes. ‘If I were your age, monsieur, without doubt, I too would be in love with her.’

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2) The Plymouth Express– Another early example, this is the first clear indication we have that Poirot would very much have liked to have been a father and a husband. The expression says it all, in response to Halliday’s: ‘You’re not a father, Poirot. You don’t know what it’s like, trying to bring up a daughter all on your own… no wife to talk it over with…’ Also, it is perhaps the first time the viewer becomes annoyed with the lack of tact of those who remind Poirot what he’s missed out on!

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3) The Double Clue– This one’s pretty obvious, of course, and it has the added novelty of a presently-kindled flame, with some returned affection, yet the impossibility of the relationship going anywhere. There are several other meditations on personal loss throughout the episode, from the loss of wealth to the loss of one’s homeland. But all the poignancy is concentrated in loss of a chance at love.

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4) The Chocolate Box– It’s fascinating that this particular story was, when scripted, turned into another sort of dead-end romance, this time from Poirot’s past. I suppose it gives Virginie a little more “connection” to the plot than she seems to have in the original story, and since the incident is buried long in the past, one can get away with adding romantic elements. An added nuance to the sadness-tinged reunion with her is that Poirot has a glimpse of what life could perhaps have looked like for him, had les Boches not driven him from his native Belgium as a refugee: sons in native uniform, and a wife of his own country. ‘…I was just saying to Jean-Louis that he was always the most fortunate of men.’

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5) Lord Edgware Dies– A rarity in that Poirot, Hastings, Japp, and Miss Lemon are all together at dinner when the conversation turns to Poirot’s lamented bachelorhood. It’s a subject that is clearly uncomfortable for Poirot, made weirder with the flattering attentions recently given him by Jane Wilkinson. Also, we have another indication (suggested as early as Third Floor Flat) that Poirot considers himself too old, and that the time of la tentation is lost in the past. ‘But now, alas, I think it is too late.’

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6) The Mystery of the Blue Train– This is one of several examples of the awakening of loneliness and loss that comes, not from a romance of his own, but from some pretty young friend Poirot has met in the course of the case. In this instance, he has a travelling companion to whom he becomes an ‘avuncular.’ Like a daughter (in fact, she had lost her father and has a cry on his shoulder about it), Katherine Grey is a somewhat needy character who was taken under his wing. When she leaves him unexpectedly to go off on her own, he is struck again by the pain of solitude. The film ends when, after she leaves, he is left by the water’s edge, contemplating the happy, carefree family before him (consisting, incidentally, of an older woman, her much younger husband, and her grown daughter). This loss strikes me as resonating more with the parental sadness of the empty nest– although in Poirot’s case, his patronage came and went very quickly. I’m also reminded of one of Poirot’s iconic lines at the end of the book: ‘Life is like a train, Mademoiselle…’ And ultimately, he is fated to travel it alone. And we’re all sad.

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7) Death on the Nile– A classic example, and one that works beautifully with the plot, which is seething with the desperation to which love might drive a person. ‘Love is not everything,’ Poirot says to Jacqueline. When she disagrees, he is forced to admit that he does not really understand this on a personal level, and is faced once again with the great loss of his life. At other times in his literary journey a la Christie, Poirot has expressed relief that he does not have an ‘ardent temperament’ because it has saved him from many embarrassments. But in this case the overwhelming devotion to a lover– an alien experience to Poirot– sparks pity in him, and he permits the couple to commit suicide rather than face the executioner. The precise reasons why– Poirot always has precise reasons– are spelled out a little more thoroughly in the book than in the adaptation.

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8) After the Funeral– ‘The journey of life, it can be hard for those of us who travel alone, Mademoiselle.’ These are words, reminiscent of the theme in Blue Train, that Poirot states to the murderer– interestingly, very shortly after she has unknowingly incriminated herself with a fatal clue. In this context, the realization of loss and loneliness in life is displayed as a reality that transcends class, and the point of commonality Poirot finds here gives him an insight into the killer’s motive. To find another example of Poirot’s sympathy towards a woman who works as a lower-class companion and is driven to crime in a desperate bid for money, see “The Nemean Lion” from The Labours of Hercules.

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9) Taken at the Flood– In this story, Poirot finds himself as a sort of godfather-type figure to Lynn Marchmont, whose father was a good friend. And, Lynn happens to fall in love with a mass murderer (!)  This causes an awkwardness similar to Death in the Clouds and Three Act Tragedy– “Er, I’ve kinda just sent the guy you love to the gallows… sorry/not sorry?” But I include this example here because Lynn, of whom Poirot is ‘most fond’ and who had been planning on staying in England permanently, decides to leave again. ‘Write me a letter, Monsieur. I like your letters.’ It is a familial sort of loss for Poirot, and one full of turmoil in light of the bizarre circumstances of her departure.

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10) Cat Among the Pigeons– This is one of the most curious and enigmatic moments of “wist” in the series. It is very fleeting moment in which Poirot, in the course of observing the various teachers at Meadowbank School, is watching a ballet lesson. A row of girls are at the barre and are practicing positions in pointe shoes. Poirot watches them with the most startling expression of bittersweet nostalgia on his face. Of what exactly is he thinking? The touching innocence of youth, uncorrupted by matters of crime? The disappointing fact that he himself was not to be the father of a daughter? Someone please ask David Suchet… he’s the only one who can read Poirot’s mind…

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11) Third Girl– Another case (and a particularly disturbing one) in which the young couple in love awakens in Poirot his own sense of loss. This is one of the most emotional reactions Poirot has in the series; even Mrs. Oliver comments on his tears. ‘…The mystery that even I, Hercule Poirot, will never be able to solve… the nature of love…’

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12) The Big Four– Almost everything in the final series touches on this theme. There’s a really interesting moment in this script when the housekeeper describes the fastidious and irritating habits of the deceased man (a bachelor), and Poirot appears to have a moment of sober enlightenment concerning his own bachelorhood. It’s very subtle and lends a moment of personal poignancy to the scene where the viewer wasn’t expecting one. Japp: “Did he ever marry?” Housekeeper: “Oh, no! Can you imagine it? What woman would have him? Woe betide you if you tried to move one of his precious books, or tidy up his bloomin’ letters!”

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13) Elephants Can Remember– Poirot says to Zelie: ‘Mademoiselle, neither you nor I are married. We may never be married. But they should be.’ It’s the argument that finally persuades the chief witness to come forward with her story.

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14) The Labours of Hercules– The scriptwriters were going really, really heavy on the “wist” here. The first example of the theme is Poirot’s visit to his doctor. ‘You’ve had a remarkable career– at the expense of having a family! Nothing wrong with that, but that’s what you’ve chosen…’ This is adding insult to the injury of having “failed” as a detective, and these two horrible realities dovetail to serve as the impetus to reunite Poirot’s chauffeur Ted with his lost love. This successful reunion contrasts with the totally tanked relationship with Vera Rossakoff, another grievous “what might have been” in the realm of personal relationships. There’s also an unprecedented use of fake wistfulness, when the Countess speculates what’s going through Poirot’s mind when he sees Alice, her daughter. ‘He looks at you… and he sees the life he might have had.’ We learn later that this isn’t actually what Poirot is thinking– he’s too busy having his suspicions alerted by the girl’s biting of her thumb!

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15) Curtain– Was television ever as moving as this? Throughout his life, Poirot had never really brooded excessively on his regrets concerning love and family– rather, we see him repressing the pain and struggling past it. We don’t see this brooding in the final days of his life, either, as he focuses his attention on this most difficult of his cases. If anything, Hastings becomes the torch-bearer on the pain of loss in this episode– his wife, his daughter (to Franklin and Africa), and Poirot himself. In such a context, this line of Poirot’s, one of Christie’s own, is a most meaningful one: ‘My heart bleeds for you… my poor, lonely Hastings.’  Poirot knows, on every count, that Hastings is about to be left very much alone in the world. A lifetime of domestic loneliness endows him with sympathy for his friend’s losses, the blessings of which he had himself never enjoyed in the first place. Hastings finds himself choked up at this sentiment of Poirot’s, possibly because in spite of the fact that the man is near death and has struggled with loneliness for so many years– he will even die alone– it is Hastings’ loneliness, not his own, that most concerns him in those final moments.

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Cocoa and lemonade at Styles St. Mary

If the television adaptation of The Mysterious Affair at Styles is to be believed– and why not?– these are just two of the harder-to-get beverages in the midst of wartime rationing. Beer is mentioned as another. But the cocoa and the lemonade stand out because they are particular interests of Poirot and Hastings.

Let’s start with the lemonade. I mean… does this not look like lemonade to you?

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If not, well, what on earth is it supposed to be?

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It’s a little confusing, because in a way, we’re led to believe that it’s not really lemonade. Very shortly after this little tennis episode, Hastings is seen riding about with Mary Cavendish on horses, and the weather is remarked upon as being unusually hot (#plotpoint). What we need, he suggests, is a tall glass of lemonade. At which point Mary Cavendish says that she hasn’t seen a lemon since 1914. Even though she’s playing tennis here with her back to a little table that I could swear up and down must contain lemonade…

And despite the apparent rarity of such a beverage, John Cavendish and Hastings leave their beverage glasses sitting on the grass as they go inside together. Wasting such commodities during wartime? And is it lemonade or isn’t it??  GAH.

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If John is keeping the existing lemonade a great secret from his wife, or if tennis partner Cynthia is secretly downing it all when her back is turned, well, no wonder there’s marital strife at Styles Court and Cynthia thinks Mary hates her. Sheesh, share the lemonade, people!

Anyway, while this most mysterious drama unfolds, Poirot is busy buying illicit cocoa from the local post office.

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Although this doesn’t exactly happen in the book– we know only that Hastings cannons into Poirot on his way into the post office to buy stamps– give due credit to the scriptwriter for some great character development here and providing a very believable reason for Poirot to be in this establishment. Not that Poirot is ordinarily associated with cocoa as a preferred beverage, per se. In the book, when he is searching for clues in the room where Mrs. Inglethorp was murdered, he gingerly tastes one of the beverages in the room “with a grimace” and discovers that it is cocoa with rum. Poirot, throughout the canon, is a passionate drinker of hot chocolate, which is a good deal richer and more expensive. But what will you? Needs must in wartime. If cocoa was difficult to get, chocolate must have been impossible to find. No doubt he doctored that cocoa powder up with an exorbitant amount of illicitly-obtained sugar and cream, and made do.  🙂  The little grey cells need fuel, after all.

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Another thing I like about bringing Poirot’s cocoa into it here is that, to my mind, it suggests a subtle nod to the crucially important chocolate-drinking experiments later in Curtain: first with Hastings, then with the murderer. Parallels of life and visuals in Styles, with the first and last story of Christie’s canon (intentional or not) are always interesting to come across. In terms of beverages, the fact that as significant plot points, chocolate was drunk by major characters on the hottest day of the summer and on the brink of a storm, for example.