Whenever I want a cozy movie with murder, mystery and mayhem delivered in a gentle fashion, with still with plots that test my brain, I know I can turn to the numerous Agatha Christie adaptations. The UK’s prolific crime writer produced her stories at a time when we didn’t want to see guns blazing and pools of blood spreading over the screen. Although they lack any hint of sensationalism, Agatha Christie adaptations are simply, entertainment.
A good number of the Agatha Christie adaptations are based on the stories that feature Hercule Poirot, the mustachioed Belgian detective with the high functioning little gray cells. I like the performance by the late great Sir Peter Ustinov gives in this movie. With a cast that includes legends like Bette Davis, Maggie Smith, Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury and David Niven, this is a sumptuous telling of a tale of murder, jealousy, embezzlement and deception on a Nile cruise ship.
One of the things I love about Agatha Christie movies is that the stories are so beloved that no producer ever has a problem find stars eager to play a part. In this version of what is probably Christie’s most famous story, the luminaries include Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, Vanessa Redgrave, Ingrid Bergman … oh how the list goes on. This is another Poirot story and this time the role is fulfilled by Albert Finney as he undertakes to solve a murder that occurred in the very railway carriage in which he traveled.
Enter Miss Jane Marple – Agatha Christie’s other great recurring detective character. Seen by many as an interfering busybody of an old maid, Miss Marple is in fact a very astute and very acute spinster and those up to no good would do well not to underestimate her. Like Poirot, Miss Marple has been portrayed by many great actresses but in this 1963 movie, Margaret Rutherford is truly outstanding. You will be surprised how gripping this is and Rutherford’s performance carries it all the way. Watch in pleasure as this unassuming little old lady unravels the clues to declare who committed the murder and why.
I did say that stars queued up to appear in Agatha Christie adaptations and this one is no different. This is another outing for the ever-suspicious and inimitable sharp-as-a-tack Miss Marple, this time played by Angela Lansbury. And who else is in it? Oh just the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson, Kim Novak and Edward Fox. Also, there’s an uncredited part for Pierce Brosnan. Watch as Miss Marple unravels the mystery of murder and mayhem that happens when a film company descends on the sleepy village of St. Mary Meade, Miss Marple’s home town.
Peter Ustinov reprises his Belgian Detective role as Poirot undertakes to solve the mystery of the death of Emily Boynton. The action takes place in England and Jerusalem as Poirot has to put those little gray cells to work to unravel the clues of a second will, the blackmailing of a lawyer and a stepmother hated by her stepchildren. Once again the cast is stellar and includes Lauren Bacall, Carrie Fisher, Hayley Mills, and Sir John Gielgud.
While most Agatha Christie movies are enjoyable, if somewhat benign by today’s standards of thrillers and murder mysteries, they have never received mass critical acclaim; except when legendary director Billy Wilder decided to turn his hand to one. Witness for the Prosecution received 6 Oscar nominations and sits at number 83 in the IMDB Top 250 Movies of All Time. Starring Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton it is a riveting and entertaining story of the trial of a man accused of murder.
I really couldn’t leave this series off the list. Although a good number of the episodes in the series were not based on original stories, David Suchet’s Poirot is widely acclaimed as being superb. I’ve chosen this one because it is an adaptation of an original story. It has an appeal to lovers of modern thrillers because it features the hunt for a serial killer. It’s a complicated plot but it will draw you in.
I’m looking forward to next year. 2015 will be the 125th anniversary of Agatha Christie’s birth and the BBC has commissioned a special production of And Then There Were None. Time will tell if it is worthy of being among the best Agatha Christie adaptations. Which Agatha Christie movies have you seen? Who gives your favorite acting performance as one of her detectives?
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