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 the previously released individual keepcases.
Set 2 of Poirot: The Movie Collection offers One, Two Buckle My Shoe, Murder on the Links and Death in the Clouds. If, as noted above, this set of three compilations is somewhat haphazardly arranged, this particular trifecta at least offers two of the three involving disguises to either cover up or actually commit one of the murders. In the third offering, a disguise covers up the real identity of an ultimate victim.
Poirot's putative "fourth season" was actually a short, three episode, affair consisting of three feature length episodes. The ABC Murders is reviewed in Set 1 of this latest re-release, but the other two episodes of the season are included in this set.
Death in the Clouds takes the "locked room" motif that is such a staple of baffling mysteries and ups the ante by having the room be the cabin of a short-hopper plane traveling from France to England. The ante can't be topped, mystery wise, when the murder is basically committed right under the nose of Poirot, who is nervously ensconced in a seat across the aisle from the victim. And did that victim fall to the random sting of a wasp, or was she the target of a poisoned blow dart puffed from one of the blow guns brought on board by an archaeologist? Or is perhaps neither of those scenarios quite right?
This particular Poirot benefits immensely from some lovely location photography in Paris, where Poirot begins the outing on holiday. All of the Poirot episodes manage to capture just the right Deco ambience (though, as I've mentioned elsewhere, those of you who watch a lot of episodes in a row will discover that the same locations are repeatedly used, notably a white Deco mini-mansion that seems to inevitably house one murder after another). But Death in the Clouds brings in a decidedly French flavor, adding a bit of charm (and, yes, snootiness) to the affair. It's also fun to see Poirot out of his element, obviously scared to death to be flying (something that occurs in other episodes as well).
Mystery lovers might want to contrast Death in the Clouds with the 1939 feature Charlie Chan at Treasure Island. Both contain murders committed on an airplane, and, strangely, both feature mystery writers as one of the passengers.
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe is one of the more convoluted Poirot episodes, and, frankly, one which strains credulity to the breaking point. As with many a Christie mystery, we get a brief prelude set decades in the past, which sets up the relationships between two bus and truck touring actresses in India. We then jump forward to "the present," when one of the actresses returns to London and bumps into the husband of her long ago friend. Need I say that all of this leads to not one, but three murders?
If you have a fear of dentists, this is probably not the episode for you. Dental problems play a large part of this episode, which, in a somewhat unusual directorial choice, starts with a montage showing one of the murders being committed, long before it actually happens in the actual episode. The ploy of having the dentist's patients (including Poirot, of course) intersect, leading to several murders, seems unusually contrived for Christie, and may lead to a bit of eye rolling from some viewers. There's also a slightly hallucinatory quality to some of this episode, with the children's hopscotch verse "one, two, buckle my shoe" playing out in echo-chamber glory throughout. Poirot's observation of a woman's shiny shoe buckle holds one of the keys to the identity of the murderer.
Season Six followed in Season Four's footsteps by being made up entirely of feature length episodes. This particular set's contribution from that season is Murder on the Links, one of Christie's transgenerational opuses wherein a wronged person from times past seeks revenge in the present. Some of the supposed surprise of this episode is a bit blunted by the use of a "newsreel" starting off the proceedings, which, for you observant types, will be a dead giveaway (pun intended) to the real identity of one of the people in Poirot's time.
This episode also offers Hugh Fraser the chance to show off a little real human emotion as Hastings, when Hastings falls for a cabaret singer (who looks incredibly like a young Leslie Caron). Christie purists will be up in arms with the rather radical changes made to her original book (nothing near as radical as some taken with the more recent Geraldine McEwan Miss Marple outings, thankfully), but Murder on the Links, despite giving away one secret too early in the game, provides a satisfyingly complex whodunit that involves a faked death which turns out to be all too real. Bill Moody is also a lot of fun as the pretentious French Inspector Giraud, who bets Poirot he can solve the crimes first (guess who wins that bet).