TV Review: Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas

Posted: December 24, 2010 in Holiday, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1 January, 1995 Carnival Films Dir. Edward Bennett)

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David Suchet has been playing the Belgium Detective Hercule Poirot for about a million years on England’s ITV, which is different from the BBC in several ways that are important to them, but not to us. Mostly, they have commercials. In the 1995-96 series of episodes, they stopped doing hour-long episodes and just stuck to feature length (for TV) movies. This is the first of those movies and hey, it’s a Christmas episode! That’s so convenient, you’d think I grabbed this episode out of a stack just to review it! This is based on the 1938 novel of the same name and as far as I remember the book, it follows pretty faithfully. I haven’t read it in years and years, so I could be mistaken. I’ve looked it up and some sources claim a few characters are deleted from the book, but that tends to happen when one must condense a book for the screen anyway. I’ll mention glaring issues as I notice them.

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Wait, WHAT?

So we open in South Africa in 1896, which right away should give the viewer pause. Poirot takes place in 1930s England, not 1890s Africa! Not one minute thirty seconds in and they’ve already screwed up! I’m not watching anymore, I refuse! No! NO! I can’t abide when they destroy a story like this. It’s as bad as having Batman need Katie Holmes to encourage him to out on his tights and go out to fight crime. I’M DONE! … Oh alright, if it’ll help the review go along I’ll give it five minutes to right this ship and get us back on course. If by the 6:30 mark we’re not in England looking at a Belgium, I’m leaving. Anyway, we’ve got a couple of guys prospecting for diamonds, discussing the how best to exploit their claim, and one of them kills the other in a fit of being English and wanting it all for himself. He then wanders through what’s supposed to be the desert, but what looks like an English beach until he collapses and is found by some nice people who he presumably decides to also kill when their backs are turned. Instead through, he seems to take the woman as a lover for a brief period before vanishing into the Welsh background… or possibly Africa. Might be Africa, might not be Africa, this is the least African, Africa has ever looked. Also…Detroit, Detroit, Detroit, Detroit!

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Ah… that’s better.

Fifteen seconds after my five-minute cut-off point, we find ourselves forty years later, five thousand miles north and sixty degrees cooler. It’s London on December 21st, or 21 December as people who are WRONG say it. We know it’s the 21st because a graphic appears to inform us of the date. It’s that sort of December weather that I strongly suspect only exists in the world of entertainment. Inspector Japp and Poirot have just had a meal together and are about to celebrate the season in the way tradition demands. Japp is going to Wales, ostensibly to visit his wife’s relatives but really to burn away his sins for the last year. Poirot plans to sit with the radio, reading a book and drinking all the cooking sherry in the world. Of course, the music suddenly turns sinister and we know his plans will be undone. We suddenly cut to the exterior of Chilham Castle, which seems to be the house for about every third show in England. It’s not really Chilham in the movie, it’s something else, but then it always is. Here we find the guy who killed his partner earlier, now an old man and still crazy for diamonds.

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I keep finding big chunks of sugar in my breakfast cereal!

We then cut to Poirot, who has found his radiator is broken, evidently because the boiler in his building is kaput. Right after getting off the phone with the building super, who says it won’t be fixed until after Christmas, he gets another call. This call is from the rich old man who wants him to come and stay in his house for a few days. Because Mr. Lee (The old man) has central heating in his massive house, Poirot agrees to the suggestion that he come and investigate the fact that the old bat thinks his life is in danger. Now, I’m going to make a bet here. I’ll be that this is where a commercial originally was placed. It’s just about the right time for one and even if there wasn’t a cut here on ITV, it’s probably where A&E put a break for the American broadcast. The point is, we’re going to have a commercial break now!

COMMERCIAL!1
Please, don’t eat us!

What am I doing with my life? Honestly, I’m reviewing a Raisin Bran commercial from the 1970s. Allow me to explain what you’re looking at. You are looking at some guys dressed like the thugs in The Spirit, only their shirts all say “Raisin” and they’ve got little berets on. These “Raisins” are standing in a “bowl” of “flakes” and “singing” what can only charitably be called a “song” about how it’s the raisins that make Post Raisin Bran so wonderful. In fact, it’s raisins that make Post Raisin Bran so raisiny. More raisins than you have ever seen before, according to the lyrics. I doubt this, I’ve seen a lot of raisins in my time. I mean it’s fine to claim that there are much more raisins and that if I like fat juicy raisins than I’ll like Raisin Bran more… but is it true? And has the word raisin hit semantic satiation yet? Raisins, raisins, raisins, raisins. What were people on at that time anyway? Next time my mother starts up on “kids today” I’m going to just tear into her with “Look! don’t start any of that shit. In you’re day, close harmony singing raisins was an acceptable ad campaign for cereal!” They weren’t even singing an old motown hit or anything. I don’t expect you to take my word for this, watch the commercial for yourself by clicking this link. I’ve now watched this thing like 10 times, just to make sure I’ve fully understood the thrust and symbolic meaning behind the story, and I wish to see it no more. Back to the show.

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I think the cameraman has a different idea as to what kind of movie this is.

When we come back it’s the next day, December 22 as the superimposed calendar graphic tells us. Poirot is on the train to Chilham Castle, with the rest of the cast as it turns out. He doesn’t know that he’s with them of course, they just all happen to be on the same train. Some other relatives are already at the house, every one discussing the old man and what an evil such and such he is. This is how these things go, you get a bunch of bastards that you would want to line up against a wall on any decent day. One might suggest that this is another fistful of suspects, like most of old Agatha’s stories. Or it might be a few suspects more. I can’t think of a pun for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, so we’ll just end this line of commentary right here.

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Hello, we’re the only decent people here and we’re sort of horrible too.

Most the suspects are pretty horrible people, like Agatha likes to write about. All the English in her stories (at least those in the upper classes) are bigoted, greedy, stupid, and self-obsessed, while the servants are saintly and foreigners are about the only people you can rely on. Mr. Lee seems to have asked Poirot to be on the grounds and keep his eyes and ears open. Mostly though he just pops between standing at a radiator and warming his butt at the fire while the plot happens around him. There isn’t much at all going on really the old cuts off half the family, a police officer shows up to talk to the old man for a moment, some people come, others go… and then suddenly *BAM!* murder. A hideous sound comes from the old man’s room, everyone rushes in and they find the old man murdered upstairs along with a lot of over turned furniture and broken cups. The police officer from a moment ago comes back, claiming he forgot a book just as all hell breaks loose. They investigate the room, finding the diamonds stolen from the safe. Annnd that’s where we cut to commercial!

Commercial break2
For the love of Waffles! Call an ambulance!

Oh good, banjo music. So we’ve got two old fashioned trucks driving around right? One with a load of cherries and one with a load of Shasta cola. While these two trucks are driving we’ve got some guy giving us a faux country accent talking about how they wanted to get the flavor of cherry and cola together. Watching the two trucks almost collide several times, it gives us real insight into what red necks think mixing flavors entails. I’m not even joking. Not only do they almost crash, but after a while the guy says “And then one day, it happened” and BAM the cars crash into each other. So after that some kids come running and instead of looking in on the drivers to make sure they’re okay, they rush to the spilled cans of cola. They tear the tops off, because pop tops hadn’t been introduced yet, and start drinking while the drivers presumably bleed out on the dust dirt road, understanding that their lives aren’t as important and sugary cherry flavored cola drink. Because that’s what Shasta thinks of American children, that they care nothing for injured human beings and only delight in drinking free pop while poking the dying to see how long they’ll groan. Here, have a look at it. See if it doesn’t horrify you.

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I like old newspapers. Hey, screw you! It can’t be a joke a second!

When we come back from commercial, it’s December 23rd, and we’re in with Inspector Japp’s wife’s relations, who are all… singing. You can tell Japp is just counting the minutes until he can escape, watching his sins melt away in this purgatory where “Ding-Dong Merrily on High” is repeated ad nauseam. Sadly, all his sins cannot be burned away, because he is soon rescued by Poirot and taken to the scene of the crime. This is breaking with the book a bit, since Japp isn’t in that, but we’ll let it slide for the moment. They show up and get told things we already know, and then tell us the reason the police officer was actually asked to come. The cop claims that he was asked to come because Mr. Lee thought the diamonds he was playing with earlier had been stolen. The cop was to come back a short while after and when he had, he found the man was dead. They then discuss some of the evidence, and how it might have been done and how it probably wasn’t done and so on and so forth.

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In the big screen movie version they’re played by Justin Bieber and Robert Pattinson with a lot of gay undertones.

Poirot notices a gift that Inspector Japp gave him as they parted at the beginning and goes to a local shop, looking for a gift for Japp. It’s in this scene that we actually see an important clue, only you don’t know it at the time. He then starts to talk to the suspects, asking them questions and all around investigating. He and Japp talk to the suspects, trying to work out their stories. Most of what you get in a Poirot episode is them talking to suspects and watching them get indignant. Everyone wants to know why the old man was killed (roll a dice, one of the reasons will be valid) and who stole the diamonds. They think that they might have part of an answer when we find the empty diamond case found in one of the son’s rooms! In fact, it’s the one who’s a PM that has the case in his luggage! OMG! A member of parliament not being 100% trustworthy? SHOCK! Cut to commercial!

Commercial3
I will take you away from all this.

This advertisement for Cheer Detergent chronicles one woman’s decent into madness. Our protagonist, let’s call her Suzy Jenkins, is seeing her kids out the door. She examines her children as they leave, not to see that the children themselves are alright, but to examine their clothes. She grabs each child by their shoulders and turns them to look at their shirts. A Dune like internal monologue informs us that the little girl’s white clothes were cleaned with a hot water wash. This is regarded as being just “okay” while the boy, dressed in a red shirt is different. His red shirt was given a cold-water wash, which we’re told is “pretty clean” as she barely even recognizes the fact that he tries to kiss her. His kiss instead lands unrewarded and unrecognized on her cheek, despite the fact that he just wanted to get a moment of love from this cold beast. As the door closes, she stands and declares “Aww, they didn’t look that good!” and then walks to the middle of the room and asks “When can I stop kidding myself?” While one presumes she’s about to go on and say “I don’t love them, I hate their father, my life is a lie!” she’s instead interrupted by a Mr. Spock knock off who beams in and introduces her to All Temperature Cheer. At least, that’s what she sees, we know this to be madness though, since Spok is hardly going to show up just to give her a box of laundry soap available at any Piggly Wiggly. No, she’s imagined this to break her day up, if only a little. He then explains how Cheer cleans in all temperatures. Instead of begging him to take her with him, which is what a younger her would have wanted, her madness demands she stay here and marvel over the clean clothes. One presumes that, having spent so much energy on the clothes she’ll slaughter the family the next time they so much as get their clothes dusty. If you look here, you can see the murderous look of madness. The world isn’t perfect, and she’ll make them pay. Watch the ad and see if I’m wrong.

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Don’t leave her alone with the children!

AND NOW BACK TO THE SHOW!

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And they said my face would freeze like this.

So we come back and now it’s December 24th, Christmas Eve. A veiled woman, who is so obviously the woman from the beginning of the show, comes to look at the body. Then the investigators get back to the job, talking to everyone and trying theories out of each other. Poirot and Japp go to a pub, where Poirot can only get a glass of cider, which he doesn’t like. They interrogate another suspect and blah, blah, blah. It doesn’t really matter the little inconsistencies and lies, because we all know they won’t actually come to anything. When the local cop showed up, when the footman went out, who actually made the phone call and so on, these aren’t really important. What’s important, what’s always important is the bits and pieces that are barely mentioned or only given a momentary comment. Then there’s a commercial, but we’re not going to break for it. I’m as fond as the commercial breaks as you are, but now that we’re skipping bits of story because relating every time someone lies or runs off would become interminable. Hopefully I won’t get tazed for not talking about a commercial.

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Do you see the snake too? Please, god, tell me you see the snake.

The veiled woman is seen in the church, listening to the choir singing. This is sort of red herringish, because as far as I remember she isn’t in the book at all. Poirot gets approached by the wife of the PM, which is shocking. A PM involved with an affair? SHOCK! Turns out the wife has a history too, and another husband, and a dark secret. Blah, blah, blah, they find the missing diamonds in a miniature rock garden. So they go to talk to the OTHER wife, the wife of the OTHER brother. There are a lot of brothers you see, a lot of brothers, more brothers than you actually need. That statement will become significant.

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I hate this stupid collar, I wish there was no god so I wouldn’t have to wear it.

There is a reading of the will, which leaves the old man’s granddaughter out. Half the brothers want to be human, but the PM wants to keep all the money for himself. Did I mention the Spanish Granddaughter? There’s a granddaughter, and she grew up in Spain. Her mother died a year ago and now half the family wants to cut her in on the loot. This causes a fracture among the family, but it doesn’t matter because someone smacks her with a stick soon after. They might have intended to kill her, but when Poirot checks her neck in the usual Hollywood way, he announces that she’s doing science and that she’s still alive. And then, you guessed it, COMMERCIAL TIME! You don’t need the tazers again, I’m doing it, see? Right now.

COMMERCIAL TIME!5
Grain Belt Beer. I can’t think of a joke.

Grain Belt Beer has a different idea as to how to advertise. Instead of singing food, insanity, or death on the highway, they want you to eat pizza. Yup, Pizza will sell their beer for them. See, you can’t just eat the pepperoni, the cheese, the peppers, and so on, you have to do them justice. See Grain Belt does justice to all the ingredients… whatever the hell that means. I think it’s because they want to end on the pun “It’sa justice of the pizza” Like Justice of the Peace, only pizza. It’s a pun, and it’s not funny. I was about to suggest you all go out and buy Grain Belt Beer, but now I’m not so sure. Also, why is it that beer commercials always have the suds spilling over? Every ad on this disc for beer has the suds spilling over and getting everywhere. Here, watch the advert for Grain Belt Beer.

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This is insufficient to my needs.

Do you feel like buying things now? I certainly hope so. Maybe you’ll feel like buying this episode from the good people at Amazon.com WHO ARE fine people and aren’t HOLDING ME HOSTAGE anywhere like a WINDOWLESS BASEMENT so you don’t need to GET HELP or anything. Please, they send the rats in at night. Not Amazon, these people who are holding me. I think it’s the Singh Brotherhood, but surely they were all destroyed in the 30s. Shhh, I think I hear them coming, pretend like we’ve been talking about the show this whole time. *ahem* So anyway, we come back and it’s December 25th, so sayth the graphic on screen. Poirot opens his gift from Japp, and finds a pair of knitted gloves. He does not love them and wraps the gift up in it’s paper for later disposal. To make himself feel better about the lousy gloves, he sneaks into the Spanish Granddaughter’s room and goes through her purse and drawers. This is less for a cheap thrill and more to find her passport. Japp comes around and of course Poirot hands it over.

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You can tell they’ve got secrets, can’t you? Dirty secrets, sexy secrets. Like mid-70s European porn type secrets. I need to get out more.

This leads, as always, to the denouement scene. Poirot leads everyone into the Spanish Granddaughter’s room, and she admits that she isn’t. She’s a fraud, but she was only being a fraud for the fun of hanging around the rich English family. The PM has a flip out, but Poirot tells him that the old man was killed by his own flesh and blood. He starts off by digging into the PM, telling him what a douche he is and how he might be the killer. The wife pops up, starts being indignant, but of course, he explains how she might have done it. He then goes in and accuses the other two brothers, or says how they could have done it. Then the other wife explains what happened and how she got to the door. It’s then that Poirot springs his trap and lets everyone know how it was really done and who done it. Okay, what the hell, I’m going to spoil the whole thing now. If you don’t want to know anymore, stop now.

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It was the pig the whole time!

You see, the killer murdered the old man about an hour before the old man was discovered. He then assembled a tower of furniture with a cord around it. He tossed the cord out the window so that the window would only be slightly open, bolted into position, and he could get the cord from the ground floor. At the appropriate time, he pulls the cord and the tower comes crashing down. The scream of course was a noisemaker called a screaming pig. So who did it? Well, without drawing out the reasons and such, I’ll just tell you that it was the local cop. See, he was the son of the old Mr. Lee and killed him out of revenge for what Lee did to his mother in the first five minutes. Poirot explains how it all works out, and how everything fits together.

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Remember, Justin Bieber. Robert Pattinson. Highly gay overtones.

We get a few little scenes closing up the last few loose ends. The PM and his wife will continue hating each other. The black sheep and the Spanish Granddaughter are going to “travel together” for a while and the other brother and the other wife will be fine. Poirot gives Japp a box of cigars and claims that he will only wear the knitted gloves for special occasions, like church. I’m not sure I’ve ever see Poirot go to church, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t go to church, like ever. This was a pretty good episode even if you do rather end up going, “Yes, yes Agatha. The rich are all bastards and the English are all bigots. We know.” She does seem to be down on her fellow English people quite a lot and this is quintessential of her feelings. Still, it’s a pretty good episode and reminds you about it being Christmas just enough that you can tell people you ARE watching a Christmas Special and that they should leave you alone. Time for the score…

Official Score:
52 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

Hey! Can you hear that? Sounds like Machine guns. Wait! Was that General Lasalle who just ran past? I think it was. I do believe The Inquisition is in the hands of its enemies. Well, thanks kids, looks like I’m rescued! Funny General Lasalle is wearing a big red coat and has midgets helping him. Strange. Whatever though, so long as they get me out of here. Ah, the door has opened and someone is beckoning me out. See you on the other side kids.

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Comments
  1. [“Might be Africa, might not be Africa, this is the least African, Africa has ever looked.”]

    I don’t understand this comment. The entire continent of Africa does not consist of only one type of landscape.

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