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The Little Grey Cells

I decided to get a few “different” Christmas movies in from Netflix this year. They were already on my queue, but I bumped them up to the top so as to have them before I left town. The first was Joyeux Noël, which we all gathered to watch on Saturday night before everyone scattered to the four winds. I loved it. We all loved it. It was one of the best Christmas movies I’ve ever seen, and if you have the means, make the effort to see it this Christmas yourself. I already went out and bought it.

The other one came in later than I expected, and watched it last night before bed. It was Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1995), the adaptation of one of my favorite mystery stories (alternately titled Murder for Christmas). It was nothing special (made-for-TV and all), but it was still quite charming and evoked a certain nostalgia from several years ago when I used to watch Poirot mysteries regularly with my family. The music people rather cleverly rearranged the show theme (usually heavy on the saxaphone) with pan pipes and the like, throwing in a few extra-Christmas-y flairs for good measure.

I do love me a good Poirot mystery. Barring Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot is by far my favorite fictional detective. But, when it comes to the movies, the actor behind the character is vitally important to the enjoyment. For instance, the last Poirot I watched was the 1970s Murder on the Orient Express with an all-star (and I do mean all-star) cast. Some incompetent moron cast Albert Finney (38 at the time) in the role of the 60-year old, eccentric Belgian detective. Finney was actually 3rd choice for the role, behind Sir Alec Guinness (if you can possibly imagine) and Paul Scofield.

Finney is an atrocity in the role; an absolute travesty. He brings the entire movie crashing down around him. Finney’s Poirot barely seems like a human being, let alone an intelligent one. He seems to honk like a demented goose (etc.) more than he articulates human speech. It’s not his fault . . . he’s doing his best. He just doesn’t have any business playing Hercule Poirot. The awful punchline is, Agatha Christie saw the film and declared Finney to be the nearest thing she had seen to the Poirot of her imagination. She loved him in the part. There are three reasons I don’t think her opinion counts:

1) She was 84 and dying, so senility was clearly a factor. Additionally, she had been around since before the beginning of the motion picture, so she might not have been as difficult to impress as she should have been.

2) Agatha Christie didn’t like the character of Poirot, anyway, and her prejudice no doubt made the extremely unlikable portrayal by Finney seem adequate.

3) She never met David Suchet.

David Suchet has played Poirot flawlessly on television since 1989 in 59 dramatizations of Christie mysteries. In a few more years (at this rate), every Poirot mystery Christie ever wrote will have been filmed with Suchet as the star. It is difficult to imagine his equal, let alone his better. David Suchet is Hercule Poirot.

For the sake of completeness, I should note that in-between Finney’s Poirot of 1974 and Suchet’s beginning in 1989, there was one other: Peter Ustinov. He featured in about half a dozen full-length Poirot mysteries during the 1980s; most with strong, star-studded casts. I have a certain fondness for the Ustinov Poirot. He is a talented actor playing an entertaining, likeable character. However, that character is not the Hercule Poirot of Agatha Christie’s novels. He isn’t even trying to be. Nevertheless, the films are in all other respects scrupulously faithful to their source material, and very well made. I particularly recommend Death on the Nile.

In 1985 (4 B.D.S.), Ustinov starred as Poirot in a film version of the Christie novel Thirteen at Dinner. Cast opposite him as the Belgian detective’s complete anti-thesis, the stodgy, ultra-British, somewhat-thick Chief Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard, was David Suchet. I need to make an effort to see that. And you need to make an effort to get watch a Suchet adaptation this holiday season (try the Christmas one, it’s fun). If you enjoy mysteries at all, you’ll enjoy these.

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~ by Jared on December 20, 2006.

2 Responses to “The Little Grey Cells”

  1. <em>David Suchet is Hercule Poirot.</em>

    I’ll second that, but I will add that David Suchet is pure dramatic philosopher’s stone, whatever the role. Have you seen the Beeb’s ‘The Way We Live Now’? You should see it.

  2. Oh, he certainly is. That’s why I’m so anxious to see his take on Inspector Japp. I haven’t seen the one you mentioned (I’ll look for it), but I did see him in a bit role in an adaptation of <i>A Tale of Two Cities</i>, and of course I’ve heard him as Aslan in the Focus on the Family Narnia radio dramas (he blows Liam Neeson out of the water, that’s for sure).

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