PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

The Agatha Christie Megaset Collection

Scott Thill

If you're a fan of probably the most popular murder-mystery author of the 20th century, welcome to the motherlode. Sort of.

The Agatha Christie Megaset Collection

Cast: David Suchet, Joan Hickson, Oliver Ford Davies
MPAA rating: Not Rated
Network: A&E Home Video
First date: 1994
US Release Date: 2004-02-24

If you're a fan of probably the most popular murder-mystery author of the 20th century, welcome to the motherlode. Sort of. The Agatha Christie Megaset is stuffed to the breaking point with 13 full-length (give or take a few minutes) cinematic versions of some of Agatha Christie's most famous works -- including Evil Under the Sun (1982), The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (2000), and The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side(1992) -- all pressed neatly into nine DVDs. Although the collection is more heavily weighted toward the Miss Marple series that aired on BBC during the 1980s -- the spinster sleuth gets nine cases -- David Suchet's 1990s Hercule Poirot does get his time in the suspense spotlight.

To be frank, A&E has pulled a clever marketing maneuver by splitting this megaset between Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Rather than collect only the more popular Poirot works together, A&E has decided that the money issues are better solved by mashing them together in a clumsy box. It's a tried-and-true practice in the mediasphere and I don't want to give the impression that it's a cheat -- it works or at least it moves units, after all. But let's just be clear from the outset about what this megaset is all about.

Although the Hercule Poirot series had a successful seven-year run on the BBC, the Miss Marple films starring Christie's personal favorite, Joan Hickson, ran through all 12 of the Marple novels, yet it is so far Suchet's Poirot that has seemingly outshone his counterpart in crime-solving. Of course, this is close to one of those blanket generalizations that can infuriate Christie fans, but I'm not trying to be critical of Hickson's excellent performances (which translate Christie's conception of Marple much more capably than the lightweight and too young Angela Lansbury). It's just that Poirot, as a literary and cinematic figure with no small number of quirks and moments of brilliance, is simply much more compelling. Don't kill the messenger.

The bummer here, however, is that Suchet is but a shadow of Albert Finney's peerless Poirot from Sidney Lumet's amazing Murder on the Orient Express (1974). Finney expressed Poirot's hilarious idiosyncrasies, laborious rituals and masterful power plays more capably than anyone -- whether you're talking Suchet, Peter Ustinov, Austin Trevor, Zero Mostel or even, bizarrely enough, the late Tony Randall (who played the Belgian sleuth in Frank Tashlin's riotous 1966 film version of The Alphabet Murders [1965]). These tendencies are what has ultimately separated Poirot from so many other run-of-the-mill detectives (save perhaps Sherlock Holmes, especially the one addicted to heroin in Herbert Ross' The Seven-Per-Cent Solution [1976]) who simply showed up and had everything figured out ahead of time.

(For more on this banal detective trend, stop reading this and rent Robert Moore's film version of Neil Simon's unbearably funny Murder By Death[1976] immediately. James Coco's Poirot is probably better than Mostel, Ustinov, and Randall's combined).

This is not to say that Suchet's Poirot is a bore. On the contrary, his popularity was powerful enough to give the BBC several years' worth of programming. His calculated cool at the center of a multi-layered melodrama on an isolated resort in Evil Under the Sun and his grace under international pressure whilst in the Middle East in Murder in Mesopotamia (2001) is passably entertaining. But unlike Finney's detective, Suchet's Poirot seems merely to wander right into all the evidence he needs. That may perhaps be more Christie's problem than Suchet's -- indeed, Murder on the Orient Express's (1974) extended interrogation scenes are twice as gripping as Suchet's open-eared wanderings around Evil Under the Sun's high-end health getaway on the Devon Coast.

Which brings us to the Marple contributions to the megaset, which include A Caribbean Mystery (1989), The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side, Sleeping Murder (1987), 4:50 From Paddington (1987), The Moving Finger (1985), At Bertram's Hotel (1987), Murder at the Vicarage (1986), Nemesis (1987), and They Do It With Mirrors (1991). Christie herself tabbed Joan Hickson as her quintessential Marple in 1962, far before the actress was even old enough for the part. This makes complete sense, since it has long been a literary trend to assert that Marple is Christie's fictional counterpart; most of the Marple books were written after 1950, when the author was well into her 60s (she died at the age of 86 in 1976). In other words, Agatha Christie knew better than anyone who could best flesh out -- literally -- her senior citizen sleuth.

Hickson's staid demeanor and seemingly effortless grace are well used in the BBC's Marple mysteries, but by the time Christie had written the Marple books, the world was not what it was when she put together the far more threatening Poirot mysteries. Things were much calmer for England after two world wars, and the Marple mysteries express that reality by cycling through banal crimes like poisoning, haunted houses and the occasional shooting. To be fair, Sleeping Murder was written during the war, but it was in a vault and didn't see the light of the day until 30 years later. The point is that Miss Marple, as much as fans have come to love her over the last century, is an armchair detective for armchair crimes. Christie's earlier work is far more riddled with threat, intrigue and conspiracy, and it is that work that has and probably always will withstand the test of time.

Just be aware of this as you decide to drop a whopping $140 for what, all issues aside, remains four moderately entertaining Poirot installments squeezed in between a handful of quickly aging Marple whodunits.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.


MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.