Between A&E and Acorn Media, the long-running mystery series Poirot must surely rank among the most repackaged and reissued DVDs of all-time. Given the varied organizations of these boxed sets, it's to the point where interested parties wanting to collect the entire series are likely to find themselves hopelessly confused in the attempt. Back in a June 2007 review I attempted to untangle the labyrinthine jumble of releases, no easy task.
But the news isn't all bad, mon ami. Acorn Media's latest Poirot releases offer a less-expensive alternative to buying the one-hour run of the series three episodes at a time (as they were first released) or as Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Classic Collection, which offers all the one-hour shows at once but with a steep SRP: $199.99. This latest offering, also under the umbrella Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Classic Collection, divides everything into three-disc, nine-episode sets. The first three sets were released in early May, leaving one more set of nine episodes presumably to be come later this year, perhaps to coincide with the latest movie-length episodes. If that's the case, the total cost for the consumer will be about the same as the catch-all boxed set, but one at least can pace themselves, both in viewing the episodes and the hit on one's wallet.
In short, Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Classic Collection - Set 1 includes exactly the same discs that originally part of Acorn's single-disc Agatha Christie's Poirot - Collector's Set DVDs from 2002-2005. This three disc set includes what originally were sets 1, 2, and 3. The episodes are not in their original airdate order. Included are:
"The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim" (Episode #15 - original airdate: February 4, 1990)
A wealthy banker (played by Kenneth Colley) disappears into the fog on his way to the post office. From Christie's short story collection Poirot Investigates (1924).
"The Veiled Lady" (Episode #12- original airdate: January 14, 1990)
Stolen jewels, a blackmailed lady, and a Chinese puzzle box are the key elements to this classic story. Available in Poirot's Early Cases (1974), a collection of stories previously published in periodicals during 1923-35.
"The Lost Mine" (Episode #13- original airdate: January 21, 1990)
A Chinese businessman in possession of a map to a lost silver mine disappears, while Poirot and Hastings are engaged in a marathon game of Monopoly. Available in Poirot's Early Cases (1974).
"The Cornish Mystery" (Episode #14- original airdate: January 28, 1990)
Believing her husband is poisoning her, a woman seeks Poirot's protection and help. Available in Poirot's Early Cases (1974).
"Double Sin" (Episode #16- original airdate: February 11, 1990)
Poirot? Retiring? Good Lord! Available in Poirot's Early Cases (1974).
"The Adventure of the Cheap Flat" (Episode #17- original airdate: February 18, 1990)
Recalling Conan Doyle's "The Red-Headed League," a young couple rent a flat at a suspiciously miniscule rate. From Poirot Investigates (1924).
"The Kidnapped Prime Minister" (Episode #18- original airdate: February 25, 1990)
International intrigue abounds as Poirot becomes involved in a hush-hush case concerning a kidnapped official. From Poirot Investigates (1924).
"The Adventure of the Western Star" (Episode #19- original airdate: March 4, 1990)
No, not Tom Mix but rather a precious diamond: the Western Star. This episode follows Poirot's investigation of the gem's disappearance. From Poirot Investigates (1924).
And "How Does Your Garden Grow" (Episode #21- original airdate: January 6, 1991)
A garden holds the secret to unlocking a murder mystery in this episode. Available in Poirot's Early Cases (1974).
Poirot the series debuted in January 1989, spurred by the popularity of the Hercule Poirot movies and other Christie feature film adaptations in the wake of Murder on the Orient Express (1975), the hugely successful film with Albert Finney as Poirot. By 1989 the movies had wound down but the Granada Television series generally known as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which debuted in 1984, had been a big hit abroad, especially in America and in Japan. Poirot with its bigger budgets and less-troubled leading actor, proved similarly successful. Indeed, while the Holmes series struggled with ever-tightening budgets, Poirot only seemed to get even more lavish over time; as the series transitioned from one-hour episodes to feature-length productions, they began to look as sumptuous - maybe even more so - than the early Poirot movies of the 1970s.
Like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Poirot's main draw, at least at first, was its fidelity to Christie, which had not at all been the case with the Miss Marple movies of the 1960s (modestly charming as they were) or the disastrous Tony Randall adaptation of The ABC Murders. Albert Finney and later Peter Ustinov both made very entertaining, contrasting Poirots, but neither was much like Christie's creation. David Suchet, on the other hand, was Christie's Poirot to a tee. A superb actor - many are surprised to hear him speak out-of-character, as in real-life he sounds nothing at all like his Poirot - Suchet is proud of his association with the series but also much too modest about his own accomplishments: "It's her character," he insists, "All I have done is lift him off her pages for you to see."
But Suchet's Poirot is a masterly portrayal of the fussy and vain Belgian, whose need for order and discipline borders on obsessive-compulsiveness, who is both amused and appalled by the lack of refinement of those around him. He is the perennial outsider looking in, who watches with quiet amusement and studiousness as his adopted countrymen watch him with bemusement and occasional casual prejudice. Related to this and one of the strong points of the series, is that through Poirot's observations, the series also examines the hypocrisy of the privileged classes, and makes wry retrospective observations about the tumultuous state of the world concurrent and always in the background of Poirot's cases (such as the rise of Nazism and the growing threat of World War). The hourly show was locked into a specific year - 1936 - but the later TV movies bounced around more freely through time.
Virtually overnight, Poirot the series became the definitive adaptation of the original stories, much as the Granada series had with Sherlock Holmes. Though the Holmes series was addled by star Jeremy Brett's illnesses and personal problems, there seems little doubt that, within the next few years, Suchet & Co. will have completed adapting all of Christie's Poirot stories, some 33 novels and 56 short stories in all.
The series did take some liberties, mainly in creating recurring appearances for some of the characters: Poirot's very kind-hearted but twittish friend, Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser, whom the actor describes as "not the sharpest knife in the drawer"), his dedicated secretary, Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran), and Scotland Yard's Chief Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson), a kind of superior Inspector Lestrade. This despite the fact they appear infrequently in the short stories and novels. The later TV movies followed their original sources more strictly, and these supporting characters have generally disappeared from the later shows, to the disappointment of some viewers.
Video & Audio
Poirot was filmed in Super-16mm, quite common in British television of the time. Because of the limitations of the format and the manner in which they are 4:3 video mastered, the shows tend to look a bit greenish and muddy, but compensated to a large degree by the sheer lushness of the productions, which lean heavily on Streamline/Art Moderne architecture and fashions. Poirot would seem to be a prime candidate for the type of Blu-ray/high-def restoration recently given the miniseries Pride & Prejudice; until then, however, these shows look just fine. The Dolby Digital audio is fine, up to early-'90s television standards. There are no subtitles and Extra Features are limited to brief text pages about Suchet and other cast filmographies, and brief bio pages on Christie and Poirot himself.
If you're a Poirot fan and already own these episodes, there's absolutely no need to buy these sets. But if you, like me, have held out until now, this may be the way to go. The shows can be purchased at a modest price when compared with the earliest releases, and viewers can enjoy them at a leisurely pace. Highly Recommended.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's latest book, Japanese Cinema, is due in stores this June, and on sale now.