Note: Acorn has repackaged all nine of the feature length Poirot episodes from the series' original run into thinpak cases. These are the same as the earlier releases save for the fact that they take up less shelf space. I am reviewing all three three-disc sets, and there is non-content specific material re-used in each of the reviews.
Some home entertainment video collectors complain about double dipping when a favorite title is re-released in various formats and compilations. I think I'm probably up to at least quadruple, and perhaps, quintuple dipping with various Poirot releases, but that's only because I love the David Suchet version of Agatha Christie's trenchant Belgian detective so much. I had the first, individual episode, releases on VHS, and I then upgraded to the second, better VHS releases that came several years later, and then of course had to get various DVDs when they came out. But I really can't complain that much, if only because Poirot is such a joy to watch, whether or not you remember the specifics of any given mystery.
Has there ever been a more perfect piece of casting than the British Suchet as Hercule Poirot, a man who put obsessive-compulsive disorder and anal retentive qualities on the mystery map decades before Monk? Christie's work may follow a formula--a baffling murder, a slew of suspects (most of whom have unexpected connections to each other, often transgenerational), and frequently evocative settings. But somehow having it all anchored by the natty little Belgian detective brings a whole new delight to each enterprise. If the regular, 50-minute or so episodes that made up the bulk of the Poirot series occasionally seemed a bit rushed from the murder, through the introduction of various suspects, to the "Moishe the Explainer" moment (the inevitable last scene where Poirot gathers all the potentially guilty to slowly reveal who the murderer really is), these longer efforts offer a more leisurely pace that is more in keeping with Christie's original novels.
This latest re-release of the nine feature length episodes is somewhat haphazardly arranged (the films are not grouped chronologically, but perhaps that's to give casual viewers more of a variety in terms of episodes featuring just Poirot or those with Miss Lemon, Inspector Japp and the ever faithful Hastings). These are also exactly the same as the previous individual film-length episode releases, down to box art and disc design, as well as special features (in fact when I popped in my old version of one of these to spot check it on my PS3, it just started up from where I had stopped the newer version--obviously my player thought it was the same disk). The only difference here is packaging, and if space on home video collection shelves is becoming a problem, even former buyers of some of these films (or all of them, as in my case), may be tempted to spring for this new packaging if only for its slimmer profile. This particular release offers three films in slim line packaging within a slipcase box that takes up only a little more room than only one of the previously released individual keepcases.
Set 1 of Poirot: The Movie Collection offers The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The ABC Murders, and Hickory Dickory Dock.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles, though it's listed last on this set, is actually the first feature length Poirot episode, and was the third season opener. It really should be watched first for any viewers not already up to speed with the sometimes contentious but frequently hilarious relationship between Poirot and Arthur Hastings (Hugh Fraser). Unlike a lot of the Deco-styled, late 20s to late 30s set episodes, Styles takes place shortly after World War I, when Lieutenant Hastings has returned to England a bit worse for battle wear. He runs into his wartime friend Poirot in a peaceful village where Hastings has retreated to attempt to find some emotional equilibrium. Of course murder and mayhem quickly ensue, but this is really a wonderful little character study showing the nascent underpinnings of the Poirot-Hastings relationship that so informs the rest of the series. It's a lot of fun to see Poirot as just one of several Belgian émigrés attempting to find a life for themselves in England, and it's equally as fun, if unexpectedly poignant, to see Hastings as an emotionally wounded soul trying to get back on his feet, so to speak.
Agatha Christie introduced Poirot to the world with The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and with that novel created perhaps her most memorable character. While there are certainly aficionados who may prefer Miss Marple, or even Tommy and Tuppence, the fact remains that Poirot is such a delightful, if often maddening, little chap that he's entered the public lexicon perhaps more completely than any other Christie character. Suchet is simply unmatched in his portrayal, and though this episode came three seasons into the series, it's a wonderful trip down memory lane, as it were, which works spendidly for the actor to create a foundation for all the little tics and mannerisms that so inhabit his portrayal. As is Christie's predilection, there are a couple of unexpected twists to Styles, with the most obvious suspect coming and going and then coming again from the head of Poirot's list of most likely to have murdered someone.
The ABC Murders, season four's opener, is a fascinating piece for at least a couple of reasons. Aside from the basic mystery, in which people are being killed in alphabetical order, in a very rare, if ultimately misleading gambit (could it be otherwise?), the audience is shown some of the murders actually taking place, revealing the putative murderer. Of course anyone familiar with any good mystery, let alone Christie's particular method, will know that things are not always as they seem. This episode also has the funny subplot of Hastings returning from a South American hunting trip, where he has bagged and then had stuffed a cayman, which he is trying to pass off on the fussy Poirot, who does not like the creature's look or especially smell.
It's wonderful when revisiting these episodes to pay attention the often hilarious offhanded comments the characters say to each other, and their resultant reactions. When Hastings and Poirot are first shown into Japp's office, Japp makes a little slight about Hastings' receding hairline, comparing it to Poirot's near-baldness. The cascade of reactions is priceless. Later, when Poirot and Hastings are dining together, Poirot mentions that he hasn't discussed one facet of the murders because he didn't want to seem self-important, something he states he loathes. Again, Hastings' bug-eyed response is superb. It's these recurring characters and their wonderful interplay that makes Poirot such an unending delight, and all of those elements are on full display in The ABC Murders. Donald Sumpter also gives a memorably creepy performance as the main suspect, one Alexander Bonaparte Cust (ABC, get it?).
From Season Six comes Hickory Dickory Dock, one of two nursery- or nonsense-rhyme titles included in the three sets (Set 2 has One, Two, Buckle My Shoe). This is an entertainingly complex episode which includes a nice little showcase for Pauline Moran's exacting secretary Miss Lemon, whose concern about thefts at her sister's hostel sets the mystery (and ultimately murders, of course) off and running. But the title rhyme also comes into play with a "mouse's eye" view of a lot of the proceedings, a little rodent who hides in a clock and peeks out to see various plot elements occurring (the hostel is also located on Hickory Street). Miss Lemon's frantic noticing of the mouse during the "Moishe the Explainer" segment also sets a fun, final chase into motion.
The supporting cast of the first iteration of Poirot is one of the chief charms of the series, and Moran's Lemon is no exception. Alternately worried, fussy and then alarmingly in control (she's one of the few characters who ever gets the last word in with Poirot), Miss Lemon is a wonderful character, full of her own quirks, and Moran plays them all beautifully. But Philip Jackson's Inspector Japp also has some very funny business in this episode, notably when he moves in with Poirot, creating a sort of Oscar and Felix Odd Couple subplot. Watch carefully toward the end of the episode for the hysterically funny throwaway line about Poirot's bidet, whose function Japp completely misunderstands.