Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film (or Whatnot): Hercule Poirot Gets A Toothache and the Sniffles.

Today is Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film (or Whatnot) Day. I add the 'whatnot' because today I don't have a film, I have 'whatnot'. Two episodes of the Agatha Christie Poirot PBS series from the 80's which are actually (dare I say it?) better than the short stories on which they were based. Of course this very rarely happens with Christie and you know how I feel about altering Dame Agatha's work. But every rule was made to be broken so here we are.

Oh, before I forget, don't you forget to head on over to Todd Mason's blog, SWEET FREEDOM - he is our genial host when it comes to the Overlooked and Forgotten. Other bloggers will be posting their entries today and Todd has the links. It's a Tuesday ritual.

May 2nd was David Suchet's birthday (he's 66) and since - scandalously - I overlooked the date, I'm declaring that May is David Suchet Month retroactively. Ta-da!

The oh-so-charming David Suchet as Hercule Poirot

We begin the general celebration with two episodes which remain among my favorites - though there are others in those first two years that I liked enormously - really it's hard to go wrong with those early episodes.

Poirot is at his most human here since in the first he is plagued by a toothache and in the second by a clinging head cold. Which just goes to show that the great man is not impervious to life's little annoyances.

FOUR AND TWENTY BLACKBIRDS - 5th episode in the first batch which appeared in 1989. Directed by Renny Rye.

To both Captain Hastings' and Miss Lemon's bewilderment, Poirot is off to have dinner with his dentist, who has recently done work on a Poirot bicuspid. Poirot maintains that out of the office, Mr. Bonnington (played by a jovial Denys Hawthorne) is charming.

Denys Hawthorne as Bonnington

The small restaurant they pick is known for it's 'English fare' and Poirot puts himself 'unreservedly' in Bonnington's hands when it comes to ordering. (We know that Poirot is not a big fan of English food.)

I could watch these first few minutes in the restaurant over and over, enjoying myself along with the two actors who simply ooze charm and amiability as they sit down to a cozy dinner marred only by a tiny Poirot tooth twinge.

It is at this restaurant that they first notice an old man - the artist Henry Gascoigne who regularly eats there twice a week on very specific days ordering only specific foods. They are so informed by Molly the chatty waitress (Cheryl Hall) whose chatter about blackberry cobbler and 'thick soup' intrigues Poirot.

Later, while at the dentist's for more more work on his 'twinge-y tooth' Poirot finds out aht the old man was found dead at the bottom of the stairs in his London flat.

The police, in the form of the ascerbic Chief Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) label the death an accident. But Poirot thinks otherwise. He has an 'idea' that things are not what they seem.

Now, the interesting thing for me is that all this is not in the short story at all. Oh, Gascoigne dies in his flat after dinner at a restaurant and Poirot investigates, but the 'trimmings' added to the story are not there. As usual, in the PBS show, the story is visually fleshed out (as it would have to be) and we are not only in London, but also, later at the seashore. The locations are varied, interesting, occasionally beautiful and add much to the story as does the fact that Gascoigne was a famed artist - something which is not in the original story.

When I re-read this I missed the colorful additions made by writer Russell Murray.

Well, it turns out that Gascoigne had an equally elderly brother from whom he was estranged for over twenty years and both have both died within days of each other - one of natural causes, the other in the suspicious fall. The fact that there is no will is particularly important to the supposed heir, a nephew, George Lorrimer, a music hall manager - played in a perfectly unctuous manner by Richard Howard.

Look at Hasting's body language. Love him.

As Poirot and Captain Hastings begin their investigation, they meet Gascoigne's model and muse, Dulcie Lang, (the wonderful Holly De Jong), a flashy dresser wise to the ways of artists and men. Captain Hastings is immediately 'at attention' in her presence and her all-knowing, half-smile speaks volumes, especially later when the two men must interview Dulcie just after a nude modeling session at what appears to be an art school.. "As you can see, " she says, "I have nothing to hide." 

Holly De Jong

Poirot is sophisticated and suave about these encounters, Hastings is all googly. I love Hugh Fraser as the cricket-obsessed confidant and sidekick of Poirot. He can be such an innocent.

The very engaging Hugh Fraser as Hastings.

As the plot unfolds, an old family feud, a nefarious impersonation and missing blueberry stains lead Poirot to the cunning murderer.

The story is made particularly memorable by the lively visual additions and intriguing story angles added to the television script. One instance in which 'tinkering' paid off handsomely. Hey, it happens.

Oh, almost forgot: this is the episode in which Poirot cooks rabbit stew for Hastings. Done in the Belgian way, of course. With juniper berries.


The second show I'm talking about today is THE THIRD FLOOR FLAT directed by Edward Bennett - the 6th episode in that 1989 series. Here, Poirot has a head cold that won't quit and obviously he needs the medicinal relaxation of a good murder to cure what ails him. Three weeks since his last case and Poirot is bored as well as suffering the sniffles, worried that the 'little gray cells' might be slowing down.

In this episode, as opposed to the first in this post, most of the action takes place at Whitehaven Mansions, the art deco building in which Poirot has his spacious flat. (The gorgeous building we're all familiar with is, in reality, Florin Court in Charterhouse Square.)

Poirot under a towel inhaling steam.

This time out there's a murder two floors down from Poirot's flat. A woman is found shot to death and Poirot and Hastings get mixed up with some bright 'young things' - two of whom discovered the body after stumbling out of the dumb-waiter apparatus and into the wrong apartment. You hadda' be there.

Hugh Fraser, Suchet and Pauline Moran as Miss Lemon.

It all has to do with a missing key, a non-functioning light, blood on a tablecloth, an inconvenient marriage and a murderer's quick thinking. I like the 'claustrophobic' quality at play in this episode as the bright young things and Poirot skulk up and down stairs, in and out of apartments and hallways, have midnight dinner in a cramped kitchen and Poirot, especially, tries to help the cause of true love.

Not to mention that Poirot comes under the spell of the blond leading lady (Suzanne Burden) whose affections are at the heart of the murder. The look of wistfulness on his face in one scene is a joy to behold. What a wonderful actor. What utter charisma.

On the right, Philip Jackson as Chief Inspector Japp.

There are variations in this story which flesh out the written words of Agatha Christie and several changes which only enhance things.

The incomparable David Suchet.


You know, I always thought I was the only quirky person who'd ever fallen in love with Hercule Poirot. But guess what - WRONG! Read this post: 'I CONFESS, I AM IN LOVE WITH HERCULE POIROT and you'll see what I mean. There's also a very interesting clip of David Suchet talking about the inherent humor in the stories and shows and a bit about how he physically became Poirot.


Hercule Poirot needle felted doll by Sarah at Little Kumquat

Then check out this blog post about how a blogger needle-felted an adorable Hercule Poirot doll for her mother for Christmas. Helped along by a signed photo from David Suchet.

Again, my apologies for the very wonky spacing. Google-Blogger is still acting up.


  1. What a great post. I used to love watching Poirot on ITV on a Sunday night as a child. I have them all on DVD now. I prefer the later series with The Cornish Mystery and Double Sin but these early episodes you've selected are very good too. I love the almost family-like set up of Poirot, Hastings, Japp & Miss Lemon. Such fantastic casting all around

  2. Ha. Well, as it's "Tuesday's Overlooked Film and/or Other A/V" and television is the most popular sort of Other A/V in the weekly roundelay, you have flouted no convention...as as I'm having some Dental Fun as I type (as is Patti Abbott), this seems an unusually on the ?nose? entry...

  3. I haven't seen either of these and I'm always looking for new (well, new to me) things to watch, so I'll definitely check out these episodes! David Suchet cupcakes would be brilliant.

  4. I agree with you completely Yvette - the earlier episodes of the Suchet Poirot are delightfully entertaining. Of the two episodes, the first is a bit of an eye-opener (or at least in its original UK broadcast on ITV as) in terms of nudity but as you say, its also very funny. Ive got all of the Poirot series on DVD, but its the original one-hour episodes that regularly get trotted and given a spin in my household!

  5. I love that series, and David Suchet. I think I missed those two episodes, however. So many others come to mind, though. I wish they'd run them again. Such fun. I recall one where poor Hastings was suffering from allergies and the look on Suchet whenever Hastings sneezed and asked Poirot for his handkerchief. It took a lot out of Poirot to pluck the silk handkerchief from his breast pocket and reluctantly give it over to Hastings.

  6. Just watched these two at your recommendation. They were excellent! I don't remember seeing them before, but the 1980's was a long time ago. My favorite line: "Miss Lemon, yesterday was yesterday."

  7. I have not caught a whole bunch of these older Poirot episodes but there was one I saw that I found entertaining. One thing I know it was not the one you mention here.

    It comes on PBS every now and again.

    In the latest episodes, it is clear that he has not missed a beat :)

  8. Only one more day to celebrate David Suchet month!

    You reminded me of how comforting it is to spend time watching the Poirot series.

    Did you see "Jeopardy" last night when none of the contestants could answer the Final Jeopardy of "Classic Mystery Novels"? For shame!

  9. Lucy, if there was an Emmy for 'casting' then whoever cast Poirot, Hastings, Miss Lemon and Inspector Japp should definitely win the grand prize.

    I'm an 'early show' fan and you're a 'late show' fan, but we both love Poirot, so all is well. ;)

  10. Todd, leave it to me to be disconcerted by the fact that I DIDN'T flout convention. :) I mean, what are 'conventions' for, otherwise?

    I'm hoping Patti is feeling better these days. I'm due for a dental overhaul myself and I keep putting it off. Not very smart of me, I know.

  11. Lauren, why don't you have a David Suchet night? Poirot and cupcakes and a spot of tea or maybe, a tisane or two?

    I'll be there. :)

  12. Sergio: Aren't they wonderful? I love most of them. There are two duds even way back when but I won't mention them since, possibly they might be somebody's faves.

    I own some of the dvds, but not as many as I would wish. But Netflix streaming comes in handy for the 1989 episodes.

  13. Poirot and Hastings, an unlikely pair. But you can see the genuine warmth between them. In the first episode based on the first book, THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES - Poirot and Hastings meet up when Poirot is in England as a refugee from the war and Hastings is on leave suffering a bit from shell-shock. The warmth between them when they meet again is palpable and seems absolutely genuine.

    I love when Poirot spouts, "Ah, mon amie, mon amie...!"

  14. LauraC: Wow, am I glad you enjoyed them. I wouldn't want to think that I exaggerated how terrific they were. :)

    Now you know why these are two of my faves.

  15. Patti: Yes, I agree. Hope you're feeling at least a bit better, m'dear.

  16. Iba, try and catch these early episodes if you can. You'll see the difference.
    They are available on Netflix streaming which is very handy.

  17. Caftan Woman: I wish I had seen the Jeopardy show. But I don't have cable anymore so...

    Anyway, what was the question? I'm very curious.

    You know, if I was on a desert island and could only take a minimum of dvds - I'd take these early Poirots, Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett and The West Wing and I'd be happy.

  18. The Final Jeopardy answer was:
    "A letter in this mystery says, “We are going…to Luxor and Assuan by steamer, and perhaps on to Khartoum”"

    Of course, the question is:
    What is "Death on the Nile"?

    All three contestants answered: What "Murder on the Orient Express"? leading us to despair not only at their lack of knowledge of the category "Classic Mystery Novels", but also at their failure to grasp world geography.

    I'll admit that I had practically used up all the 30 seconds before I blurted out the correct question, but really - these are the folks who passed the test.

  19. Yvette, David Suchet is hands-down my favorite portrayer of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot (heck, isn't he everybody's favorite Poirot? :-)), and I definitely remember seeing THE THIRD FLOOR FLAT and FOUR AND TWENTY BLACKBIRDS. Poirot is a wonderful character on his own, but I'll admit I especially get a kick out of the team-ups between Poirot and Hastings! That little plush Poirot is delightful, too! :-)


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