Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1840s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1840s: 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1840s

1 - The Heiress

1. “The Heiress” (1949) – William Wyler directed this superb adaptation of Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s 1947 play, which was an adaptation of Henry James’ 1880 novel, “Washington Square”. The movie starred Oscar winner Olivia De Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson and Miriam Hopkins.

2 - All This and Heaven Too

2. “All This and Heaven Too” (1940) – Anatole Litvak co-produced and directed this excellent adaptation of Rachel Fields’ 1938 novel. The movie starred Bette Davis and Charles Boyer.

3 - Half-Slave Half-Free Solomon Northup Odyssey

3. “Half-Slave, Half-Free: The Solomon Northup Odyssey” (1984) – Avery Brooks starred in this emotional television adaptation of Solomon Northups’ 1853 memoirs, “12 Years a Slave”. Directed by Gordon Parks, the movie co-starred Rhetta Greene, John Saxon, Lee Bryant, Art Evans and Mason Adams.

5 - The Mark of Zorro

4. “The Mark of Zorro” (1940) – Rouben Mamoulian directed this superb adaptation of Johnston McCulley’s 1919 story called “The Curse of Capistrano”. The movie starred Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell and Basil Rathbone.

4 - The Liberators

5. “The Liberators” (1987) – Robert Carradine and Larry B. Scott starred in this Disney adventure film about Underground Railroad conductor John Fairfield and his fugitive slave friend, Bill; who escort Kentucky slaves north of the Mason-Dixon Line to freedom. Kenneth Johnson starred.

6 - The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin

6. “The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin” (1967) – Roddy McDowall and Suzanne Pleshette starred in this Disney adaptation of Sid Fleischman’s 1963 children’s novel called “By the Great Horn Spoon!”. James Neilson directed.

7 - Camille

7. “Camille” (1936) – George Cukor directed this lavish adaptation of Alexandre Dumas fils’ 1848 novel and 1852 play called “La Dame aux Camélias”. The movie starred Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor.

8 - Cousin Bette

8. “Cousin Bette” (1998) – Jessica Lange starred in this loose adaptation of Honoré de Balzac’s 1846 novel. Although unpopular with critics and moviegoers, it is a favorite of mine. Directed by Des McAnuff, the movie co-starred Hugh Laurie, Elisabeth Shue and Kelly MacDonald.

9 - Jane Eyre

9. “Jane Eyre” (2011) – Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender starred in the 2011 movie adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel. The movie was directed by Cary Fukunaga.

10 - 12 Years a Slave

10. “12 Years a Slave” (2013) – British director Steve McQueen helmed this Oscar winning second adaptation of Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoirs about the latter’s experiences as a slave in the Deep South. The movie starred Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender.

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“PERIL AT END HOUSE” (1990) Review

“PERIL AT END HOUSE” (1990) Review

I just realized something. I have never read Agatha Christie’s 1932 novel, “Peril at End House”. I find this ironic, considering that I have seen the 1990 television movie adaptation of this novel at least three or four times. One of these days, I will get around to reading Christie’s novel and comparing it to the television adaptation. Right now, I am going to focus on the latter.

Directed by Renny Rye and adapted by Clive Exton, “PERIL AT END HOUSE” is the first full-length television movie aired on “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”. It is also about Belgian-born detective Hercule Poirot’s efforts to prevent the murder of a young socialite, during his vacation in Cornwall. The movie begins with Poirot and his friend Arthur Hastings arriving at a Cornish seaside resort for their vacation. While conversing with socialite Magdala “Nick” Buckley on the resort’s grounds, Poirot notices that someone had fired a bullet into the brim of her floppy hat. Poirot exposes the bullet hole to Nick, who finds it difficult to believe that someone wants to kill her. She points out that aside from her house – End House – has no real assets. Poirot decides to investigate her inner circle, who includes the following:

*Charles Vyse – Nick’s cousin and an attorney
*Mr. and Mrs. Croft – an Australian couple that has leased the lodge near End House, who had suggested Nick make a will six months earlier
*Freddie Rice – a close friend of Nick’s, who is also an abused wife
*Jim Lazarus – an art dealer in love with Nick
*Commander George Challenger – a Royal Navy officer who is also attracted to Nick

Poirot eventually advises Nick to invite a relative to stay with her for a few weeks. Nick invites her distant cousin Maggie Buckley. Unfortunately, someone kills Maggie, after she makes the mistake of wearing Nick’s dress shawl during an evening party. Even worse, the killer eventually achieves his/her goal by sending a box of poisoned chocolates to Nick, while she was recuperating at a local hospital.

“PERIL AT END HOUSE” possessed a certain plot device that Christie had used in several of her novels. I would describe this plot device. But to do so would spoil the rest of the story. It took me years to spot this plot device. And I should be surprised that I have not come across anyone else who has spotted it. And yet . . . I am not. The fact that it took me several years to spot this particular plot device only tells me that Christie has utilized it with great effect in some of her more interesting and well-written mysteries. Thankfully, “PERIL AT END HOUSE” proved to be one of those well-written mysteries.

I must admit that Clive Exton did a pretty damn good job in adapting Christie’s novel for the television screen. He stuck very closely to the original novel’s plot . . . with a few changes that did no harm to the overall movie. Both Exton and Rye presented a well-paced production to the audiences. They set up the story with Poirot and Hastings’ arrival to Cornwall and continued on with without any haste or dragging feet. The only time the movie threatened to put me to sleep occurred between the story’s second murder and the revelation of the killer . . . . when the story threatened to ground to a halt. I have one last problem – namely the appearance of Chief Inspector Japp. I realize that Japp did appear in the novel. But his appearance merely dealt with Poirot’s request that he investigate the Crofts, whom the Belgian detective suspected of being forgers. The cinematic Japp immediately appeared following Maggie Buckley’s death as the main police investigator. And Cornwall is not under Scotland Yard’s main jurisdiction.

The production values for “PERIL AT END HOUSE” proved to be top-notch. Rye shot the film’s exterior scenes in Salcombe, Devon; instead of the county of Cornwall. I found that curious. However, both he and cinematographer Peter Bartlett certainly took advantage of the movie’s setting with Bartlett’s photography of Salcombe’s charming, Old World style. This was especially apparent in the movie’s opening sequence that featured Poirot and Hasting’s arrival by airplane. Actually, production designer Mike Oxley did an excellent job of recreating an English vacation resort in the early 1930s. The production practically reeked of the Art Deco style of that time period. However, I was especially impressed by Linda Mattock’s costume designs. I was especially impressed by those costumes worn by actresses Polly Walker, Pauline Moran and Alison Sterling. My only complaints about the movie’s visual styles were the actresses’ hairstyles. No one seemed capable of re-creating the early 1930s soft bob. The actresses either wore a chignon or in the case of Sterling, a Dutch Boy bob made famous by actress Louise Brooks in the late 1920s.

“PERIL AT END HOUSE” featured some solid performances by the cast. David Suchet gave his usual excellent portrayal of Hercule Poirot. I was especially impressed by the on-screen chemistry he managed to produce with Polly Walker. The latter gave a standout performance as the killer’s main target, Madgala “Nick” Buckley. Walker did an excellent job of transforming Nick from the charming “Bright Young Thing” to a wary and frightened woman, who realizes that someone is trying to kill her. Alison Sterling was also excellent as one of Nick’s closest friends, “Freddie” Rice. Next to Walker’s Nick, Sterling gave an interesting and skillful portrayal of the very complex Freddie. Hugh Fraser, Pauline Moran and Philip Jackson were also excellent as Arthur Hastings, Miss Lemon and Chief Inspector Japp. All three, along with Suchet, managed to re-create their usual magic. The movie also featured solid performances from Paul Geoffrey (whom I found particularly convincing as an early 30s social animal), John Harding, Christopher Baines and Elizabeth Downes. I found the Australian accents utilized by Jeremy Young and Carol Macready, who portrayed the Crofts, rather wince inducing. But since their accents were supposed to be fake in the first place, I guess I had no problems.

For some reason, “PERIL AT END HOUSE” has never become a big favorite of mine. It is a well done adaptation of Christie’s novel. And I found it visually attractive, thanks to the movie’s production team. The movie also featured some excellent performances – especially from David Suchet, Polly Walker and Alison Sterling. Naturally, it is not perfect. But that is not the problem. I cannot explain my lack of enthusiasm for “PERIL AT END HOUSE”. I can only assume that I found nothing particularly mind blowing or fascinating about its plot. It is simply a good, solid murder mystery that has managed to entertain me on a few occasions. Perhaps . . . that is enough.

“THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD” (2000) Review

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“THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD” (2000) Review

As many fans of Agatha Christie are aware, one of her most highly acclaimed and controversial novels is “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd”. I had checked the Internet to see how many adaptations had been made from well-regarded tale. I was surprised to learn there were at least seven adaptations, considering its difficult plot twist. The third to the last adaptation proved to be the last adaptation was the 103-minute television movie that aired on ITV’s “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” in 2000.

“THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD” seemed like your typical Christie novel. After retiring to the small village of King’s Abbott, Belgian-born detective Hercule Poirot stumbles across a mystery in which an old friend of his, an industrialist named Roger Ackroyd has been murdered. Sometime earlier, another friend of Ackroyd, a widow named Mrs. Ferrars, had committed suicide when she is suspected of killing her husband. Another murder occurs before Poirot, with the help of Chief Inspector Japp and local physician Dr. James Sheppard, solves the murder.

Screenwriter Clive Exton made some changes to Christie’s novel. He deleted a few characters, changed Poirot’s relationship with Ackroyd from simply neighbor to old friend, and added Chief Inspector Japp to the cast of characters. This last change greatly affected the story’s narrative. Christie’s novel was narrated by the Dr. Sheppard character. By having Japp replace him as Poirot’s closest ally, Exton nearly made Dr. Sheppard irrelevant. Exton ended up doing the same to a character in 2001’s“MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA”, when he added Arthur Hastings to the story, allowing the story’s true narrator, Nurse Amy Leatheran to become irrelevant. However, the addition of Japp to “THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD” transformed Christie’s story from a unique tale, to something . . . well, rather typical. With the addition of Japp, the story became another typical Christie murder mystery set in a small village. Pity.

I also believe that Exton damaged Christie’s original narrative even further with other major changes. One, he revealed major hints of the killer’s identity before Poirot could expose the former. And once the killer was exposed, audiences were subjected to a theatrical and rather silly chase scene throughout Ackroyd’s factoy, involving the police. And if I must be honest, I found myself wondering why on earth Poirot had decided to retire as a detective and move to the country in the first place. How long had he been gone before his reunion with Chief Inspector Japp?

Was there anything I like about “THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD”? I thought it was a tasteful movie, thanks to Rob Harris’ production designs that beautifully recaptured rural England in the mid-1930s. His work was ably complimented by Katie Driscoll’s art direction, and Charlotte Holdich’s costume designs. In fact, I can honestly say that the latter did a first-rate job in not only creating costumes for that particular era, but specifically for each character. Although some of Exton’s narrative changes robbed the story of its famous plot twist and featured a badly-handled revelation of the murderer, I will give kudos to the screenwriter for creating a plausible murder mystery that made it somewhat difficult for any viewer not familiar with Christie’s novel, to guess the killer’s identity . . . to a certain point.

The movie also featured some solid performances. David Suchet gave his usual competent performance as Hercule Poirot. He had one rather amusing scene in which the Belgian detective struggled with the vegetable marrows in his garden. I could say the same about Philip Jackson’s performance as Inspector Japp. Both Oliver Ford-Davies and Selina Cadell were amusing as the much put upon Dr. James Sheppard and his very nosy sister, Caroline. I read somewhere that the Caroline Sheppard character may have been a forerunner of the Jane Marple character. Malcolm Terris gave a very emotional performance as the story’s victim, Roger Ackroyd. Both Daisy Beaumont and Flora Montgomery were also effectively emotional as Ursula Bourne and Flora Ackroyd (the victim’s niece) – the two women in the life of Ralph Paton, Ackroyd’s stepson and major suspect. Speaking of the later, Jamie Bamber gave a solid performance as Ralph. But honestly, he did not exactly rock my boat. However, I was impressed by Roger Frost’s portrayal of Ackroyd’s butler, Parker. I thought he did a very good job in portraying the different aspects of the competent, yet rather emotional manservant.

Looking back, I really wish that Clive Exton had maintained Christie’s narrative style for this television adaptation of her 1926 novel. I believe it could have been possible. By changing the narrative style and adding the Chief Inspector Japp character to the story, Exton transformed “THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD” from a unique story to a typical Christie murder mystery. Pity.

Ranking of “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” Movies

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With one more season of “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” left with David Suchet as the famous literary Belgian detective, I thought it would be nice to rank some of the series’ feature-length movies that aired between 1989 and 2010. I have divided this ranking into two lists – my top five favorite movies and my five least favorite movies: 

 

RANKING OF “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” MOVIES

Top Five Favorite Movies

1-Five Little Pigs

1. “Five Little Pigs” (2003) – In this beautifully poignant tale, Hercule Poirot investigates a fourteen year-old murder in which his client’s mother was erroneously convicted and hanged for.

2-After the Funeral

2. “After the Funeral” (2006) – When a relative of a deceased man questions the nature of his death at a family funeral, she is violently murdered the following day and the family’s solicitor requests Poirot’s help. Better than the novel, the movie has a surprising twist.

3-The ABC Murders

3. “The A.B.C. Murders” (1992) – In this first-rate adaptation of one of Christie’s most original tales, Poirot receives clues and taunting letters from a serial killer who appears to choose his random victims and crime scenes alphabetically.

murderonthelinks

4. “Murder on the Links” (1996) – While vacationing in Deauville with his friend, Arthur Hastings, Poirot is approached by a businessman, who claims that someone from the past has been sending him threatening letters. One of my favorites.

5-Sad Cypress

5. “Sad Cypress” (2003) – Poirot is asked to investigate two murders for which a young woman has been convicted in the emotional and satisfying tale.

Top Five Least Favorite Movies

1-Taken at the Flood

1. “Taken at the Flood” (2006) – In this rather unpleasant tale, Poirot is recruited by an upper-class family to investigate the young widow of their late and very rich relative, who has left his money solely to her.

2-The Hollow

2. “The Hollow” (2004) – A favorite with many Christie fans, but not with me, this tale features Poirot’s investigation into the murder of a successful doctor at a country house weekend party.

3-Appointment With Death

3. “Appointment With Death” (2008) – In this sloppy adaptation of one of Christie’s novel, Poirot investigates the death of a wealthy American widow, during his vacation in the Middle East.

4-Hickory Dickory Dock

4. “Hickory Dickory Dock” (1995) – In a tale featuring an annoying nursery rhyme, Poirot’s secretary Miss Lemon persuades Poirot to investigate a series of apparently minor thefts in a university hostel where her sister works, but simple kleptomania soon turns to homicide.

5-One Two Buckle My Shoe

5. “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe” (1992) – Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp investigates the alleged suicide of the Belgian detective’s dentist. Despite the heavy political overtones, this movie is nearly sunk by a premature revelation of the killer.

“LORD EDGEWARE DIES” (2000) Review

“LORD EDGEWARE DIES” (2000) Review

The worlds of Britain’s upper-crust and artists mingled in Agatha Christie’s 1933 novel called “Lord Edgeware Dies aka Thirteen at Dinner”. There have been at least three movie and one radio adaptations of the novel in the past seven to eight decades. The most recent was a 100 minute television adaptation that aired in 2000 on the ITV series, “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”.

In “LORD EDGEWARE DIES”, Belgian-born detective Hercule Poirot is approached by celebrated stage actress, Jane Wilkinson aka Baroness Edgeware, to approach her rather unpleasant husband on the possibility of a divorce. She has plans to marry her current beau, the Duke of Merton. Although reluctant to carry out such a task, a reluctant Poirot is charmed by the actress into committing this deed. However, both he and his friend, Captain Arthur Hastings, are surprised to learn that Lord Edgeware had already informed his estranged wife of his willingness to grant her a divorce in a letter. Poirot surprises the actress with this information. But she claims that she has never received such a letter.

Jane’s relief at this bit of news is spoiled when Lord Edgeware is found murdered inside his study. When both his secretary and butler claim that the actress had appeared at her husband’s house, several minutes before his death, she becomes the prime suspect. However, a newspaper article catches the eyes of Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard. Through the article, they discover that Jane had been a guest at a dinner party on the night of her husband’s murder. Although Jane was one of the first guests to rise from the table, she was only gone for a few minutes. And when the American-born impersonator/comedienne Carlotta Adams was found dead from an overdose, Poirot begins to realize that someone had hired her to appear at the Edgeware home as Jane Wilkinson.

“LORD EDGEWARE DIES” surprisingly turned out to be that rare occasion in which a screen adaptation adheres faithfully to the novel source. The only major difference between the 1933 novel and the 2000 movie was the addition of Poirot’s secretary, Miss Lemon, to the story. One would think that such faithfulness made “LORD EDGEWARE DIES” one of the best Christie adaptations to be filmed. Perhaps other Christie fans might believe so, but not me. I am not saying that “LORD EDGEWARE DIES” is a terrible movie. Trust, it is not. If I have to be brutally honest, I found nothing exceptional about it.

There were a few aspects about Anthony Horowitz’s screenplay that I found troubling. The screenwriter nearly gave away the murderer’s identity just before the death of the third victim, a Scottish writer named Donald Ross, with a penchant for Greek mythology. And I could have done without the subplot involving Hasting’s return to England. It could have worked in a POIROT aired five years earlier or so. But “LORD EDGEWARE DIES” proved to be one of the last three or four movies to feature the Arthur Hastings character. Why create a big hullabaloo over Hasting’s return to England, when his character was destined to be gone within a year? Worse, Hastings seemed more than ever like a buffoon. Poirot’s interactions with Chief Inspector Japp seemed a lot stronger.

Aside from a few performances, I found nothing exceptional about the cast featured in “LORD EDGEWARE DIES”. David Suchet seemed competent as usual as Hercule Poirot. So did Philip Jackson as Chief Inspector Japp and Pauline Moran as Miss Lemon. Only Hugh Fraser suffered, thanks to Horowitz’s script. And despite being a competent actor, I am afraid that Fraser was unable to overcome the script’s less-than-pleasing portrayal of Hastings. Helen Grace gave one of the few outstanding performances as prime suspect Jane Wilkinson. Her portrayal was complex, yet at the same time, made it easy for me to see why Poirot was charmed by her personality. Fiona Allen gave an amusing performance as impersonator Carlotta Adams. And Iain Fraser was solid as the intelligent and observant writer, Donald Ross. Aside from the Fraser, the only other performance that failed to impress me came from John Castle. I found this disappointing, because Castle is usually a subtle, yet outstanding performer. I suspect that like Fraser, Castle was hampered by a badly written character. Even worse, his Lord Edgeware came off as a one-dimensional bully.

Rob Harris did an outstanding job as the movie’s production designer. I thought he and his team did a great job in re-creating London of the 1930s. I was also impressed by Chris O’Dell’s cinematography and Frank Webb’s editing. I was especially impressed by Webb’s editing and Brian Farnham’s direction in the sequence featuring Scotland Yard’s chase of Lord Edgeware’s butler at Croydon Airport. I found Charlotte Holdich’s costumes very sharp and sophisticated – especially for the Lady Edgeware character. On the other, whoever styled Helen Grace’s hair for role, did a slightly sloppy job in re-creating a 30s hairdo for her character.

In the end, I found “LORD EDGEWARE DIES” as a solid, entertaining, yet undistinguished addition to the list of adaptations for “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”. I enjoyed it, despite its flaws. But I would never consider it to be one of the best Christie adaptations around. It is a good movie, as far as I am concerned . . . but not a great one.

“HICKORY DICKORY DOCK” (1995) Review

“HICKORY DICKORY DOCK” (1995) Review

Every once in a while, Agatha Christie wrote a novel in which she used a nursery rhyme as its title. This turned out to be the case for her 1955 novel, “Hickory Dickory Dock”. Forty years after its publication, ITV aired an adaptation of the novel for its series, “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”.

“HICKORY DICKORY DOCK” began with a rash of thefts committed at a student hostel in 1936 London. Since her sister is the hostel’s warden, Miss Lemon recruits her boss, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, to investigate what appears to be a case of kleptomania. It does not take him long to discover the identity of the thief – a chemistry student named Celia Austin, who had stolen the items to attract the attention of psychiatry student Colin McNabb. However, it seems Celia only stole a few petty items. She was not responsible for a missing stethoscope, light bulbs and boracic powder. She also did not cut up and conceal a rucksack. When Celia is discovered the following morning, dead from an overdose of morphine, Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard eventually realize that someone tried to make her death look like suicide.

Although the novel was written and set in the 1950s, screenwriter Anthony Horowitz and director Andrew Grieve transformed the story’s setting to 1936. One, all of the “POIROT” movies and episodes are set in the 1930s, regardless of when they were made. Due to the change in setting, Horowitz and Grieve included a subplot that featured the Jarrow March and Member of Parliament (MP) Arthur Stanley. Also, all non-white and Continental European characters (aside from Greek-born hostel owner Mrs. Nicoletis) were deleted from this television adaptation. Also, the pair replaced an Inspector Sharpe with recurring character Chief Inspector Japp.

What can I say about “HICKORY DICKORY DOCK”? Honestly? I did not like it very much. I find this very interesting, considering that the movie featured two actors that I happened to like very much – Jonathan Firth and Damian Lewis. But their presence in the movie could not save it for me. Frankly, I believe that Horowitz did a piss poor job of adapting Christie’s novel. Mind you, I have never been a fan of the 1955 novel anyway. But Horowitz’s script only made it worse.

Of all the changes in this adaptation, the only one that did not bother me was the addition of Chief Inspector Japp. Mind you, I could not see someone that high up in the Scotland Yard hierarchy investigating a series of murders at a student hostel. But since the City of London is under Scotland Yard’s jurisdiction, for once Japp’s presence does not seem out of place. I wish I could say about some of the other changes . . . but I cannot.

For some reason, Horowitz had decided to include the Jarrow March into the story. Why? It really had nothing to do with the story. Also, the March actually occurred in October 1936. Yet, “HICKORY DICKORY DOCK” was set in April 1936. The screenwriter tried to justify this change by transforming MP Arthur Stanley into a Labour politician (he was a Conservative) and connecting him to the march. Worse, he changed the politician’s year of death from 1947 to 1936. To deepen the connection, Horowitz allowed one of the students to be a Political Science major and discover that another student – the murderer – was Stanley’s offspring. And you know what? It did not work. Because in the end, the Jarrow March still proved to be an unnecessary addition to the story.

By changing the story from the 1950s to the 1930s, Horowitz screwed up with another character’s portrayal. American student Sally Finch claimed to be studying in Britain on the Fullbright Program. The Fullbright Program did not exist until 1946. And although Sally proved to be a spy for British Customs that was investigating a smuggling ring within the hostel, she retained her American accent. Which led me to wonder how an American subject ended up working for a British government agency. And why did Horowitz eliminated all of the non-white characters from Christie’s novel. Mind you, her portrayal of some of them (especially one Mr. Akibombo) struck me as wince-inducing. But I do not see this as a good excuse to eliminate them all together. And one of them – a Jamaican student named Elizabeth Johnson – proved to be a very interesting character. Alas . . .

One last aspect of “HICKORY DICKORY DOCK” really annoyed me. Like other Christie adaptations with a nursery rhyme title (think “ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE”), it used heavy-handed literary symbols to connect the story with the title. The real connection between the story and the title proved to be the name of the road where the student hostel was located – Hickory Road. Yet, director Andrew Grieve decided to include the occasional shots of a mouse roaming around the hostel and an old fashioned clock (both make up part of the famous nursery rhyme), with a few voices whispering – “Hickory dickory, hickory dickory!”. I found it very annoying. Grieve finally made use of the mouse by allowing it to scare Miss Lemon, giving the revealed murderer a chance to attempt an escape. This led to a prolonged and ridiculous foot chase that, unfortunately, has been a hallmark of the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” series – especially in the 1990s.

Was there anything about “HICKORY DICKORY DOCK” that I liked? Well, most of the performances stuck me as top notch. I especially enjoyed the performances of Jonathan Firth, Damian Lewis, Polly Kemp, Gilbert Martin and Elinor Morriston as some of the students at the hostel. It was nice to see that Pauline Moran was given a bigger presence in the story as Poirot’s efficient secretary, Miss Lemon. Both David Suchet and Philip Jackson were superb as Hercule Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp. Horowitz included an entertaining subplot in which Japp found himself as a house guest at the detective’s flat, while his wife was out of town. I never felt more sympathy toward the man, as he was forced to endure Poirot’s brand of Haute cuisine. The movie could also boast a first-rate production, thanks to production designer Rob Harris. He did an excellent job of re-creating mid-1930s London. He was ably helped by Peter Wenham’s art direction and Andrea Galer’s convincing costume designs.

Despite a good deal of top-notch performances – especially by David Suchet, Philip Jackson and Pauline Moran, a convincing re-creation of 1936 London and an entertaining subplot featuring Poirot and Japp; I cannot say that “HICKORY DICKORY DOCK” is a favorite mine. To be honest, I found it a bit disappointing, thanks to some unnecessary changes to Christie’s novel by screenwriter Anthony Horowitz. Oh well. You cannot win ’em all.

“ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE” (1992) Review

 

“ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE” (1992) Review

Nearly twenty years ago, ITV’s “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” aired an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1940 novel. Not only was “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe” considered one of Christie’s darkest novels, due to its political overtones, the 1992 television adaptation acquired the same reputation. 

Directed by Ross Devenish and adapted by Clive Exton, “ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE” centered on Hercule Poirot’s investigation into the death of his dentist, one Dr. Henry Morely, which occurred less than two hours after the former’s last appointment. Poirot’s police colleague, Chief Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard, believes that Dr. Morely had committed suicide, because another one of his clients had died from an overdose of anaesthetic. However, Poirot and Japp eventually discovered that both Dr. Morely and Mr. Amberiotis’ deaths may be tied to possible attempts on the life of a banker named Alistair Blunt, who also happened to be a client of the dentist. Other suspects in the case include a former actress-turned-missionary named Mabelle Sainsbury Seale, who knew Mr. Blunt and his first wife back in India, during the 1920s; a member of the British Blackshirts named Frank Carter, who also happened to be the boyfriend of Dr. Morely’s assistant; Mr. Blunt’s American sister-in-law, Mrs. Julia Olivera; and the latter’s daughter, Jane Olivera.

As I had stated earlier, many fans of Christie’s novel and the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” seemed to harbor a very high regard of this particular story. I must admit there is a good deal about this production that I found impressive. Rob Harris’s re-creation of 1936-37 London was superb. In fact, I would go as far to say that out of the many episodes and television movies that aired on “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”, I would count Harris’ production designs as among the best. Harris’ work was ably supported by Barbara Kronig’s costume designs and Chris O’Dell’s photography. And I also had to compliment Andrew Nelson’s editing, especially in the sequence that featured the details that led to Dr. Morely’s murder. I thought the entire scene was well paced.

The performances also struck me as first-rate. David Suchet was in fine form as Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. He was ably supported by Philip Jackson’s wry performance as Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector Japp. I realize that many may have been a little upset by the lack of Arthur Hastings and Miss Lemon’s presence. But to be honest, I did not really miss them. Suchet and Jackson made a pretty strong screen team, as they have done in a few other productions.

Most of the supporting cast gave solid performances, including Joanna Phillips-Lane, Laurence Harrington, and Carolyn Colquhoun. However, there were times that I found the latter’s performance as Mabelle Sainsbury Seale to be a little ponderous. Peter Blythe did a good job in conveying both the charm and dignity of his character, Alistair Blunt, even if he came off as a bit smug toward Poirot, a man trying to prevent his murder. Helen Horton gave an amusing performance as Blunt’s American sister-in-law, Julia Olivera. And I am relieved that her portrayal as a middle-aged American woman did not collapsed into a cliche, even if Clive Exton’s screenplay gave her nearly every opportunity to do so. But I believe the best performance came from Christopher Eccleston, who portrayed one of the suspects – the boyfriend of Dr. Morely’s assistant and a follower of the British Union of Fascists. Not only was Eccleston’s performance brimmed with energy, he managed to inject sympathy into a character most would regard with disgust.

I wish I could say that “ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE” was one of the best Christie adaptations I have seen. Many seemed to think so. I believe it had the potential to be one of the best. But I also believe that Clive Exton’s script was riddled with a few flaws. One, Clive Exton wrote a convoluted script, which is not surprising since it was based upon a convoluted novel. Two, Exton and director Ross Devenish should have never included that prologue in 1925 India. It literally made it easier to solve the murders. And three, the script never made it clear why Alistair Blunt was needed to maintain some balance within Britain and Europe’s political and economic climates. Why was it so important for Scotland Yard to discover who was trying to kill him? And three, the nursery rhyme chant that permeated the movie really got on my nerves. Why was it that every time ITV aired an Agatha Christie adaptation that featured a title from a nursery rhyme, it had to include an annoying and heavy-handed literary symbol into the production?

Despite a convoluted story and a prologue that made it easier to identify the murderer, I must admit that I still rather like“ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE”. It has a lot of style. I thought it did a great job in re-creating mid-1930s London. And it featured some top-notch performances led by David Suchet, Philip Jackson and a young Christopher Eccleston.