Yes, this is the name of one of the kids’ teachers this fall. Ha!!
Ready for a new episode overview? Time for The Third Floor Flat! (Reminder: my particular “reviews” aren’t comprehensive– others have covered that ground. They deal with my own particular impressions, curiosities, and book-to-script thoughts.) SPOILERS for everything, as always. 🙂
Things I Loved:
-Because the episode focuses on the flats, I LOVE that we get to zip through Whitehaven Mansions, the elevator escapades, the cool railings and stairwells, the coal lift, the basement, and so on. Even if it’s not really Florin Court. 🙂
-Poirot’s sneezes are hilarious. 😀 In general, hypochondriac Poirot is great. In the book, Poirot invents an excuse about having a head cold to explain why he can’t sniff at the bottle he finds, so he asks Donavon to do so. Very clever for the scriptwriter to actually give Poirot a cold for the sake of the storyline.
-I like the idea (not in the original Christie) that Mrs Grant moved into the flats where her rival lived to deliberately to taunt her husband Donavon. An added advantage is that it gives a plausible explanation to the book’s description of the flat being over-full of furniture and other items.
-Showing the delivery of the note by Mrs Grant to Pat’s flat. We learn in the book that a note was sent to Pat, who assumed the woman just wanted to complain about the piano or something. Not only is Pat blasting music in her flat, but she’s dancing with her friend Mildred, which is a good explanation for why Mrs Grant doesn’t just charge in right away and ask to speak with Pat then and there.
-Poirot’s reminiscences of an old flame upon seeing Pat is actually alluded to three times! “If I were your age, monsieur, without doubt I too would be in love with her.” That’s a pretty revealing statement for Poirot, and brings his love interests in the series up to, what, three? As I note in this other blog post, it is, I believe, about the first example in the series of Poirot’s wistfulness at his own missed opportunities in personal relationships.
-There are few moments of deliciously creepy irony in the episode, such as Mrs Grant’s body being covered by the curtain (the play they all had gone to see was “The Deadly Shroud”), and the contrast of the discovery of the murder with Pat and Mildred’s singing.
-“I suppose you’re inured to this sort of thing, M. Poirot?” “No, no, no, on the contrary, I think it [that is, the omelette] is very nice.” A humorous intro to Poirot’s love of omelettes.
-EVERYTHING relating to the play is gold. 🙂 “How could a stage play compare to the real-life cases of Hercule Poirot?” The humor in Poirot not solving the case because “the writer is an imbecile!” was hilarious, and gives him something to talk about with the young people back in Pat’s flat. The fact that he mentions the denouement of the idiot police inspector just as Japp is entering and overhearing the conversation is brilliant! The bad acting in the play is pretty funny. And from what we can glean about the plot of “The Deadly Shroud,” Poirot actually seems to be correct in that the culprit (the daughter-in-law) doesn’t make sense as the murderer. That is probably its own in-depth blog post, but have a close watch of those scenes and see if the motive, lines of inheritance, etc. make any sense to you!
-That sort of innocent, pleading exchange between Poirot and Japp when the former asks to search 36B is funny and reminiscent of Four and Twenty Blackbirds, when Poirot is trying to wheedle a contact out of Japp so he can follow up a line of investigation. Japp grudgingly gives in after some sweet talking. Philip Jackson is SO GOOD.
-I just finally noticed that the metal contraption that Donavon plows Hastings’ car into is actually the little stand across from the flats where the old woman was selling teas and things (the workman from the moving crew shouts for her to get some tea ready as they were almost done in the opening scene). A nice little detail to tie the ends of the story together, although it seems a bit unusual that the stand was just closing up for the day well after 11 at night…
-Poirot’s matchmaking trait– the first we see in this series, but repeated very many times at the end of several episodes.
Things I Didn’t Love:
-“Birds do not run”? Poirot must be quite ill to be making silly statements like that. 😉
-In the episode, unlike the book, Donavon isn’t making any of the suggestions about fire escapes and service lifts to try to get someone else to suggest the coal lift (which is what he wants); others do. It would make more sense to me if he were the one subtly angling towards that point.
-No commentary is given for the block capitals of “John Frazer’s” note and why Poirot finds that suspicious.
-Poirot suggests that bulb might have been replaced between the time they tried it and came back? Someone would have to be awfully speedy and sneaky about that…
Things That Confused Me:
-Hastings offers Poirot a whiskey during the intermission, which I think is unique in the series. At other times he seems to have a much better knowledge of what Poirot wants for refreshment (compare Spanish Chest and the opera).
-The maid happened to be out between 5 and 10 on her night off. Coincidence, or did Donavon know somehow?
-Dynamics between young people could be stronger, although Pat and Mildred are very convincing as friends. But where did Mildred disappear to in the second part of the episode, anyway…?
-Also, if Pat is “Poirot’s type,” how do we reconcile this with Countess Rossakoff? She seems diametrically different.
-Why did Donavon go back into 36B to retrieve the letter that Poirot had taken out of his pocket? Why would he have hoped to find it back on the table again?
-We have an early indication in this script that Hastings does not actually room with Poirot when the latter informs him: “She lives in the flat below me in Whitehaven Mansions.” At the same time, Hastings seems to have such easy familiarity with Poirot’s flat that one simultaneously could assume that he lives there– the way he walks up to the flat and hangs out in the kitchen after the play (it’s after 11, and he’s not even just walking Poirot up to the flat. He takes his coat off like he’s visiting for awhile, and I’m not sure that the receiving of a check is really a good enough reason for it). And he’s later asked by Poirot to escort Donavon “up to the flat” and make him some coffee. This doesn’t bother me, but I can see how fans could be confused about Hastings’ omnipresence.
-When we see Mrs Grant getting settled in her flat, she sits a picture frame, whose image we cannot see, on her table. When Jimmy and Donavon discover the body, a broken picture frame of the same type is at her feet, its picture removed! Nice touch. Something similar happens with Flossie Monro’s effects in a chapter of The Big Four. Something seems to be missing, though: the smashed drinking glass she had dropped when she was shot. No one takes heed of any such thing when the body is discovered, or attempts to avoid stepping on glass. Did Donavon dispose of it…?
-Fans debate: does Poirot pay for all repairs for the Lagonda at the end, since Hastings’ car (and a bit of heroic tomfoolery) was important in catching the murderer? It seems more likely to me that he was merely offering to fork over the ten pounds he had originally wagered.
Conclusion: I think it’s a great episode, very entertaining and humorous, and it highlights the personalities of Poirot, Hastings, Japp, and Miss Lemon well. Although it’s funny, it still manages to be both sinister and poignant in various places as well. It does raise an awful lot of open-ended questions, however.
***SPOILERS for Murder on the Orient Express and Curtain***
I came into the theatre this evening full of hearty pessimism. This was less to do with consternation at Branagh’s moustache and more to do with the fact that I have never yet seen a screen adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express that didn’t, in some way or another, annoy me greatly. I think the novel is terrific, and the Suchet audiobook is my favorite dramatization of the story. But evidently it’s quite a difficult story to adapt for the screen, and no matter how beautifully shot or how great the actors are, the scripts always make me want to tear my hair out. So it was with the greatest of skepticism that I approached the new film.
My own commentary on the film will be, first and foremost, from my perspective as a Christie fan and reader. There was, I confess, a good deal of wincing and cringing on my part. But there were also a few pleasant surprises. My overall impression was a general and complacent “meh.” Here I will present a stream of random, muddled observations, great and small…
• The film opens in Jerusalem (rather than Syria) with a strangely comic tableau at the Wailing Wall, of all places. Poirot refuses mismatched eggs and then goes on to dramatically hold forth concerning a relic robbery involving, as suspects, a rabbi, a priest, and an imam. It sounded like the start of a bad joke, and it kind of came off as one, too. Here, also, we are introduced to Poirot’s “weaponized” cane, with which he would go on to stop baddies, break open doors, and do heaven knows what else with. *scratches head* The overall effect of this opening is to give the viewer the impression that they’ve signed onto a rather light-hearted romp, which seems to me a weird thing to do for Murder on the Orient Express. The film goes on to get rather muddled in the middle with Poirot’s interviews, finally slowing down to a snail’s pace from the final denouement onward.
• Branagh manages a pleasant sort of French-sounding Belgian accent. Christie is funny on this point; she never describes Poirot as actually sounding Belgian, nor does she mention any familiarity on his part with the Flemish language. The whole effect he presents to others is “French.” Too much Flemish would be a mistake, but I think Branagh manages the accent well.
• Monsieur Bouc, who despite his name does not sound very Belgian or even French, consorts with a prostitute. An elderly man appears in the room and Poirot asks him if he also is a prostitute. WHAT? Poirot is eccentric, but is supposed to be extremely polite. His curious rudeness continues when first meeting MacQueen in the compartment they will initially share.
• When Poirot meets Mary Debenham, who is decidedly more chit-chatty than her book counterpart, he shows off with a few more deductions a la Sherlock Holmes, divining where the girl came from as well as her profession. For me, this is a supreme no-no: you do not make Poirot into another sort of Holmes. Christie’s character is observant, but he doesn’t give his hand away by laying out an acquaintance’s life history at first meeting like Holmes does. They are very different detectives.
• Poirot giggles like a ninny while reading Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. I was not impressed at Poirot giggling… and giggling at that particular book? However, I found myself vaguely pleased, as a Christie reader, that Poirot was reading Dickens, because he does. (He actually says so in the book Murder on the Orient Express, which is how he knows that “Mr. Harris” would not show up.) One also wonders if the book wasn’t chosen as foreshadowing in which Poirot is, in a later moment of willing and deception-laden self-sacrifice, supposed to be a sort of parallel of Sydney Carton.
• I actually liked how that famous line about Poirot not liking Ratchett’s face was set up in the script. The line did not appear at all in the 2010 adaptation. Branagh’s Poirot frames the comment in terms of knowing, from long experience, what he does and doesn’t like, and pointing out that he realizes Ratchett is a criminal and therefore does not wish to take his case. In a way, I felt that this made Christie’s original line seem a little less arbitrary.
• Bouc begs Poirot to take on the case, suggesting it will be easy for him to look around, get interviews, establish the passengers’ bona fides, and reach the solution. But in Christie’s novel, the interesting point to Poirot is that it is impossible to determine the passengers’ bona fides on the train, since they’re cut off from everyone in the snowdrift.
• The introduction of racial issues seemed a little too forced in this script. Now, if they had used that later on as commentary on the widely-varying personages and how such a variety could have come together only in America– thus shedding light on the mystery’s solution– that might have worked. But as my memory serves… they didn’t.
• Katherine? Katherine?? What the.
• Apart from anything actually murder-related, everyone’s kind of weirdly violent. The missionary is violent. Arbuthnot is violent. MacQueen is violent. Poirot is violent. Ratchett keeps pointing his gun at people for the fun of it, or something.
• Speaking of the missionary, why oh why is the name of Pilar Estravados lifted out of Hercule Poirot’s Christmas and plopped into Murder on the Orient Express? Is a Spanish nurse thought to be more exotic than a Swedish nurse? Whatever the reason, I will admit to appreciating this role far more than the Greta Ohlsson of the 2010 episode. She came across as unsympathetically smug and was a terrible exegete to boot.
• Likewise, I liked this film’s Mary Debenham much better than the self-righteous, “You must call stabbing a man to death a positive good and right thing or else you’re a mean judgy-head because of my Feels” character of the TV adaptation. Overall, this film’s characters had a lot more humility and were less hell-bent on self-justification at all costs. Like the book, it makes it easier to sympathize with them when the reader (or viewer) is gently shown that people driven crazy by grief can sometimes carry out horrible vengeance. Recognizing this murder as one more terrible tragedy in a long line of terrible tragedies is more effective than the perpetrators screaming at Poirot, in true 21st-century fashion: “Accept what we did as right, you hater!”
• Similarly, let’s talk about Poirot’s “growth” or change as a character. Both the film and the TV adaptation present a Poirot with an extremely simple concept of right and wrong, and by the end he realizes that life is actually complicated. I know that screen versions must differ from books… but it’s just not what I get from the books. There is a reason that so many fans felt that Suchet’s Orient Express contained his least Poirot-like dialogue. Poirot does have a firm moral compass, but he has never been oblivious to human psychology, unsympathetic to suffering, or hitherto unfamiliar with complex situations and murky waters. Strong morality does not equal naivete and it facilitates, rather than impairs, sympathy. What’s more, Christie works in a plethora of special contingencies that do not allow the reader to make such bald, radical statements as: “Poirot just let twelve murderers go free” or “Private vengeance is obviously justified if you feel really strongly in your heart that it’s right.”
• There are a few times that Branagh’s Poirot quotes other Poirot novels. There are two quotes from The Mystery of the Blue Train: “My name is Hercule Poirot and I am probably the greatest detective in the world.” Also, there is a close approximation of: “You tell your lies and you think nobody knows. But there are two people who know. Yes– two people. One is le bon Dieu– and the other is Hercule Poirot.” But perhaps the most interesting quote was lifted from Curtain. Poirot, murmuring to his mysterious Katherine photograph, says: “I have always been so sure– too sure… but now I am very humble and I say like a little child ‘I do not know…’ It’s one of Christie’s most beautiful Poirot quotes, written to Hastings and read after Poirot’s death. My one quibble here is what Poirot means when he speaks to the photograph; I forget where exactly in the film this happens– does he know who the murderers are at this point and is contemplating what would be the right action to take? If so, then the meaning of this quote is ironically the exact opposite of its meaning in Curtain. In that story, Poirot shoots and kills a dangerous man who gets others to murder for him, and is contemplating whether his actions could be considered justified, since he has saved others by the desperate deed. BUT, he is not willing to let himself off the hook so easily. He will not say, with swaggering confidence, that he definitely did what was right. Rather, he has humility– considering the deed, at best, a lesser of two evils– and entrusts himself to God’s mercy. In other words, the book quote is about not being too sure of yourself when you’ve just murdered someone, even someone reprehensible. In the film, the quote is about Poirot not being sure whether or not to take a firm line with people who have just murdered a reprehensible someone. I think I was more upset at the misuse of this quotation than at almost anything else in the film.
• My husband Alex asked me: “Is there anything that Branagh revealed about Poirot’s character from Christie that Suchet hadn’t done?” There was one thing that I noticed and liked a lot– Poirot interviewing the princess’s maid in German. Poirot speaking German, I thought, was great to see. His knowledge of the language helps him solve a clue to a different character’s identity in the film, not unlike Suchet’s Poirot does with the German brother and sister in the episode The Clocks. I love examples of Poirot the linguist.
• Instead of the murder weapon being hidden in the sponge bag quietly and inconspicuously, as would be sensible, Mrs. Hubbard gets stabbed with it instead. In the film, this is solely to try to distract Poirot and throw the blame off the person he is currently interviewing. But is anyone seriously supposed to believe that the murderer would dispose of his weapon by stabbing someone with it…? The moment came across as weird.
• Speaking of Mrs. Hubbard, why does she always seem to get re-written as a vamp instead of as the ridiculous, over-fond mother? In that capacity, she alone could suffice for comedic effect when it’s needed, but recent adaptations (including the 1974 film) don’t use Christie’s own humor here, and I wonder why. Instead, Mrs. Hubbard just comes across as a little cheap. “There was a man in my compartment!” “Are you sure it was a man?” “I know what it feels like to have a man in my room.” Similar lines are used both in 1974 film and in the TV adaptation, and were added into Branagh’s film as well.
• The silly moustache guard… a tribute, I suppose, to Albert Finney’s Poirot. Hmm.
• In general, I was not pleased with Poirot’s deductions. There is not a lot of “fair play” with the audience. Again, it’s more like watching Holmes.
• Okay, time for something else I thought was well done. There is something I was hoping to see in this film version that I thought would be a simple and effective way to pump up the emotional drama, and they did it– Daisy Armstrong flashbacks. Christie does this in her books as well. I can’t be the only person who tears up when reading of how much the members of the Armstrong household loved Daisy and the other Armstrongs. The idea that John (sic) Armstrong had initially written to Poirot for help with the case before he committed suicide in despair was also an interesting addition to the film’s storyline.
• “M. Bouc can lie. I cannot.” Um, sure you can. You’re Poirot, not George Washington. You love lying, in fact. It is an art form with you. I’ve heard it from Hastings himself.
Overall… the film was a pretty strange experience for me. I am not such a Christie purist that I refuse to accept, in dramatizations, any departures from the books at all. Switching between mediums is a tricky business, and I’m sure that much thought and discussion went into the ideas used. All the same, it didn’t click with me. If Christie didn’t write it, it might be okay to use in an adaptation; but if I can’t imagine her having written anything like it, I’m probably not going to approve of this or that choice.
Bringing back more Agatha Christie wordplay with some fiendish and strangely prophetic anagrams of some of her Poirot titles!
(Okay, Mr. Suchet certainly wasn’t debarred from anything… but dash it all, it’s funny! Many of the anagrams below seem to actually refer to the plot of the book. See previous name-related anagrams here.)
Death on the Nile:
Oh, heated Linnet
Ah, he toed Linnet
Murder on the Orient Express:
Mr. Poirot’s entered her nexus
Monsieur expends the terror
Oh, Monsieur renders pretext
Render expert shot, monsieur
The Mysterious Affair at Styles:
A feisty Mary shouts flatteries
Dead Man’s Folly:
Fall adds money
The Murder on the Links:
Hint: mother needs lurk
Lord Edgware Dies:
Dreaded wig roles
Sir glowered; dead
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd:
Hark, forgo my terror: deduce!
Doctor faked my huger error
Peril at End House:
Die upon a shelter
I need a pro sleuth
Poirot’s Early Cases:
Ace a story’s spoiler
A solo spy careerist
A sly sir cooperates
Soirees; a scary plot
Ya, plot crises arose
Elephants Can Remember:
Mental pen embraces her
Appointment With Death:
Hated Ma within tent, Pop
Evil Under the Sun:
Vulture heeds inn
Unnerved, I sleuth
Hickory Dickory Dock:
Coy chick or dorky kid?
Five Little Pigs:
Gives title flip [what these anagrams are literally doing…]
The Big Four:
Tribe of Ugh [hehehehe]
Aha– well entropy [read the book, it’s true]
The A.B.C. Murders:
Bad schemer rut
Debar Mr. Suchet
Bad here, Mr. Cust
Death in the Clouds:
Loaded hint, Suchet!
Oh, Suchet landed it
Suchet had not lied
Not a chided sleuth
A coded sleuth hint
Sleuth hidden coat
After the Funeral:
Uh, fatal referent
Affluent art here
Her artful tea fen
Cards on the Table:
Blatant docs here
[Aside: There are, additionally, a huge number of humorous and insane, if not always appropriate, anagrams for this title. That might have to be its own blog post someday, but I think my favorite is “Clone the bastard.”]
Three Act Tragedy:
Regret yacht date
Cheated– great try
Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case:
A tactician’s poor results
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.”
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.
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.
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…
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. 🙂
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.”
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…”
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: “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?
Not very long ago, I suggested that if the Agatha Christie estate would release The Big Four as a graphic novel, they could have all my money.
Well, it turns out that this book was in fact made into a graphic novel (as were other Christie stories). So, true to my word, I promptly disposed of the bulk of my earthly lucre, that is to say about ten dollars, and ordered it. I’ll probably receive it in a few weeks.
But I’m suspicious.
The cover– hardcover!– looks pretty promising. Nice “number 4” shadow, mysterious silhouette, and creepy dragon emblem.
But the back cover– the back cover seriously alarmed me. The graphics were all right. The chess pieces, with the prominent bishop, are perfectly appropriate. But do you see what troubles me? Click on the photo so you can zoom and read the synopsis in the green bishop.
Yeah, pretty much nothing in that synopsis is actually true.
***Spoilers for The Big Four ahead***
I’d hardly describe Captain Hastings as being particularly drawn to the quiet life– even at his times of greatest peace and quiet, he’s only too eager to be distracted by the action of an exciting criminal investigation, the more dangerous the better. And who exactly are these strangers who shuffle Poirot off on “round-the-world trips” to defeat criminal masterminds with exotic code names? He voluntarily makes a few brief jaunts to France, Belgium, and Italy, and never takes his dreaded sea journey to South America. And Achille Poirot never announces to Hastings that Poirot is dead; Achille doesn’t “show up” until well after Hastings is assured that Poirot was alive. I wouldn’t call The Big Four one of Christie’s most “ambitious books”– although I’m very fond of it myself, it has plenty of uncharacteristic notes, jumbly confusion, and an overall negative reputation as her books go. I believe that Christie herself hated it. The only thing here I’d really agree with is that being a (sort of) international spy thriller, it is ideally suited to be turned into a graphic novel.
The synopsis makes one wonder: is this graphic novel just a sort of loose adaptation of the book? Or is it just a weirdly bad synopsis that we should ignore? When I get my hands on my copy, I’ll be sure to post a review here… stay tuned! 🙂
Okay, I’ve just laughed myself stupid this evening, and it’s because I’ve finally watched some of that Poirot/Marple anime series that originally came out in 2004-2005. The series adapts a number of Poirot and Marple stories and sort of blends them together through this primary character of a 16-year-old girl who is Miss Marple’s grand-niece, Maybelle West. She becomes a Poirot fangirl and desperately aspires to be (and becomes) the detective’s “junior assistant,” eventually sharing house with Miss Lemon and tagging along with Poirot and Hastings on their expeditions.
And she has a pet duck named Oliver.
Does this sound like the classic makings of a Mary Sue fanfic? Why yes, yes it does!
When you see the theme opening, you’d be excused for thinking that you’ve shown up to the wrong party. The focus is almost entirely on this Maybelle West character and her faithful duck companion, with Christie’s detectives appearing almost incidental . And the theme song is, well… you really do have to hear it to believe it. I daren’t give away all the glories that await you, but here’s a tiny sample. 🙂
I may sound critical, but it’s got a few cute things going for it. The stories, except for all things connected with the insertion/wish-fulfillment style of character that Maybelle resembles, are at least fairly close to Christie’s originals. The attempt to blend the Poirot/Marple universes together through an external, unifying character is a valiant one. And it turns out that Anime!Hastings is kind of hot.
I say that Maybelle is Mary Sue-esque, but she doesn’t have a huge range of super-skills or anything like that (however, sometimes she is annoyingly quick to hit on certain clues that prove vital to the solving of the case). There are many, many moments in this series of “what is this, I can’t even.” She’s trying to “find herself” and Miss Marple gives her tremendously cheesy advice and… there’s the recurring duck…
You have to laugh. 😀 If your interest is piqued, you can watch “The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan” here.
*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.
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.
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…
But there’s more. Having no originality, Tysoe actually plagiarizes parts of his own dreadfully-written articles.
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!!!!
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.
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.
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?