Reused paintings in the Poirot series

There’s nothing particularly newsworthy about reused props in a television series, or in more than one series made by the same people. But it’s fun to point them out all the same.  In Poirot, you’ve got a good 25-year span to notice them in. I recount a sampling of these occurrences…

Possibly the single most obviously reused painting is this guy, because the picture is specifically focused on in the episodes The Mystery of the Spanish Chest, where the painting features prominently at the men’s club, and Dumb Witness, in which the painting at the Arundell house dramatically falls from the wall.

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Dumb Witness

Another fairly easy-to-spot painting of a mother and her sick child appears in at least three episodes: Dead Man’s Mirror, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and Third Girl. The painting functions as a major plot point in the first of the three, and this makes it easier for fans to spot the same painting appearing in Ackroyd’s home and in David Baker’s studio.

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Some recognizable paintings are not merely reused props so much as entire locations. The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly and Third Girl share a location, Wrotham Park, as shots like these indicate.

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But for me, the most interesting of all is this painting here. It is a fairly unremarkable little scene that took up residence behind the sitting room fruit bowl, so that we see it in several episodes.

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But when The Mysterious Affair at Styles is filmed, we might be astonished to discover that this very same painting hung in Poirot’s own room at Leastways Cottage, where he was living by the charity of Mrs. Inglethorp!

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More remarkable still: when Poirot retires (temporarily) to his little house in King’s Abbot in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, that painting is again in his residence! (Far left)

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I guess it may be that the art department was running out of paintings of a certain sort to shuffle around. I myself like to imagine that there’s an untold story here. Did Poirot take the painting away from Leastways Cottage when he left to remind him of his humble beginnings at Styles, his generous sponsor there, and the first major case he investigated in his new country? Did the picture have sufficient sentimental value from the past that he could have even had it sent over from Belgium when he first emigrated, and subsequently installed it in each new dwelling where he lived? Ah, the unsolved mysteries…

The one Poirot-esque thing I can do that David Suchet can’t.

I can make my eyes go greener– on command.

No, seriously.   😉

Whenever Christie writes how Poirot’s eyes turn steadily greener, there is a definite feeling of unreality. It’s as if she’s reminding the reader: “Oh, by the way, this is fiction; this little detail is here to make things entertaining in an outrageous sort of way.” Do anyone’s eyes change color just because they are excited or are happening upon a significant truth?

Mind you, that’s not what turns my eyes greener. In fact, I think that most green-eyed or hazel-eyed people probably have eyes that go greener under certain circumstances– specifically, when they are crying. The edges of the eyes turn reddish, and then the green pops, right into a bright and crazy emerald. So despite the fun unreality of Christie’s description, it is quite practically possible. If being excited makes the blood rush to Poirot’s face in some small way, maybe that stimulates the effect.

This has been your weird and speculative whatsit for today!!

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Of twin sisters and seeing double

Two Poirot novels prominently feature twin sisters as a central point of the mystery: The Murder on the Links and Elephants Can Remember. In other words, Christie’s second published Poirot novel, and her-second-to-last-published Poirot novel. (2, 2, 2…) The twin sisters of The Murder on the Links, as Poirot readers know, feature largely in the life and the future of Hastings. He marries “Cinderella” a.k.a. Dulcie Duveen, whose sister Bella marries Jack Renauld. Because of the South American interests of the Renauld family, the latter couple inevitably relocates there, and Hastings and Dulcie decide to join them as well to start a ranch.

There’s a strange little passage in Peril at End House when, as Poirot is getting on Hastings’ nerves, the following dialog ensues.

‘Do you suppose I’d have made a success of my ranch out in the Argentine if I was the kind of credulous fool you make out?’

‘Do not enrage yourself, mon ami. You have made a great success of it– you and your wife.’

‘Bella,’ I said, ‘always goes by judgment.’

‘She is as wise as she is charming,’ said Poirot.

Um, have Hastings and Poirot forgotten to which twin sister Hastings is married?

I don’t know if this has been written about or explained by Agatha Christie or anyone else, but it seems most likely that it is a mere mistake. If one is determined to resolve the problem “within the canon,” it’s just possible, I suppose, that Hastings’ sister-in-law is known to be the business brain behind all the entrepreneurial affairs of the family in South America, and he’s changing the subject to impress upon Poirot that even she trusts his judgment implicitly. But that is not really the context of the conversation. It’s a very bizarre moment.

It’s additionally funny– and weird– because in the television series, of course, one of the sisters is cut out altogether and Hastings and Bella Duveen do end up together!

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Weirdness. Weirdness everywhere.

The theology of The A.B.C. Murders

In a previous post entitled “The theology of the Clapham Cook,” I discussed some interesting script choices in that first episode; namely, that a passage of Scripture is read by a background character which actually encapsulates the entire theme of the episode. Something similar happens in the television adaptation of The A.B.C. Murders, coupled with a few religious artifacts of note.

Those interested in fashion particularly notice the amazing wardrobe skills on display in a series like Poirot; car enthusiasts are apt to point out the vintage cars. Well, art and theology are two special hobbies of mine, and they inevitably jump out at me in viewings of the show. Sometimes this takes the form of vintage devotional items, which I always notice with great interest, and there happen to be some in this episode.

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There is a flashback scene in the denouement in which Cust is receiving his new typewriter. Sitting on his little table are a few personal objects and knick-knacks, including three devotional items: a Bible, a palm cross, and what looks like a little picture or prayer card.

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A Bible shows up at least twice more around Cust: in his Doncaster hotel room, and in the prison cell, where he is reading it. (More on that later.) The palm cross is an interesting prop choice– it is a simple, traditional Lenten and Easter craft made from a folded blade of palm frond, sometimes from the palms used on Palm Sunday. It is a symbol of suffering, martyrdom, and future glory. It initially stood out to me because the scene takes place at a different time of year than you’d usually see palm crosses about.

The prayer card or picture is just barely visible, but due to the universal iconography of the figure, I am about 99% sure that there is a picture of St. Jude on it. That particular apostle has for many years, and certainly by the 1930s, been depicted in a white robe with a green drape over one shoulder, holding a staff or club (referencing his martyrdom), having a small flame over his head, and holding an image of Christ. The last two objects are indeterminate in the shot, but the rest are clearly visible. Compare for yourself, intrepid blog reader, whether the card in the shot above is likely to be a picture of St. Jude…

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“Fine, well spotted, but who cares?” you say.

It’s merely the interesting coincidence that a glance through the hagiography of St. Jude happens to show some unusual points of connection with A.B. Cust. The Catholic Church represents him as the patron saint of lost causes, things despaired of, and hopeless cases. That association has to do with the fact that St. Jude (or Judas) shares the name of another apostle, Judas Iscariot, the traitor to Jesus. The unfortunate similarity of name, and the subsequent oft-mistaken identity, apparently resulted in a sort of neglect and forgetting of St. Jude by many in the Church, and so he is regarded as a beacon of hope for things despaired of and forgotten. Does that does not ring a bell with the pitiful, forgotten, hapless Mr. Cust– who is not, in fact, the A.B.C. letter-writer, but is presented as the murderer to the police in a case of mistaken identity?

But wait, there’s more.  😉

In his prison cell, just as Poirot enters, we can hear Cust reading from the Bible– to be specific, the Beatitudes, from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5. “And He taught them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit–”

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The Beatitudes are a well-known Christian text that offer words of comfort and blessing by Christ to the suffering, wrongly oppressed and accused, and persecuted. Again, this fits Cust to a tee, and the reading here at least was certainly not coincidental, but chosen for that purpose.

But in other interesting details of chance: the staff or club held by St. Jude signifies that he was martyred by being bludgeoned to death, which is how the murderer commits two of his deeds, including the “main” murder of his brother. And also, take notice where Cust suddenly stops in his reading. “For they shall inherit…” Unknowingly, Cust utters the real motive for the crime of which he is unjustly accused– Franklin Clarke kills in order to inherit his brother’s fortune!

“’Course, it might be a coincidence.”

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Oh, who am I kidding, of course I do!   😉

I don’t pretend that the particular choice of devotional items was intentional, in those particulars, for the episode, but how very well it all hangs together, n’est-ce pas?

Curtain: Why Hastings really dashes back upstairs.

***Spoilers, but if you’ve been here before, you know that! Watch Curtain already!  😛 ***

Anyway.

You know the scene where Elizabeth Cole is playing Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude right after Hastings has had his final chat with Poirot? Hastings walks in on her; she stops playing when she sees him; Hastings has a few moments of pause, then dashes back upstairs to find his friend dead in bed.

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What exactly is it that triggers the dash upstairs? Instinct? The simple fact that the music has stopped dead is what immediately leaps to the eye (or ear), and that is an important part of it. But there’s another component that is more pointed.

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“La musique cesse.” Charcoal sketch on paper.

The fact is that this scene exactly parallels the scene where Hastings first meets Poirot again there at Styles, all those years later, at the beginning of the episode. Elizabeth Cole is sitting at the piano, playing the very same piece. Hastings opens the drawing room door, and there is his friend. Poirot turns to face him, and as he opens his mouth in greeting…

The music stops. And Poirot speaks: “Hastings?”

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The reason, I humbly and speculatively propose, that Hastings stands there awkwardly at the drawing room door when he opens it on the day of Poirot’s death, is that he feels déjà vu, as though he’s waiting for something to happen. And something does happen. Once again, the music stops. Once again, he hears his name: “Captain Hastings?” But it is not Poirot who greets him. That’s when it occurs to him that there is only one difference in the two scenes: Poirot is gone.

Poirot is gone. And when he realizes this, it is then that he rushes upstairs again to see if it is true… and it is.

Hastings returns to the drawing room to ruminate in grief with his daughter, Judith, afterwards.

 

 

Proof positive that David Suchet is Achille Poirot.

The man beside me was not Hercule Poirot.

He was very like him, extraordinarily like him. There was the same egg-shaped head, the same strutting figure, delicately plump. But the voice was different, and the eyes instead of being green were dark, and surely the moustaches– those famous moustaches–?

…The countess leant forward and snatched at Poirot’s moustaches. They came off in her hand, and then, indeed, the truth was plain…

‘This is Achille Poirot,’ I said slowly. ‘Hercule Poirot’s twin brother.’

-The Big Four

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The Double Cigarette Case

If you’ve fled Russia and intend to lead a life of international crime, always make sure to pack an extra cigarette case, just in case you plan to accidentally leave behind your other specially-monogrammed case near one of the safes you mean to rob.

Those Russian aristocrats– they practice the prodigality!

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Additional wacky bit of speculation: one of the reasons Poirot suspects the Countess, despite the fact that everyone and their aunt has the initials of B.P., is that by giving these cigarettes a careful sniff, he recognizes the smell of the contents of the empty monogrammed case. He is subsequently so taken by the smell of these exotic Russian cigarettes that he himself smokes nothing else for the rest of his fictional life. (But he cuts his cigarettes in half because Belgians, they practice the thrift.)  😉

“Well, I’m jiggered”: a discrepancy most curious in “Murder in the Mews”

In Christie’s story, “Murder in the Mews,” we have this quote from Poirot…

“That man is now in prison, he will serve a long sentence for other matters. Do you really wish, of your own volition, to destroy the life– the life, mind– of any human being?”

In the television episode of Poirot, we have this interesting variation on the quote…

“The man you wish to trap is already in prison. Do you really wish to destroy him? Do you really wish to destroy the life– the mind– of any human being?”


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The word “mind,” you may have noticed, is being used in two completely different senses. Christie has Poirot saying “the life, mind [you]”; Suchet delivers the line as though Poirot is speaking about the destruction of the human mind by murder.

So the mystery is: accidental or intentional? Did the script writer misread the story and write the script exactly as it was delivered? Did Suchet misread the script and deliver an alternate meaning by accident? Or was it a deliberate choice on the part of either of those people to depart from Christie slightly, and have Poirot equate the tragedy of murder with the destruction of that most prized faculty, the human mind?

I will never have the guts to ask, so I fear I shall never know.

“Well, I’m jiggered.”

That statue in The Big Four…

The episode The Big Four begins with Poirot’s “funeral,” then flashes back four weeks to the chess tournament arranged by Abe Ryland, an advocate of the Peace Party. The room in which the guests are congregated– location: Syon House, Brentford– is full of copies of famous ancient statuary, including the Apollo Belvedere (located at the opposite end of the room from the chess table). You may have seen these in other films shot at this location.

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There are 4 full-sized statues in the room (the Great Hall of Syon House) and the one that caught my attention was the one on the opposite side of the chess set, where the main action of the event is centered. We begin to get a good look at it when Poirot and Japp are having their little conversation about Madame Olivier.

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It is a copy of The Dying Gaul.

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In the ancient world, Gaul was the region of western Europe encompassing France, Belgium, and the surrounding area. The Gauls spread across Europe, with pockets reaching as far as Turkey (e.g. the Galatians). Of course, we still use the word “Gallic” to describe anything characteristically French, as in: “Poirot bowed with Gallic politeness.”

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But what’s really amusant about The Dying Gaul and its place in this story is… did you know… The Dying Gaul has one of the most famous MOUSTACHES in all of sculpture? In fact, the moustache is one of the reasons that he is usually assumed to be a Gaul in the first place.

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An interesting coincidence, n’est-ce pas? Beyond the fact that a man dies at that chess table… isn’t cutting from Poirot’s funeral to a room that prominently featured The Dying Gaul be a rather appropriate bit of foreshadowing?

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A mystery concerning Curtain… and The Princess Bride.

***Major spoilers, but for the record… if you’re on this site, assume that I’ll be regularly “spoiling” plots anyway because I assume you know them.***  😉

It is, perhaps, the one thing about the television adaptation of Curtain that baffles me completely.

In that striking scene where Poirot unmasks Norton one-on-one, and Norton begins funneling the venom into his rival, he makes this comment: “Murder me… And then what– suicide to avoid the ignominy of hanging?”

Poirot does not respond in words, but his eyes say something like, “Well yes, that’s basically what I had in mind.” That this was intended as a sincere reaction by Poirot seems to be confirmed by a statement Suchet makes backstage in the opening scenes of the documentary Being Poirot: “He knows he has to die. He could never take the ignominy of being accused of a murder and then [hanged].” It would seem from this that Poirot really means to help his death along in some way, to avoid the shame of both conviction of a crime and being sent to the gallows.

There is one small problem, though: Poirot is never in any danger of the gallows to begin with.

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It makes sense, perhaps, for a startled Norton to come up with this idea when he first realizes what’s going on. But Poirot has had months, possibly even years, to think this through. He must have known that he has no danger of being hanged.

Point #1: Poirot is in practically zero danger of being caught at all. And in fact, he isn’t caught. He’s worked this out with remarkable efficiency.

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In that awesome aforementioned scene, Poirot suggest to Norton that he himself might fail in his attempt to serve justice, but does Poirot really believe that he’s likely to fail? It reads more like a “humble-bluff” to me. Despite revealing himself to be a clever devil who “does his homework,” Poirot still comes across to Norton as a “pathetic, self-important little man.” As Christie often tells us, this is a favorite ruse of Poirot’s to cause his enemies to underestimate him.

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Whether he’s bluffing there or not, he certainly is by the time they get to the chocolate. Norton feels he has won a spar with Poirot (“Shots in the dark”) and is then apparently clever enough to take Poirot’s cup of chocolate instead of his own when suspiciously offered a drink. Unfortunately for Norton, he never saw The Princess Bride.

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He could have learned some important life lessons…

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I mean, Poirot’s ingenuity with drugged chocolate has already previously saved Hastings from worse than death.

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And of course, Poirot has other substantial tricks up his sleeve, including an intricate plan involving a fake moustache and (most importantly) full use of his limbs. No, I cannot believe that he really has any intentions at all of being caught. He’s going to hop out of the wheelchair and commit the deed, and no one will know the full truth– until he reveals it.

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Point #2: In the unlikely event that Poirot’s actions were discovered by the authorities, it seems that the most probable way would be if he actually turned himself over to the police. Supposing that he subsequently found his actions so unbearable that he felt he had to give himself up immediately. Would he have been hanged in that case? No. Would he have been hanged even if someone else had turned him in? No.

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Why? The simplest reason is that he would not have lived long enough for a trial. Christie knows this theme well; consider the following passage from the end of “Dead Man’s Mirror”:

    ‘That was– rather noble in a way. I hate to think of her going through a trial for murder.’
Poirot said gently:
‘Do not distress yourself. It will not come to that. The doctor, he tells me that she has serious heart trouble. She will not live many weeks.’

For good measure, here’s “Problem at Sea,” in which Poirot deliberately kills the murderer with an extra-shocking denouement:

    Ellie Henderson was beside him. Her eyes were dark and full of pain. ‘Did you know his heart was weak?’ she asked.
‘I guessed it…’
Ellie murmured: ‘So you thought– it might end– this way?’
‘The best way, don’t you think, mademoiselle?’ he said gently.

In “The Chocolate Box,” Poirot allows the killer to walk free, a very rare move, knowing she will die very shortly. In Curtain, Poirot knows he’s about to die from his heart condition. We know from the book that he has deliberately timed this crime so that it will be approximately the last thing he does.

   ‘I knew that my time was short– and for that I was glad. For the worst part of murder, Hastings, is its effect on the murderer. I, Hercule Poirot, might come to believe myself divinely appointed to deal out death to all and sundry… But mercifully there would not be time for that to happen. The end would come soon.’

‘I am very tired– and the exertions I have been through have strained me a good deal. It will not, I think, be long before…’

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In short, Poirot knows perfectly well that he is not going to live long beyond his murder, and he must have known that hanging was not a possibility for him. He was going to die first regardless.

Point #3: Let us speculate even further… even if Poirot was not likely to have a heart attack at any moment, would he have ever been convicted and hanged? I think that even that is questionable. Ironically, (movie-)Norton’s own words help explain why Poirot would not hang:  “You can see them now: ‘Went off his rocker, in the end, you can never trust a foreigner.’”

Poirot’s own opinion, in the book, is that he could have killed Norton quite openly with a “gun accident” and it would have never been suspected as murder; that Poirot indeed would have had the sympathy of people who considered him to be a poor, gaga old man who simply didn’t realize the gun was loaded. Such a person would not have been hanged. Of course, Poirot does not choose that route for one particular reason:

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And despite Norton’s dig at Poirot’s foreignness, and Poirot’s clear breaking of the law, he has the reader’s sympathy in his quest to protect the innocent, and would likely have a good deal of sympathy in England, too. He has an excellent long-standing reputation there in apprehending criminals, and again, he is a very old and ill man at this point. At worst, it might be said that his mind was going and he needed institutionalizing.

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But as Poirot is, in fact, at the brink of death, Point #3 is just added speculation on what could have been. In the end, Poirot is just smarter than Norton. And pretty much everyone else. And he knows it.

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So, in summary…

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#1: Poirot is in no great danger of being hanged because he probably won’t even get caught. #2: Even if he does get caught– or, more likely, turns himself in– he would be dead long before he gets a trial and sentence, assuming that the sentence IS death. #3: The sentence probably wouldn’t be death, since he’s a sick, very elderly man with a great track record in England and a provocation that is reasonable enough to draw plenty of sympathy from the reader– and the public. Poirot may, possibly, fear criminal conviction and a blow to that reputation, but surely not the shame of execution by hanging.

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How does this affect the reading of the film? Personally, to make sense of the scene, I have to read Poirot’s initial reaction of assent to Norton’s suggestion of “suicide to avoid hanging” as deliberately deceptive rather than sincere on Poirot’s part, and Norton’s mark only truly hitting home when he mentions the judgment of God a few moments later. There is enough of a difference in those wordless reactions that I think such an interpretation can stand. Funnily enough, the first two fans I discussed this with said that they read this scene exactly the same way, and NOT as Poirot actually intending to escape hanging via medicinal neglect. Yet, this preferred interpretation of mine seems to be at odds with Suchet’s own intentions for his performance. Am I missing some vital point? What say you, intrepid reader?

This strikes me as an important question for other reasons that seriously affect the story: Why does Poirot refrain from taking the meds? What are his words “Forgive me” exactly in reference to? To some extent, questions like that turn on this point.

(Continued later…)