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.  🙂

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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.”