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 3 of Poirot: The Movie Collection offers Peril at End House, Dumb Witness and Hercule Poirot's Christmas.
Peril at End House, which kicked off Poirot's second season, was the first feature length episode in the series' long run. It features gorgeous location footage at the Cornish resort where Poirot and Hastings vacation and where they soon become embroiled in an apparent plot to kill a beautiful young woman (Polly Walker, who has since gone on to fame in a number of British endeavors, notably the original miniseries version of State of Play). Like a lot of Poirot episodes, this features red herrings galore, but it's an interesting episode in that its putative heroine is not all she seems, and that apparent duplicity is mentioned up front by one of the coterie of hangers-on who surround her.
This episode has the slight stench of the idle rich, despite the fact that the two lead characters admit to "not having a bean" between them. These self-indulgent, indolent folk make perfect foils to Poirot's dismissive nattiness, and the interplay between all of them (and Hastings, who doesn't quite know how to react with them) is quite a bit of fun. This episode, like a couple of others, has at least one glaring breach of logic; the murderer's plot requires Poirot to get involved and then suggest a bodyguard of sorts be summoned, and yet how was the murderer to even know Poirot would be vacationing there, let alone that he would suggest that this person be sent for? If you can overlook that seeming contradiction, Peril at End House is one of the more scenic Poirot episodes, featuring a neat little turn by Walker. (Side note, and not really much of a spoiler--who knew that cocaine was so lethal?).
Season Six kicked off with the charming, if somewhat disturbing, Hercule Poirot's Christmas, another transgenerational saga that takes its time setting up its central conceit, but which pays off handsomely in the denouement. This episode is unusual for its rather protracted pre-credits prelude, which takes place in the 1890s on the South African veldt. One of Christie's most despicable creations, one Simeon Lee, is a young diamond miner who doesn't hesitate to make sure he's the only one making a claim on a valuable find. Flash forward forty or so years and we find Lee (Vernon Dobtcheff in a viscerally mean performance) as a decrepit, wheelchair bound elder surrounded by gold digging children who don't make much pretense about despising their father. Lee suspects he's about to be killed by one of his offspring, and phones Poirot to come protect him ("I am a detective, not a bodyguard," sniffs our little Belgian hero).
This variation on a "locked room" mystery has suspects galore; indeed, every member of Lee's family, all of whom either live in his mansion or have been summoned there for the Christmas holiday, have a reason to kill him. Poirot, who is attempting to escape his heatless apartment and readily accepts Lee's invitation to visit despite not knowing the man or exactly why he's there, is, of course, able to ferret out long ago secrets which ultimately hold the key to what has transpired. This elegant episode features a nice little vintage film calendar motif, showing four days surrounding Christmas as Poirot arrives at the Lee Estate and then unravels the nefarious goings-on. One of Christie's few seasonally themed works, Hercule Poirot's Christmas is not your typical cliché-ridden holiday mawkfest. In fact, you could make a cogent case that in this episode, an Ebenezer Scrooge stand-in gets his comeuppance, big time.
Dumb Witness, also from Season Six, bears at least a passing resemblance to Hercule Poirot's Christmas in that it features a wealthy elder (in this case a woman) who fears she's about to be killed by a family member who wants her considerable fortune. Dumb Witness gives ample screen time to its title character, a little fox terrier named Bob whom Poirot believes knows the identity of the murderer, if only Poirot can figure out a way to communicate with the animal.
This is a fun, if somewhat creepy, outing that features some supernatural elements (as opposed to faux supernatural elements like Miss Lemon pretending to be a medium in Peril at End House). You trivia buffs will be delighted to know that the eccentric spiritually attuned sisters are played by two veterans of the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple series, Pauline Jameson and Muriel Pavlow. While this is not the most intellectually demanding of Poirot mysteries, the mere fact that a canine holds the key to the solution makes it an appealingly quirky entry in the series. With some scenic locations and one endearingly cute animal at its center, Dumb Witness is one of the more memorable Poirot feature length episodes.
It is interesting to note that once Peril at End House moves indoors, it looks like this particular episode was shot on videotape. I'm not completely certain that's the case, but my hunch is it either was, or only a second generation tape transfer was available as a source element. There's no hugely noticeable quality difference, just the standard "texture" change from film to tape.