Saturday, September 30, 2017

Hercule Poirot, Mystery By Night

Starting in 1920 the world began it's journey beside a curious and discerning little Belgian newcomer to British society. Mr, Hercule Poirot.

A creation of the great Agatha Christie, he can be seen as an amalgam of many living and fictional detectives of the day. But the unique combination of traits made the character beloved to this day. For Christie though the character became an annoyance, "a creep", but she had an audience for him so she had new stories published of his into the 1970's.

The small man in his impeccable clothing, the fastidiously managed mustache, curious walk, and broken English was idea to be contended with. He might seem a humorous figure, but in truth he was an experienced and knowledgeable investigator.

Once he was a respected Belgian police officer who rarely failed to bring his targets to the law. Respected and happy living in his homeland, his time there came to an end with the invasion by Germany at the start of World War I. Injured in the fighting he was taken to England as a refugee.

There he took time to convalesce and find his feet in this new land. Grateful for the security of England he decided to apply his skills anew, now as a private detective.

As a detective he was highly successful, often being called into cases of the highest echelons of British society to sort of thefts, murders, and disappearances. The work helped make him wealthy enough to eventually retire and only take cases of personal interest.

In films and television, the character has appeared on numerous occasions.

Tony Randall played him in The Alphabet Murders. This film was meant to be a more humorous take on the character, and less an actual mystery. (The film also has a cameo by the then Miss Marple actor Margaret Rutherford.) The character seems to be used more as a goofy figure.

Come he 1970's, it was decided to create an extravagant version of Murder on the Orient Express. Along with a cast of notable actors was Albert Finney as Poirot.

He was deemed rather young for that role, but under the makeup and characterization, I find he does a decent job. By and large he brings Poirot to life, though as a kid I thought it was a bit much.

Around this time a series of TV movies began, starring Peter Eustanov. The mustache isn't fine as Finney's, but the ego of Poirot is present.

As the movies continue the period pieces shift to modern day. And Poirot's characterization lessens. They are still fun, but very much reinterpretation.

And then we get to the 1980's. Poirot started on ITV in the United Kingdom and brought to use David Suchet in the role of Hercule Poirot. And much like the parallel Miss Marple series, this show gave us, what is to me, the definitive Poirot.

The series ran for several series, before shifting to the more infrequent extended episodes, taking us through to the final cases of the detective.

This show among many benefits did a wonderful job of laying out the many qualities and faults of Hercule Poirot. His need for order. His hate of messiness. His obsession with precision. His use of his "foreignness" to shape events (like stumbling with his English usage to lower a suspect's appraisal of him). How all of this fits into his ability to read crime scenes and people.

In 2001 we another take on Murder on the Orient Express. A TV Movie, it seems like an attempt at a pilot. It's another modern setting for the character, and a lot of the characterization and style of the character is missing.

It is not unenjoyable, but it is missing more for Alfred Molina to work with in the lead role.

And now we have another interpretation coming, with Kenneth Branagh in the role of Poirot. It is a period piece. They are bringing in some interesting actors to fill the role of would be murderers. And they are taking some chances with Poirot.

But, like a lot of people, I can't take my eyes of the mustache. It looks like an Old West cut...It is just throwing me off a little. Still I will be giving it a chance.

I just wish we could see some other novels of Christie get some cinematic love.


But going back to David Suchet's Poirot for a moment. Another boon to this show was that it's attempts to keep somewhat close to the source material allowed for us to enjoy a number of Poirot's closest friends and colleagues over these years of varied adventures and mysteries.

In the early series we were able to luxuriate in a heavy dose of the big three. Captain Arthur Hastings. Miss Felicity Lemons. Inspector James Japp.

Hastings was always at Poirot's side, going back to his own convalescence from battlefield injuries in World War I. He was a friend, confidant, and coworker on many cases. He was not as sharp as Poirot, blinded by his own opinions and prejudices. But he brought many skills to Poirot's work.

Miss Lemon had a keen mind of her own, focused on maintaining Poirot's office and files in a refined management system. Throughout his PI years she was a constant sight and support.

Inspector Japp of Scotland Yards always had a deep respect for Poirot, having worked for his even when he was still a Belgian detective. The back and forth between them could get rough as they both pursued their own investigatory paths, but Japp knew that Poirot's mind was one to be respected.

 Two other reoccurring figures are:

Ariadne Oliver, a mystery writer that is by and large a self-insert for Agatha Christie (she even has her own foreign born detective character that she loathes). She is often eager to engage Poirot and apply her imagination to cases.

George is Poirot's valet. A gentleman's gentlemen, he is a prime and proper man who helps Poirot keep his life in proper order until the end of his life.

Hopefully, if you are new to these characters are ready to read, or watch, the cases of Hercule Poirot.

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