"I cannot eat these eggs. They are of totally different sizes."
- Hercule Poirot, expressing his dismay at a pair of soft-boileds in Cornwall
Acorn Media's Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Classic Collection, Volume 2 is yet another confusingly packaged collection of Poirot adaptations starring the irreplaceable David Suchet.
Brace yourself: it gets confoundingly complex. Beginning February 2000, during the early days of the format, both A&E Home Video and Acorn Media almost simultaneously introduced Poirot to DVD with single-disc releases of the longer movie-length episodes of the TV series that had been filmed since 1990. Over the next two years, in Junes 2001 and 2002, most of these TV movies were repackaged into two boxed sets the following year, Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Movie Collection (Volumes 1 & 2). These sets were followed between August 2002 and March 2005 by 12 "Collector's Sets," with each single disc featuring three hour-long Poirot shows, more or less filmed concurrently with the movie-length Poirots.
Further muddying the waters, more Poirot TV movies were released or reissued as single discs: four of these were compiled into a collection called Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Complete Collection, though "complete" was hardly the word, and Agatha Christie's Poirot - The New Mysteries Collection. In 2004, these same movies were repackaged yet again, in a Agatha Christie Megaset Collection, teamed with some "Miss Marple" shows.
In 2005, Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Classic Collection culled all 36 hour-long Poirot shows into a single (and pricey) boxed set, but then the following year's Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Classic Crimes Collection offered some recent Poirot TV movies. The similarly named Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Classic Collection, Volume 2 at long last gathers together all the earlier TV movies heretofore not repackaged in a boxed set. And, if that weren't enough, during this same time, other unrelated Poirot movies and TV movies featuring Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov, etc., were coming to DVD.
So, if you haven't purchased any of the David Suchet Poirot DVDs up to now and are wondering what to start, what you'll probably want are the following:
Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Classic Collection (all 36 hour-long shows)
Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Classic Collection, Volume 2 (includes the movie-length The ABC Murders, Death in the Clouds, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Peril at End House, One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, Dumb Witness, Hercule Poirot's Christmas, Hickory Dickory Dock, and Murder on the Links)
Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Classic Crimes Collection (includes The Mystery of the Blue Train, After the Funeral, Cards on the Table, and Taken at the Flood)
Agatha Christie's Poirot - The New Mysteries Collection (includes Death on the Nile, The Hollow, Sad Cypress, and The Five Little Pigs)
Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Complete (Ha!) Collection (featuring The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Lord Edgeware Dies, Evil Under the Sun, and Murder in Mesopotamia)
Will A&E and Acorn eventually package all their Poirots into label-respective megasets? Probably. Caveat emptor.
Getting back to Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Classic Collection, Volume 2, this reviewer had a chance to watch seven of the nine TV movies, all of which are no less than very good, with several among the series' best so far. (Six more are due to air this September and in 2008.) Peril at End House, the earliest title in this set, was the series' second season opener in January 1990. On vacation in Cornwall, Poirot meets a charming woman whose life has been threatened by multiple attempts to on her life - but why?
The third-season opener, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1990) is an excellent adaptation of what was Christie's first novel (published in 1920) and which, therefore, introduces the characters of Poirot (Suchet), Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson), and Lieutenant (later Captain) Hastings (Hugh Fraser). Set during World War I, it's a great way to introduce one's self to the characters and to discover their various back-stories.
The ABC Murders (1992) is adapted from one of the best Poirot novels, about a serial killer terrorizing England by murdering seemingly unrelated people chosen alphabetically, using the ABC Railway Guide, the first victims being Alice Ascher of Andover, Betty Barnard of Bexhill-on-Sea, and Sir Carmichael Clarke of Churston. It's an ingenious episode, and highly recommended.
Death in the Clouds (1992) is similarly ingenious, with the story's murder taking place within the cramped confines of an early passenger airplane en route from Paris to Croydon - with Poirot seating just a few feet away! One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (1992) finds the fastidious Belgian detective investigating the murder of his own dentist. Hercule Poirot's Christmas (not viewed by this reviewer, 1995) is a "locked-room" mystery, with Poirot investigating the murder of a multi-millionaire.
In Hickory Dickory Dock (1995), another especially fine show, Poirot looks into the strange theft of trivial, miscellaneous objects from a student hostel, but these victimless crimes soon give way to a series of murders perhaps related to diamond smuggling. Murder on the Links (the other title not yet seen by this reviewer, 1996) Poirot is summoned to late to assist a French millionaire, already stabbed to death by the time the detective arrives.
The title character of Dumb Witness (1996) is a dog named Bob, key to solving the murder of a heiress disturbingly poisoned with phosphorous. The episode features quasi-supernatural elements, and is most compelling.
Throughout the shows, Suchet (as well as Jackson, Fraser, and Pauline Moran, as Poirot's faithful secretary, Miss Lemon) all deliver exquisite performances with characterizations that only deepen over the years. The series is notable in, like the Christie novels, addressing and sometimes tying their plotlines with current events (the two World Wars, British politics, etc.). Especially interesting is how often the show deals with Britain's xenophobia and casual racism of the period, and its class system.
Particularly interesting in these shows are their exploration of Poirot's relationship with Inspector Japp, who's no bumbling Inspector Lestrade of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Though low-brow and working class, the very opposite of Poirot's refined Continental air, they exhibit a great mutual respect for one another, if bemused by the other's tastes in food, drink, etc. In Hickory Dickory Dock, for instance, Japp is compelled to spend several nights at Poirot's apartment, where he's disgusted by his cuisine and baffled by the bidet in Poirot's bathroom.
Video & Audio
Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Classic Collection, Volume 2 is encases 10 DVDs in bookbinding-style package made of cheap hard plastic that's very easy to break. (Mine did.) The nine telefeatures are presented over the first nine single-sided discs, which are unchanged from their original release versions. The transfers are variable. Originally shot in 16mm (though later shows might be 35mm), there's an inherent graininess, but the transfers themselves aren't quite as polished as they might be. The audio, full stereo on later shows, is impressive by broadcast television standards of the day. There are no subtitle options.
Beyond the meager carryovers from earlier releases (a David Suchet text biography, etc.), the main offering here is a one-hour documentary, in 16:9 widescreen, Agatha's Christie's Garden: Murder & Mystery in Devon, an okay if awkward piece that plays like a stuffy episode of In Search Of. It features some nice biographical details about Christie (some of which tie quite nicely into The Mysterious Affair at the Styles) and includes interviews with various relatives, historians, and Baroness P.D. James.
Those who've been buying Acorn and A&E's Poirot DVDs all along need not bother with Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Classic Collection, Volume 2, but those relatively new to the series might want to consider this package of consistently entertaining mysteries, among the best ever done for television. Highly Recommended.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's new three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel. His audio commentary for Invasion of Astro Monster is due out in June.