I’ve been spending so much time in the pre-Industrial age with Pillars of the Earth and The Tudors, I thought it might be a nice break to get a little closer to my era. A quick perusal of my collection brought three Poirot DVDs and I thought, well, why not? The 1930’s can be a fun time to dive into, and I’ve missed my favorite little Belgian (not French!) detective. This should help fill the time before Boardwalk Empire starts up.
But first, a quick character rundown:
Hercule Poirot: Detective extraordinaire. He fled Belgium with a group of other refugees during the first World War. He now lives at Whitehaven Mansions in London.
Captain Hastings: A WWI army captain. He doesn’t appear to have an actual job, other than following Poirot around, and his main purpose is to give Poirot rides when needed, chase suspects, provide occasional comic relief, and act as a sounding board/audience stand-in. My one quibble with these adaptations are that they dumbed him down quite a lot.
Chief Inspector Japp: Scotland Yard’s chief inspector. Gruff and middle class, unlike the more polished Poirot and Hastings. He shows up on every case whether it makes sense for him to be there or not.
Miss Lemon: Poirot’s Girl Friday (not that anyone would ever think to call her that to her face, lest they find themselves filed away under “past acquaintances, deceased.”)
Enough of that—let’s get started, shall we?
I love the Poirot opening. It’s so cool and atmospheric.
We open at a nice seaside boardwalk, complete with concession stands, statues, laughing kids, and merry-go-round. The camera moves back from this merry scene to a far less happy one—a man’s deathbed, overlooking the boardwalk. A doctor takes the patient’s pulse and informs a woman hovering nearby—presumably a housekeeper—that it won’t be long before Mr. Antony shuffles off the mortal coil. He asks if there’s any family to be notified, and the housekeeper answers that there’s a brother, Henry, but the two don’t speak. There’s also his nephew, George.
We cut to a rehearsal for a pretty lousy-looking comedy variety show. In the upper balcony of the empty theater, a man in a suit with a clipboard is watching the show, when he’s interrupted by another guy in a suit who tells him there’s a call for him. The first guy is the nephew, George, who impatiently asks if Guy 2 can take a message. Guy 2 tells George it’s about his uncle, and George gets up to take the call immediately.
The housekeeper, Mrs. Hill, is on the phone with George (whose last name is Lorrimer, if that ever becomes important), telling him the doctor says it won’t be long now. George tells her he’s very sad to hear that, but he can’t get down to Brighton for a few days yet. Crappy comedy shows don’t just produce themselves, you know. At a loss, Mrs. Hill asks if George thinks she should try to get in touch with the brother, Henry Gascoigne, and George tells her Henry would welcome the news. When the time comes, George will break the news to Henry himself. Mrs. Hill hangs up, looking distressed and George examines a picture of his two estranged uncles in their younger days, which sits on his desk. Harry, the guy who came to fetch him, watches all this from the doorway.
Glorious, glorious Whitehaven Mansions. Where did they find this amazing building? I so desperately want to live there. Up in his flat, Poirot’s signing papers as Miss Lemon hands them over, while Captain Hastings listens to a cricket game on the radio. Poirot can’t resist getting a dig in at cricket, expressing amazement at a national obsession with a game where even the players don’t know what’s going on. Hastings, kind of awesomely, actually, gets Poirot back by reeling off quite a bit of cricket lingo that could be completely made up (that’s how much sense it makes to anyone not in the know) but probably isn’t, so clearly someone knows what’s going on in the game, Hercule. Poirot tells Hastings he has no time for this nonsense, he has a dinner date with his dentist. How very odd. Who hangs out with their dentist socially? I’m not the only one who feels this way—both Miss Lemon and Hastings express surprise at this weird dinner date, but Poirot just tells them his dentist is charming in his off hours, and anyway, he likes to see the end product at work. So, it’s like running a marathon with your cardiologist, I guess.
The dentist proves he doesn’t at all know his audience by purposely taking Poirot to a restaurant that only serves up “good, well-cooked English fare.” And yes, before anyone starts, that does exist. I’ve had it, and it’s delicious. Poirot is surprisingly polite about this, resists the urge to make fun of English food, and asks the dentist to order for him. That seems kind of dangerous to me—careful he doesn’t order the rock au gratin for you, Poirot.
The dentist waves down the waitress, Molly, who’s just seating an elderly artist. How do we know he’s an artist? He’s actually wearing a giant, floppy beret, right out of every cartoon illustration of an artist you’ve ever seen. Molly comes bustling over, and clearly the dentist comes here often, because she immediately tells him his favorite is on the menu: filet of sole to start, followed by roast turkey with chestnut stuffing. Mmmmmm! Poirot doesn’t look as enthusiastic as I am about the menu, but that’s what you get when you let someone else order for you. He asks Molly if people tend to order the same thing again and again in that restaurant, and she says they do, but lately one regular—Mr. Gascoigne (our artist) has started acting a little oddly. He’s been showing up on unusual days (Monday, instead of his usual Wednesday and Saturday), and ordering food he either hates or has never eaten there before. Poirot mon dieu’s over that, and Molly hurries off, now she’s run through all her gossip. Poirot’s interest is piqued by Gascoigne’s change of habit, which the dentist thinks is due to doctor’s orders. What kind of a doctor orders an elderly man to start eating heavy food like steak and kidney pudding and blackberry crumble? Poirot says as much, but the dentist is more interested in proposing a toast to his buddy, for whom life without mystery is like roast beef without the mustard. Hee! Poirot raises his glass, drinks, and winces. Seems a bicuspid is bothering him. The dentist gleefully says they’ll have to take a look at that just as Molly reappears to tell them Gascoigne’s at it again—steak and kidney pudding and blackberry crumble. The plot (and dinner) thickens!
Early in the morning, a neighborhood busybody watches as the milkman places a jug of milk on a doorstep, beside two still-full jugs already there. This didn’t strike the milkman as odd? Apparently not. The busybody notices, though, and she goes right over to the milk-rejecting house and tries knocking on the door, which goes unanswered. One of the other neighbors comes by and asks what the fuss is about, and Busybody explains that the milk’s been out for three days now. Neighborlady snarks that the house’s occupant hasn’t had a bath for ages either, but Busybody apparently actually gives a crap about her neighbors and worries that he might have hurt himself or gotten sick. The ladies enlist the help of a couple of strapping young lads, who bust down the front door (surprisingly easily, I might add) and reveal old Henry Gascoigne, in an old-fashioned nightshirt and dressing gown, lying at the foot of the stairs, dead. Busybody inspects the body and surmises he took a nasty tumble.
Poirot’s in the dentist’s chair, having the bicuspid drilled, and the dentist shares the news that Gascoigne is dead, apparently from a fall down the stairs. Poirot looks intrigued.
Presumably right after, he and Hastings are chatting with the Busybody, who tells them Gascoigne’s lived there for ages and kept mostly to himself. Hastings asks if she ever spoke to him, and he says they’d exchange a friendly word in passing, but the other night, he breezed right past her as if she wasn’t even there. Poirot asks which day that was, as the lady goes to unlock Gascoigne’s front door (when did she get a key?). At the sound of Poirot’s accent, she gets all defensive and xenophobic and finally asks who these two guys are. Lady, you were just going to unlock your neighbor’s front door and usher in two strangers without even bothering to ask who they were? Worst neighbor ever.
She addresses Hastings only, and remarks on Poirot’s non-Englishness (though she does smooth out the bitchiness by apologizing a little). Hastings explains that Poirot’s the Hercule Poirot, the detective. Well, they all say that, don’t they? The woman says, which makes no sense to me. Was there a rash of Belgians coming to England and randomly claiming to be private detectives? Anyway, she tells Hastings it was last Saturday that Gascoigne failed to recognize her. Then she turns to Poirot and does that stupid thing where she repeats what she says slowly and loudly, as though everyone around her is hearing and learning impaired. Good to know it’s not just Americans who do that, at least. Poirot winces but manages to smile and nod at her.
She unlocks the door and shows them into the house, musing that Gascoigne tripped over the sash on his robe and ended up falling down the stairs. Poirot asks her if Gascoigne had many visitors and she tells him the only person who came over regularly was his model, who just so happens to be upstairs at the moment. Then why was the door locked?
Hastings and Poirot show themselves up to a large, brightly lit studio where a red-headed woman with a sour look is leafing through papers. The gentlemen introduce themselves and she asks if there’s anything there that requires an investigation. Poriot tells her he’s just curious, really, and maybe she can help him? She sneeringly asks if there’s any reason why she should, and he mildly asks her if there’s any reason she shouldn’t? She takes the road of least resistance and tells him her name is Dulcy Lane, and she was Gascoigne’s model. Hastings jumps in and asks if she’s noticed anything odd about him recently and she says she wouldn’t notice if there was, since artists act like freaks most of the time anyway. As she’s saying this, Poirot pulls out a tiny magnifying glass and examines some inkblots on the blotting paper on the desk. Dulcy does mention that there was some odd arrangement between Gascoigne and his agent, Peter Makinson, but she doesn’t know anything about it. She says that Gascoigne was doing rather well for himself, and Hastings asks about family. She mentions the nephew, as well as the brother, Antony, with whom Henry had a falling out years ago. She finds a picture of the two and Hastings remarks on the two brothers’ similarity—they could almost have been twins.
Dulcy asks Poirot what piqued his curiosity, and he tells her Gascoigne had been acting strangely lately, and he suspects Gascoigne was murdered.
As they leave, Hastings informs Poirot that Dulcy doesn’t seem like the type to push an old man down the stairs. Poirot points out that she didn’t exactly seem broken up about the man’s death, and Hastings asks him why she should? Good point, it’s not like she was best friends with the guy. Hastings brings up the brother, and Poirot tells him they’ll need to track him down, as well as Gascoigne’s agent.
Poirot and Hastings take a little field trip to Scotland Yard, to visit Japp, who’s showing off their new forensics lab, which he thinks will make himself and Poirot redundant. Poirot doesn’t seem all that concerned and nor should he. You’ll always need people to interpret those forensic findings, Japp. Japp finds a file on Gascoigne and tells Poirot the man died of a broken neck, around 9:30 at night, and had no visitors that day. Poirot expresses some surprise at the precision of the time of death, and Japp informs him that there was a letter in the man’s pocket that was delivered by the evening post, at 9:30 that night. Poirot asks to see the letter and is told that it’s with Gascoigne’s clothes, with the pathologist. Japp tells him he should consider backing off, since there’s really nothing here to investigate, but Poirot tells him he just wants to satisfy his own curiosity, so Japp tells him the name of the pathologist who has the clothes and the letter.
Poirot pays the man a visit, and the pathologist shows him the body. His injuries are consistent with a fall down the stairs, and there’s no evidence of a heart attack or seizure. Poirot quickly checks out the man’s teeth, and then goes to see the letter. While he’s there, the pathologist reads from his report that, according to the contents of Gascoigne’s stomach, he’d eaten a light supper about three hours before his death, which we all know was totally untrue. Hmmm. Poirot asks to borrow the letter and the pathologist agrees. Because apparently chain of custody with evidence hadn’t been invented yet.
Poirot’s hosting Hastings for dinner, and he eagerly serves up one of his favorite dishes, rabbit cooked in the style of Liege. He’s so boyishly proud and excited it’s kind of adorable. Hastings makes a gentle little joke, which Poirot doesn’t find funny at all, because you don’t joke about mom’s recipes. He lectures Hastings about this as he dishes up the food. Hastings digs in as Poirot watches expectantly, giving him pointers on how to eat it (with a spoon, no knife). Hastings praises the food, but isn’t good enough with words to be more articulate than to say it “tastes more rabbity than any rabbit he’s ever tasted”. Oh, Hastings.
Probably to get Poirot to stop staring at him as he eats, Hastings asks what was in the letter Gascoigne went down to collect. Poirot retrieves it and it’s an invitation to a gallery showing the following day.
The two men take in the show, examining a surrealist red painting of, basically, a bunch of shapes. I love the 1930’s, but the art from that period? Not so much. A white-haired gentleman in a suit joins them and tells them the painting’s called “Man Throwing a Stone at a Bird.” Hastings asks which is which, and both the white-haired man and Poirot turn to look at him like he’s an idiot, although I think he’s really speaking for everyone who’s ever seen one of these paintings. Poirot gives him a quick lecture on the Surrealist movement and then turns to the white-haired man to suck up a little and show off his knowledge. The man introduces himself as Peter Makinson, and Poirot asks him about the unusual arrangement he had with Gascoigne. Makinson asks Poirot if he’s ever heard of an artist who wouldn’t sell his paintings, and Poirot remarks that that must have made Makinson’s life pretty difficult. Really. Why have an agent at all if you’re not going to sell anything? Seems Gascoigne was one of those insufferable snotty artists who thinks they’re too good for the world, and he was afraid one of his precious works would fall into unworthy hands. Oh, boo hoo, asshole. God, I hate pretentious artists. And this guy really was a total stereotype, wasn’t he? Did he also talk in a bad French accent?
Hastings takes this to mean that nobody actually owns a Gascoigne painting (I thought the guy was successful, though? Did he suddenly just stop selling the paintings or was he living off a family inheritance?). Makinson tells them that he has a small collection, as does Dulcy Lane. And now that Gascoigne’s dead, Poirot points out, his paintings can be sold. Makinson admits that’s true, and then asks what’s going on here. Poirot introduces himself and hands over his card. Makinson gapes like a fish when he learns who Poirot is and invites him and Hastings into his office to discuss the matter. On the wall in the office is a rather lovely nude by Gascoigne, and Poirot observes that it’s not his usual model. This piece was painted long before Gascoigne started painting Dulcy Lane. This model is Charlotte Gascoigne, the wife of his brother, Antony. Poirot gets an “Oh really” look on his face and asks about the bad blood between the brothers. Makinson relates that one day Gascoigne showed up at the office with the painting and asked Makinson to hold onto it. Makinson guesses that Antony didn’t like the idea of his wife’s naked body being out there for all to see.
As they arrive back at Whitehaven Mansions, Hastings remarks that it seems everyone stood to gain from Gascoigne’s death—anyone who owns one of his paintings will make a mint from it now. So, really, only two people stand to gain from this death—Makinson and Dulcy. Hastings stops to check out a newspaper as Poirot muses over the case, and Poirot mistakes Hastings’s exclamation of “I don’t believe it!” as actual interest, but of course Hastings is talking about some cricket thing that England managed to bungle. Poirot has a sudden breakthrough and cries “Lunch, Hastings! Do you see?” Of course, he doesn’t, and Poirot waits until they’re all the way up in his flat before he starts spouting more nonsense: “Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a crumble,” he says with that little knowing smile of his. I hope the title was explained a little better in the original story, because that was awkward as hell. Before he can explain himself, Poirot overhears the radio going in Miss Lemon’s office. He politely interrupts her program to ask how she made out with the theaters. She tells him George Lorimer is the manager of the Carlton Theater in Bethnel Green. Poirot praises her and leaves her to her radio show. Back out in the hall, he tells Hastings that they’re going to the theater later.
Hastings, as most people would, asks what he was babbling about earlier, and Poirot informs him that the evening he died, Henry Gascoigne finished his meal with a “blackbird” or “blackberry crumble.” Those are two completely different things, Poirot. Is this a language barrier issue? Anyway, blackberries leave stains, but Henry’s teeth weren’t marked at all. Plus, Henry died two hours after eating a light meal, according to the pathologist. But what if, says Poirot, that light meal wasn’t dinner at all, but lunch? Hastings reminds him that Gascoigne was seen at the restaurant at 7:30, by none other than Poirot himself. Oh, yes, says Poirot, but that wasn’t Henry Gascoigne.
The boys take themselves on yet another field trip, to a drawing class, where Dulcy’s modeling. As they observe the class from an upper gallery, Poirot tells Hastings that the man seen at the restaurant was not Gascoigne but his murderer, who took Gascoigne’s place to avoid arousing suspicion when he didn’t show up on his usual day. Of course, whomever it was then went and aroused a hell of a lot of suspicion by ordering the wrong thing all around, so there was quite the research fail there. And, also, a lot of wasted effort.
So, says Hastings, the real question is, who was impersonating Gascoigne? He votes for the brother, and as he looks down at her from above, Poirot agrees that it’s quite the stretch of the imagination to envision Dulcy posing as the old man. Poirot seems to be a little too into what he’s seeing (she’s posing nude) and Hastings has to kind of jolt him out of his reverie.
The drawing class breaks up, and Dulcy puts on a robe as Poirot and Hastings arrive in the room. She greets them cheerily enough and Poirot smoothly lights a cigarette for her. Poirot tells her that he’s pretty sure Gascoigne’s death wasn’t an accident, and she seems almost excited when she asks if she’s a suspect. Rather than answer, Poirot asks about the paintings Gascoigne gave her. She’s already had a number of generous offers for them, but she coldly informs Poirot that she wouldn’t part with them at any price. She seems sincere, so Poirot moves on and asks if she knows where Gascoigne’s brother might be found. She doesn’t and suggests he ask the nephew. Which would have actually been my first move, but I’m not the professional here.
At the Carlton Theater, the show’s in full swing, and still kind of crappy. Hastings and Poirot are backstage, and Hastings, of course finds the show hilarious. Poirot smiles mildly. The actors finish their bit and one of them runs backstage, whips off his gray wig, and takes off as the next act takes to the stage. The men finally locate the manager’s office and guess that the man behind the desk is George Lorrimer. It’s actually Harry, George’s assistant, the one who came to fetch him for the phone call way back in the beginning. George isn’t around that night, he’s gone down to Brighton to attend to his uncle’s funeral arrangements. Hastings is a bit confused by that, and so is Poirot, to be honest. He tells Harry that they thought Henry wouldn’t be buried for a few days yet, and when he was, that he’d be buried in London. Harry says they’re talking about two different Gascoignes—George is taking care of his uncle Antony’s funeral. Has nobody told George that Henry’s dead? Was he not on speaking terms with Henry either?
Poirot and Hastings arrive at Antony’s gravesite and remain discreetly off to the side, remarking on the small turnout. Not too many Gascoignes left, it seems. Poirot rather cheerily realizes this means there aren’t too many suspects, then, either. George remains at his uncle’s graveside for a while as the other mourners disperse, and he finally looks up and sees Hastings and Poirot standing a few yards away. He comes over and politely introduces himself. Poirot’s name rings a bell with him, and Poirot lies like a rug as he says he once knew Henry, many years ago, and felt the need to come and express his condolences to George and Mrs. Gascoigne. George is a little confused, since the veiled woman being led away from the cemetery isn’t his aunt at all, it’s Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper. Mrs. Gascoigne died ten years back. George politely invites the two men back to the house for a visit.
Back at the house, as Mrs. Hill snippily serves up some tea, Poirot spins a yarn about how Henry once inspired him to paint. Hastings kindly asks Mrs. Hill if he can help her out, and she snaps that she can manage very well, thank you very much. Everyone waits for her to clear out before sitting down and getting back to their conversation. The Gascoigne brothers were twins, not indentical, though close to it, and they haven’t spoken in 20 years. Poirot asks what caused the rift and is told that once upon a time, Charlotte was Henry’s model and muse, and then his brother came along and stole her heart and whisked her away. After that, they were dead to each other. Though now, George figures, their differences are, well, buried. Hastings, the former WWI soldier, gets slightly melancholic for a moment and murmurs an old war saying about death, and then excuses himself and returns to his usual joviality.
Later, Poirot and Hastings are stepping out of Antony’s home with Mrs. Hill, Poirot telling her he’s sure this is a very difficult time for her. She launches into a tirade about how she was Antony’s best friend and housekeeper for all those years, and then he just kicks off one day, just like that, and doesn’t even leave her anything by way of remembrance. Damn, that’s pretty cold. Poirot’s taken aback at the thought that she hasn’t even gotten a small legacy in the will and learns that there was no will. She figures it’ll all go to George, who doesn’t deserve it, since he couldn’t even be bothered to come see the old man when he was about to die.
Poirot and Mrs. Hill make their way on to the boardwalk, where they settle down on a bench, as Hastings stops to read a paper on the way. Poirot asks Mrs. Hill when, exactly, Antony passed away and she very precisely tells him it was 1 in the afternoon the previous Friday. George didn’t even get there until Sunday. Hastings comes stalking over to share cricket scores, as if Poirot gives a crap. Poirot thanks Mrs. Hill for her time and he and Hastings leave her to listen to the band on the boardwalk for a while. Hastings praises Poirot’s lying prowess as they climb into his nifty little sports car. They realize that their original guess that the brother was posing as Henry was obviously wrong and they need a new theory.
Back in London, they trace Henry’s route from the restaurant to Henry’s home. Poirot muses that the killer would have needed to ditch his disguise shortly after leaving the restaurant, so he could hurry off and establish his alibi. They turn a corner and happen upon a janitor going into some public restrooms, and Poirot tells Hastings he might have the answer to where the killer put on and later removed his disguise. They head into the restroom and we see that the janitor is wearing the ridiculous beret and neckerchief Henry Gascoigne was last seen in at the restaurant. Poirot meanly nabs the beret off the guy’s head, and yanks off the neckerchief, telling the bewildered guy that it’s a serious offense to withhold evidence from the police. Poriot wanders into a totally random little office attached to the bathroom and retrieves an overcoat with matching trousers, a waistcoat, and a cane. The man stammers that he was just retrieving stuff that someone was throwing out, and Poirot’s mood swings back to benevolent as he thanks the man for helping them out and hands him some money to compensate him for the loss of the clothes. Man, talk about a crazy mood swing!
At his flat, Poirot’s examining the letter Gascoigne received as Hastings enters, turns on the radio, and tells Poirot that Dulcy was sitting for a class from one to five p.m. the day Gascoigne died, and Makinson was in Paris, so they’re both off the suspect list. He bemoans that they’re back to square one, but Poirot begs to differ. He happily asks Hastings to call Japp. Hastings reluctantly leaves his cricket match to do so. As he arranges items on his desk, Poriot overhears some cricket score and looks briefly impressed. Heh.
Japp has apparently sent the force to the Carlton Theater. As George comes in, he greets a janitor, who watches him go, and then nods to a policeman concealed behind a nearby door. George makes his way into the theater, where he finds Poirot, Japp, Hastings, and several scientists up on the stage. Poirot greets him, and Lorrimer approaches the stage cautiously, wondering what’s going on. Poirot introduces Japp and leads George over to the evidence the scientists are examining. The first items are the clothing he recently recovered. The scientist pulls a few hairs out of the hat and says that the white hairs are from a wig, while the dark hairs belong to the guilty party. They should be fairly easy to match. George is confused, so Poirot fills him in: After killing Henry Gascoigne, the murderer searched through the old man’s correspondence and found the invitation to the gallery opening, which the murderer had sent the night before, and he somehow managed to change the postmark on it from the 15th to the 16th, smudging the mark on the blotter to conceal the forgery. He replaced the invitation in Gascoigne’s pocket, posed as the old man at the restaurant, and made it look like he’d fallen and died that evening. George indignantly asks who could do such a thing, which is right out of the Idiot Villain’s Handbook of Disingenuous Phrases, isn’t it? Poirot runs down the list of suspects, but they all have alibis. Except for George, of course. George stammers that he was at the theater, but Japp points out that none of the staff there can remember seeing him that particular afternoon, so that alibi’s busted. Poirot accuses him of murdering Henry flat out, and of course George denies it, claming he had no problem with his uncle. But with Antony’s death, Henry was the only person standing in between George and the Gascoigne estate, and that’s what we call a motive.
Now it’s time for the parade of evidence. Poirot produces a sample of type from the typewriter in George’s office, which he’s certain will exactly match the typing on the envelope found in Henry Gascoigne’s pocket. Wouldn’t that type match all of those types of typewriters, though? That means that anyone who happens to own that model would be a suspect, wouldn’t it? No matter—George stupidly tries to flee, but the officers flood in and blind him with spotlights. There’s nowhere for him to go. He gives up and looks pissed, as well he might.
Poirot, Japp, Hastings, and the dentist are celebrating the end of the case by having dinner at the dentist’s favorite restaurant again. Poirot gives a little more of a sum up by informing everyone that George knew time was ticking when he got the call about Antony’s imminent death. He knew there was no will, so all Antony’s money would go right to Henry. The dentist wonders why George would masquerade as Henry the previous Monday night, and Japp says it must have been a dress rehearsal. Wait—let me get this straight. So, George masqueraded as his own uncle, apparently planning on killing him five days before he even knew Antony was about to die and all the money was going to go to Henry? That makes no sense. How long has he been sitting on this stupid murder plot? And really, why bother with the masquerade at all? Why not let Henry go to dinner as usual and then kill him later, after the evening post came? What did all that subterfuge accomplish, besides getting George caught?
Hastings remarks that George almost got away with the whole thing, but before he can focus on that for too long, he notices a man at a nearby table reading a newspaper. The man gets up and leaves and Hastings pounces on the paper like a dieter on a Mars bar. It seems Australia’s kicking Britain’s ass in some cricket tournament, which Hastings can’t believe. Poirot’s not surprised, though, and points out that they’re playing in circumstances the Australians are more used to. He exhibits an impressive range of knowledge of cricket, amazing everyone at the table. Seems he’s been paying attention during all those games Hastings kept listening to. Everyone chuckles and gets back to their dinner, the case closed, and all right with the world.
One thought on “Poirot: Four and Twenty Blackbirds”
Nice to see that Poirot is appreciated across the pond. I’ve never read any of Agatha Christie;s books myself but I’ve heard BBC radio dramatisations which are clearly more faithful to the originals and give an idea of how the plots have been tidied up and an amount of wry humour added in the ITV series, particularly the short stories. Apparently the novels are darker in tone, as reflected in the ITV adaptations.
There seems to be some snobbery amongst fans of detective literature when comparing Poirot to Sherlock Holmes, but Doyle’s plots are equally full of holes and call for just as much suspension of disbelief. However, as far as ITV’s Poirot goes, I find plot about as relevant to my enjoyment as it would be in a ballet or opera. The appeal for me lies in the way David Suchet has made the part totally his own. I was amused to discover an online forum in which some of your compatriots were discussing their surprise at discovering that Suchet isn’t even French, never mind Belgian. (Their judgment was presumably based upon the Arnold Schwarzenegger or John Wayne school of acting.) The excellent supporting cast works like the setting around a gemstone to highlight Suchet’s central performance. This, combined with witty scripts, great camera work and fantastic production values is why I continue to watch the regular repeats. I used to live in Italy and they really appreciated the series there too, although it was dubbed so they lost Suchet’s meticulous Belgian accent. The ordinary Italian public has a finer regard for aesthetic values than in Anglo-Saxon cultures where it’s considered either “posh” or “poncy” even to notice, much less discuss, such matters. My Italian girlfriend had read the stories and said that the characters were exactly as she’d imagined them except she thought Captain Hastings should have had a moustache. Of course the Italians have acquired a romanticised view of England through literature and adaptations in the same way that we tend to see Italy through the prism of E.M. Forster novels, or, in most cases, through the Merchant Ivory versions of them. A lot of Italians imagine London to still be shrouded in the pea soupers they read about when studying Doyle and Dickens at school.
As alluded to in your review, there are many jokey art criticisms in Hastings dialogues with Poirot and art pervades the series. I noticed that the beautiful cinematography, which prominently features the use of rectilinear framing and deep shadowed high contrast interior lighting in the early series, betrays the influence of painter Tamara de Lempicka. This was confirmed by an explicit nod made to acknowledge the fact with some pastiches of her work appearing in the episodes “The Underdog”.and “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe”. You can play spot the artistic references throughout the series, such as a real life recreation of Matisse’s “The Goldfish Bowl” on a table in “Dead Man’s Mirror* or the influence of Vuillard on the interior compositions of the later episodes.
I have to disagree with you on one small point regarding Inspector Japp’s class – the wonderfully lugubrious Phillip Jackson, (and the script writers), portray him him as working class – or just possibly in the lower middle class at a pinch. Also, you’ve got the ending of “Four and Twenty Blackbirds”.the wrong way round. Hastings is shocked because England has managed to overcome a very poor start and win the match thanks to overnight rain resulting in a ‘sticky wicket’, unlike the arid pitches which the Australians are used to. I’m no cricket fan but it’s actually a famous test match played at Lords in 1934, and not Ms Christie’s or the scriptwriter’s dramatic invention. I suppose the US equivalent would be the Red Sox coming back from their 0-3 deficit to beat the Yankees in 2004.