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Tuesday, July 3, 2012


David Suchet's brilliant portrayal of Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is the highlight of yet another DVD collection of scintillating mysteries from Acorn Media.  The two-disc set AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT: SERIES 5 contains eight more wonderfully entertaining examples of why Poirot is one of the most popular fictional detectives of all time.

He's also one of the genre's most charmingly odd protagonists, as Suchet delights in bringing to life all of Poirot's many eccentricities including a comical fastidiousness, an obsessiveness matched only by Phil Hartman's "Anal Retentive Chef", and a robust ego which gives him a twinkly-eyed glow whenever someone offers praise for his abilities, which are considerable.

The fussy, impeccably-dressed Poirot is known both for his archly-styled moustache and a peculiar mincing walk that makes him resemble a large wind-up toy.  Always on the scent for a challenging mystery, the renowned private detective is joined once again by his dull but reliable associate, Captain Arthur Hastings (Hugh Fraser), and his kindly, spinsterish secretary Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran).  They're an appealingly odd trio, with Hastings handling Poirot's legwork and other physical requirements while Miss Lemon often relishes the opportunity to lend her own assistance to a case. 

Each story is exquisitely mounted for a television production, boasting a rich, consistently convincing period flavor (mid-30s England) and the slightly faded look of old picture postcards.  The fifty-minute episodes are short and sweet, with no padding and a brisk pace that always gets right to the point of things.  They often end with the classic gathering of the suspects as Poirot theatrically lays out the elements of the case to his rapt audience before zeroing in on the guilty party with a vengeful flourish.

"The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb" begins the set with the classic story of archeologists who open up an ancient tomb and then start dying off one by one due to some dreadful curse.  Only this time, Poirot suspects that the curse is due to a modern-day killer trying to cover his tracks by way of ancient superstition. 

The episode establishes such a crackerjack setting and mood that it doesn't seem to go on long enough--it's a bit like an old "Mummy" movie without the Mummy, or a boys' adventure yarn for adults.  The ending wraps up the story neatly with Poirot demonstrating a bit of his usual understated sentimentality which is always both unexpected and disarming.

"The Underdog" features one of those horribly obnoxious rich tycoons who's just begging to be murdered in a story like this.  His worst quality, in Poirot's eyes, is that he's ignorantly dismissive of his great collection of Belgian bronze miniatures which Poirot admires but which the millionaire industrialist regards as something to be melted down for scrap. 

Although the man's subsequent murder brings no tears to the detective's eyes, he doggedly pursues the identity of the killer amidst the usual plethora of suspects, including TITANIC's "Mr. Lightoller", Jonathan Phillips.  Before it's over, Miss Lemon is pressed into service to use her newly-gained expertise at hypnosis in the questioning of a witness.

In "Yellow Iris", Poirot receives an anonymous reminder of an earlier case which he was unable to solve due to circumstances beyond his control.  Finding that the conditions of the event are about to be recreated in London several years later gives him a chance to finally bring the murderer of a young woman to justice. 

One delightful moment of this episode comes when we see the infinitely fussy Poirot's breakfast, consisting of six tiny, perfect squares of toast in a symmetrical pattern and topped with identical dabs of marmalade.  Another demonstrates his unending vexation at being mistaken for a Frenchman, with the following exchange coming as he's being arrested by Argentine policemen:

"Don't worry, Mr. Poirot, I'll call the French embassy!"
"No, no, no, no!  The Belgian embassy!"

"The Case of the Missing Will" reintroduces us to Poirot's former adversary and current friend, Chief Inspector Japp (Phillip Jackson), a diligent but unimaginative detective who grudgingly relies on Poirot's insights where his own are often inadequate.  "The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman" finds Miss Lemon with a new admirer, Mr. Graves, who unfortunately may be involved in the murder of an Italian businessman being blackmailed by a member of an ancient Italian crime organization.  Hastings' love of automobiles is once again used to comic effect here, while also giving the episode an excuse for a rare car chase at the end.

We get a look at the young Poirot as a junior police officer on the Belgian force in "The Chocolate Box."  When he and Japp travel to Brussels to attend the Chief Inspector's induction as Compagnon de la Branche d'Or, the Belgian government's highest honor, Poirot is taken back to an old case from his youth which caused him great conflict with his boss and was never fully resolved.  It's a real treat seeing Suchet playing a younger and more dynamic Poirot, already showing signs of brilliance but hamstrung by his shortsighted superiors. 

In "Dead Man's Mirror", another insufferable millionaire enlists Poirot's aid in the matter of an industrial development scam before becoming the victim of an apparent suicide, which, of course, Poirot perceives as the classic locked-room murder.  Jeremy Northam guest stars. 

Finally, "Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan" finds Poirot vacationing at a seaside resort with Captain Hastings due to his doctor's orders to take it easy for awhile.  It isn't long before the lure of a mystery assails his keen senses and he becomes involved in the robbery of some priceless jewels from a hotel room, with the owners' maid Celestine the only possible culprit since she was alone in the room with them at the time.  Sorcha Cusack ("Jane Eyre") and Simon Shepherd ("Wuthering Heights") guest star in this fine conclusion to the collection, which features a hysterical running gag with Poirot being repeatedly mistaken for a newspaper contest character named "Lucky Len."

The 2-disc DVD from Acorn Media is in 4:3 full screen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles.  No extras.

With irresistibly intriguing mysteries and lush, authentic period atmosphere, AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT: SERIES 5 is some of the finest episodic television ever produced.  Best of all, David Suchet's portrayal of Hercule Poirot is something that all fans of great detective fiction can treasure. 

Buy it at

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