“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.

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“EVIL UNDER THE SUN” (2001) Review

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“EVIL UNDER THE SUN” (2001) Review

There have been four adaptations of Agatha Christie’s 1941 novel, “Evil Under the Sun”. One version was a radio play that broadcast in 1999. The Adventure Company released its own adaptation in 2007. John Bradbourne and Richard Goodwin released a movie version in 1982. However, the adaptation that has recently caught my attention is the 2001 television movie that aired on ITV’s “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”

While dining at his friend Captain Arthur Hasting’s new Argentine restaurant, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot suffers a sudden collapse. His doctor reveals that Poirot need to lose weight or risk a heart condition. Both the doctor and the detective’s secretary, Miss Lemon, book Poirot at a health resort on the coast of Devon called Sandy Cove. Miss Lemon also insists that Captain Hastings accompany him.

At the Sandy Cove Resort, both Poirot and Hastings come across the usual assortment of guests. Among them was a well-known stage actress named Arlena Stuart Marshall. Many of the guests disliked Arlena, including her new husband, Captain Kenneth Marshall and her 17 year-old stepson, Lionel. Another guest, Mrs. Christina Redfern harbored jealousy over Arlena’s indiscreet affair with hubby Patrick. Well-known dressmaker Rosamund Darnley, was an old flame of Captain Marshall’s, and also harbored jealousy toward Arlena. A fanatical vicar named the Reverend Stephen Lane viewed Arlena as the embodiment of evil. An athletic spinster named Emily Brewster harbored resentment toward Arlena for bailing out on a play she had invested. The only guests who seemed to harbor no feelings regarding Arlena were a Major Barry and a Mr. Horace Blatt. But both seemed to be involved in some mysterious activities around the resort’s island – including the location where Arlena had been waiting to meet for a clandestine lover. When Arlena’s body is discovered strangled to death, Poirot and Hastings work with Scotland Yard inspector Japp to investigate thecrime.

When I was younger, I had read Christie’s novel on a few occasions. I tried to enjoy the novel. I really did. I understood that it was a favorite among Christie fans. But I never managed to rouse any enthusiasm for the story. There was something about it that struck me as rather flat. This 2001 television adaptation seemed to be an improvement over the novel. Perhaps a visual representation on the television screen made it easier for me to appreciate the story. I certainly cannot deny that Rob Hinds’ production designs struck me as colorful and sleek – a perfect continuation of the Art Deco style that had dominated the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” since the beginning. I was also impressed by Charlotte Holdich’s sleek costume designs for the cast – especially the female characters. Overall, “EVIL UNDER THE SUN” proved to be eye-candy for those who usually enjoy television and movie productions with a 1930s setting.

The subplot involving Poirot’s health certainly made it easier for me to understand why he would vacation at a not-so-interesting hotel resort. To be honest, I could not see someone like the flashy Arlena Marshall being a guest at such a low-key location. Screenwriter Anthony Horowitz made a wise choice in transforming Arlena’s 16 year-old stepdaughter Linda Marshall, who studied magic; into a 17 year-old boy, studying poisons. Arlena had been strangled. And Scotland Yard made it clear that large hands had been responsible for the crime. The idea of a 16 year-old girl with man-size hands struck me as slightly improbable. After all, if Christie wanted Linda to be considered as a serious suspect, she should have changed the character’s gender, which Horowitz did; or find another method to bump off Arlena Stuart.

The above mentioned changes in Christie’s story – Poirot’s health problems and the transformations of the Linda/Lionel Marshall character – seemed like improvements over the original story. However, other changes made it impossible for me to love this adaptation. I understand why the series’ producers and Horowitz had decided to include Hastings, Japp and Lemon into the story. After all, the Eighth Series, which aired in 2000 and 2001, proved to be the last that featured these three characters. But none of them had appeared in the 1941 novel. Hastings’ presence only gave Poirot a pretext for vacationing at Sandy Cove in the first place. Unfortunately, the running joke about Poirot’s distaste toward the resort’s health-conscious menu for its guests became tiresome within one-third of the movie. Other than the Argentine restaurant sequence, Horowitz failed to make Hastings’ presence relevant to the story. And why on earth was Chief Inspector Japp investigating a murder in Devon? He was outside of Scotland Yard’s jurisdiction, which was limited to Greater London and the home counties of Essex and Hertfordshire in the East of England; along with Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey and Kent in South East England. In other words . . . what in the hell was Japp doing there in Devon? Miss Lemon proved to be the only veteran recurring cast member that proved to be relevant to the story. She helped Poirot investigate another murder case with connections to Arlena Stuart’s murderer.

The cast gave solid performances. But I could not recall any memorable performances among them. The four main cast members – David Suchet, Hugh Fraser, Philip Jackson and Pauline Moran – were competent as usual. I was also impressed by Michael Higgs (Patrick Redfern), Carolyn Pickles (Emily Brewster), Ian Thompson (Major Barry), Tamzin Malleson (Christine Redfern) and especially Russell Tovey (Lionel Marshall). But there were performances that failed to rock my boat. David Mallinson’s portrayal of Kenneth Marshall struck me as . . . meh. He was not terrible, but simply not that interesting. Marsha Fitzalan’s performance as Rosamund Darnley seemed a bit off. Her portrayal of the dressmaker struck me as gossipy and callow. She seemed like an early 20th century version of her old role, Caroline Bingley; instead of the warm and strong-willed Rosamund. Both Tim Meats and David Timson’s performances seemed slightly hammy and rather off for such a low-key production. But the real worm in the apple proved to be Louise Delamere’s portrayal of victim Arlena Marshall. I realize that Delamere was given a role that seemed the least interesting in Christie’s novel. But Horowitz’s script and Delamere’s performance failed to improve upon it. Delamere ended up projecting a fourth-rate version of Diana Rigg’s performance in the 1982 film.

Overall, “EVIL UNDER THE SUN” proved to be a mixed bag. Production wise, it looked sleek and colorful. The script provided a few improvements over Christie’s novel. And there were some first-rate performances that included David Suchet. But in the end, I felt the movie was slightly undermined by other changes that I found unnecessary and some not-so impressive performances.

Top Ten Favorite “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” Episodes

Below is a list of my top ten favorite episodes from ITV1’s “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”, which stars David Suchet as Hercule Poirot: 

TOP TEN FAVORITE “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” EPISODES

1. “Triangle at Rhodes” (1989) – While on holiday on the Greek island of Rhodes, Hercule Poirot stumbles across a love “triangle” and murder, involving two couples.

2. “Problem at Sea” (1989) – While vacationing with Arthur Hastings on a Mediterranean Sea cruise, Poirot investigates the murder of the aggressive and demanding Mrs. Clapperton.

3. “The Plymouth Express” (1991) – Poirot and Hastings investigate the brutal murder of a wealthy Australian’s daughter aboard the Plymouth. A forerunner of Christie’s 1928 novel, “The Mystery of the Blue Train”.

4. “Dead Man’s Mirror” (1993) – Poirot and Hastings investigate the murder of the bullying millionaire, who had outbid the Belgian detective on an antique mirror.

5. “The Yellow Iris” (1993) – Poirot’s investigation into the death of a British heiress spans from Buenos Aires to London, during a period of two years.

6. “The Case of the Missing Will” (1993) – Poirot investigates the death of a British millionaire and his missing will.

7. “The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb” (1993) – Poirot and Hastings investigate a series of mysterious deaths related to the opening of the tomb of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh.

8. “The Third Floor Flat” (1989) – A new tenant, who had just moved into Poirot’s apartment building, is found murdered.

9. “The Mystery of the Spanish Chest” (1991) – A peeress asks for Poirot’s assistance, when she comes to fear for the safety of her unhappily married friend.

10. “The Affair at the Victory Ball” (1991) – Poirot and Hastings investigate the murder of a peer at a costumed event called the Victory Ball, and his connection to an actress with a drug addiction.

“DEATH IN THE CLOUDS” (1992) Review

“DEATH IN THE CLOUDS” (1992) Review

There are two things one should know about Agatha Christie’s 1935 novel, ”Death in the Clouds”. One, it happened to be one of those ”murder in a locked room” type of mysteries that she rarely wrote about. And two, I have not read the novel since high school. 

I would not exactly rate ”Death in the Clouds” as one of my favorite Christie novels. But I must admit that screenwriter William Humble wrote a solid adaptation for the ”AGATHA CHRISTIE’S ‘POIROT’” television series. Starring David Suchet as Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, ”DEATH IN THE CLOUDS” focused upon the murder of a French woman named Madame Gisele aboard a Paris-to-London flight across the English Channel. Madame Gisele’s profession as a moneylender (and occasional blackmailer) to the British and French members of high society has made her wealthy, feared and hated. Her murder occurred during a flight that included Poirot as one of the passengers. Other passengers and suspects included:

*Lady Horbury – the wife of a British aristocrat and former actress

*Jean Dupont – a French archeologist in need of funds for an African expedition

*Jane Grey – stewardess for Empire Airways (in the novel, she was a hairdresser’s assistant on holiday)

*Norman Gale – a British dentist on holiday, who falls in love with Miss Grey

*Venetia Kerr – British aristocrat and close friend of Lord Horbury

*Daniel Clancy – a British mystery author

*Anne Gisele – Madame Gisele’s illegitimate daughter, who was impersonating as Lady Horbury’s maid

Money, class and relationships figured prominently in ”DEATH IN THE CLOUDS”. With Arthur Hastings making a no-show in this tale, Poirot enlisted the help of fellow passenger Norman Gale and stewardess Jane Grey to assist him. And thanks to solid performances from Sarah Woodward and Shaun Scott, the pair proved to be mildly entertaining and made a romantic pair. Cathyrn Harrison gave a complex and interesting performance as Lady Horbury, a former actress who married into the British aristocracy and found herself in debt to Madame Gisele. Harrison’s performance conveyed a conflicted woman that hid her insecurities regarding her marriage behind a haughty and rude mask, and a gambling habit. Actor Roger Heathcott’s portrayal of mystery writer Daniel Clancy struck me as slightly bizarre and interesting. Philip Jackson’s Chief Inspector Japp was just as annoying and entertaining as ever. It was easy to for me to see why the Parisian police considered him an annoyance. However, I found his character’s control of the case on French soil very implausible. And David Suchet gave his usual, competent performance as Hercule Poirot. No . . . I take that back. In ”DEATH IN THE CLOUDS”, his Poirot seemed warmer than usual. Perhaps his friendship with the lovebirds – especially Jane Grey – brought out more of his warmth.

I would not view ”DEATH IN THE CLOUDS” as one of Agatha Christie’s more unusual novels. Well, she did use the ”murder in a locked room” plot device for this particular story. But I found nothing that remarkable about it. I could say the same about this production. However, Humble did a solid job in adapting Christie’s novel. I found his decision to convert the Anne Gisele character into a possible suspect as unnecessary. Her role as a suspect did not go anywhere, once the movie featured her brief wedding and revelation to the police as Madame Gisele’s daughter. The humor of Japp’s presence in Paris tired quickly, once I realized that his appropriation of the case on French soil was very implausible. But Humble, with Stephen Whittaker’s direction, did a solid job in maintaining the movie’s mystery and most of the main plot. And I have to give kudos to both men for using the novel’s original publication year as an excuse to add the Fred Perry/Gottfriend Von Cramm 1935 match at the French Open as a historical backdrop.

One only has to look at ”DEATH IN THE CLOUDS” for a few minutes and correctly assume that it had been filmed during the 1990s. The movie has that sleek, Art Deco style that dominated the production of ”AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” during that period. But since a good deal of this particular story was set in Paris, production designer Mike Oxley’s intent upon maintaining the Art Deco style did not serve that particular setting very well. The Parisian atmosphere seemed to be dominated by stark images of tourist attractions such as the Eiffel Tower and the Sacre Coeur Basilica (which Poirot insultingly referred to as an enormous birthday cake). But I must admit that costume designer Barbara Kronig did an excellent job in recapturing the styles of the mid-1930s, especially for the Lady Horbury character. However, I cannot say the same about the women’s hairstyles. I understand that some women wore chignons during the 1930s. Unfortunately, most of the female characters in this movie wore one, which I found rather ridiculous. Only the Venetia Kerr character sported a 1930s soft bob.

”DEATH IN THE CLOUDS” had a few problems that included Japp’s implausible presence of Chief Inspector Japp investigating the case in Paris. But it still turned out to be a believable and intelligent movie. For me, it was one of the better feature-length movies that aired on ”AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”.