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Friday, August 17, 2012


David Suchet's exquisite portrayal of Agatha Christie's fussy Belgian detective Hercule Poirot continues to delight and entertain with Acorn Media's 4-disc DVD set AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT: SERIES 6. 

With series six, we see the end of the lean, short-but-sweet episodes (under one hour each) in favor of feature-length adaptations of Christie's famous mystery novels.  Naturally, this leads to a more leisurely pace and an increase in what might be called "padding" if it weren't all so much fun. 

Especially enjoyable is the added character interplay between Poirot and his friends and associates, including the dull but reliable Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser), his spinsterish, ever-efficient secretary Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran), and Chief Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson), a Scotland Yard man who was once Poirot's rival but is now a staunch friend.

Poirot himself is still the fastidious, obsessive-compulsive little fellow whose no-nonsense demeanor is often betrayed by the twinkle in his eye.  The great loves of his life are gourmet dining, expensive clothes, and solving complex mysteries which baffle lesser minds and challenge his "little gray cells"--after which he isn't above basking in the resulting recognition and praise.

As always, the four mysteries in this collection are impeccably mounted with lavish production values and period atmosphere to burn.  The first, "Hercule Poirot's Christmas" (1995), adds a richly nostalgic Yuletide flavor to the proceedings.  It's the familiar story of a rich, hateful old man (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME's Vernon Dobtcheff) and a houseful of potential heirs (including Sasha Behar of INJUSTICE), each of whom would benefit from his death and be a likely suspect when the old man eventually does turn up murdered.

As usual, Agatha Christie takes these well-used elements and makes them seem new again with interesting characters and circumstances, along with the usual wonderful bits of business with Poirot himself straining his brain to solve a classic "locked door" murder as suspects pile up like presents under a Christmas tree.  Speaking of which, the scene in which Poirot unwraps the gift given to him by Inspector Japp may have fans of the series laughing out loud. 

Poirot's characteristically theatrical "reveal" here is drawn out even longer than usual to allow him (and us) to fully savor it, raking each suspect over the coals as he is wont to do--especially those he doesn't particularly like--before finally unveiling the true identity of the killer.  For the patient viewer who has followed every torturous twist and turn of the story, these sequences can be particularly rewarding.

"Hickory Dickory Dock" (1995) takes place in a students' hostel where a series of minor thefts, apparently the work of a kleptomaniac, leads tragically and inexplicably to murder.  Since the woman who helps manage the place happens to be Miss Lemon's sister, Poirot eventually gets involved and brings his considerable skills to bear against a clever murderer. 

The plot is somewhat convoluted this time, but things get more and more interesting as Poirot starts weaving all the loose strands together.  Pauline Moran makes the most of her rare chance to shine as Miss Lemon while the story's visuals are augmented by a playful subplot involving a mouse who happens to observe the action from its perch atop a grandfather clock.  (Which, of course, it runs down at the stroke of one.) 

There's also a rare foot chase at the end as the main suspect takes flight in a subway station.  The episode's most endearing subplot involves Inspector Japp, who stays with Poirot while his wife is away.  Much comedic mileage is drawn from Japp's dismay at Poirot's eccentric culinary habits as well as the puzzling fountain-like fixture in his bathroom.  The viewer is similarly kept guessing throughout the episode as it draws to a particularly satisfying conclusion.  Damian Lewis ("Band of Brothers") appears as one of the students suspected of the murder.

Captain Hastings gets to indulge his love of golf in "Murder on the Links" (1996) while he and Poirot spend some time at a French resort.  Poirot, as usual, gets involved in murder when a businessman named Paul Renaud (Damien Thomas) implores him to help in a matter in which he fears for his life. 

When Renaud's body is found in a sand trap the next day, Poirot's investigation is thwarted by pompous French police detective Giraud (Bill Moody), who is jealous of Poirot's reputation.  Giraud makes a wager with Poirot--if Poirot solves the case, Giraud will give him his trademark pipe.  If Giraud wins, Poirot must shave off his famous, finely-waxed moustache!  Meanwhile, Captain Hastings spends much of the episode in a daze after falling head-over-heels in love with one of Poirot's chief suspects.

Finally, "Dumb Witness" (1996) is a real treat for Agatha Christie fans who love pastoral murder mysteries filled with eccentric characters.  When an old woman seems to be the target of an attempted murder, Poirot advises her to change her will and disinherit her relatives--thus making her death unprofitable for anyone.  She does so but is murdered anyway, and in a particularly bizarre fashion. 

Suspects include the usual ne'er-do-wells sponging off a rich relative, a Greek doctor and his seemingly abused wife, a live-in companion who may have had secret designs on the inheritance herself, and, best of all, the wonderfully weird Tripp sisters, who believe that they can commune with the spirits of the dead.  (At one point Poirot hints that the Tripps may be suspects, to which they react with giddy excitement and ask, "Are you going to interrogate us, like normal people?")  Poirot gains a canine friend in this one, a terrier named Bob who actually helps him solve the case.

The 4-disc DVD set from Acorn Media is in 4:3 full screen with Dolby 2.0 sound and English subtitles.  There are no bonus features.

AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT: SERIES 6 finds both Suchet's remarkable character and his excellent ITV television series in fine form.  Poirot fans should find these four mystery adventures delightful as usual; for the uninitiated, they should serve as an ideal introduction to Christie's celebrated detective.

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