Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, July 31, 2014


David Suchet as Hercule Poirot
THE BIG FOUR (2014 telefilm/PBS: Masterpiece Mystery -- Poirot.) Director: Peter Lydon.

Agatha Christie's "The Big Four," published in 1927, was an unusual Hercule Poirot novel in that -- while there were elements of classic detective fiction in it -- it was seemingly inspired by pulp fiction. Poirot was up against four powerful and well-known individuals -- one of whom was a former actor and supreme master of disguise -- who had banded together to achieve world domination. While Christie's prose lacked the rich atmosphere and descriptive power of, say, Sax Rohmer (who wrote the Fu Manchu novels), the novel moved at breakneck speed, was suspenseful and exciting, and had Poirot solving intricate cases (which always had to do with the Big Four)  in his usual adept and clever manner. After many skirmishes with the enemy, Poirot triumphs in the literally explosive conclusion.

In this adaptation of the novel, script writer Mark Gatiss has taken the basic premise of the book and turned it on its end. [The teleplay takes place much closer to WW2 than the novel does.] Along the way it at times becomes just as absurd as one could accuse the book of being, although the producers of the series probably think they are being more reasonable. There is a reporter (Tom Brooke) who believes rumors of a Big Four; an American millionaire, Ryland (James Carroll Jordan); and a French lady scientist of distinction, Madame Olivier (Patricia Hodge). One man is murdered while playing chess, while another meets his end with his head in a fireplace. Two other individuals embroiled in the events are actress Flossie Munro (Sarah Parish) and Dr. Quentin (Simon Lowe); the latter in particular is a cast stand-out. Assistant Commissioner Japp (Philip Jackson), secretary Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran), and dear old friend Hastings (Hugh Fraser) are along for the ride, albeit briefly. David Suchet [Dracula] is, as ever, superb as Poirot. This is vastly inferior to the novel, but not bad for what it is.

Verdict: Entertaining and well-acted. **1/2.

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