Agatha Christie Hour -- Back in 1982, someone decided to do a miniseries dramatizing several of Agatha Christie’s short stories that do not feature Poirot or Miss Marple but more or less ordinary people to whom extraordinary things occur. Long ago, Acorn Media released two boxed sets of two DVDs each that included 10 of these tales, under the series title "The Agatha Christie Hour." It provided interesting viewing.
Now both sets have been reissued with subtitles with the title "The Agatha Christie Hour, Complete Collection." What fun it was to see them all again.
Two of them in the first set, "The Case of the Middle-Aged Housewife" and "The Case of the Discontented Soldier," feature Parker Pyne, whose profession is to guarantee happiness to those who seek his services. Using a small troupe of actor-assistants, he gives romance to one, adventure to another. The same thing happens to a young man in "The Girl in the Train," but this time the intrigue is not fabricated.
"In a Glass Darkly" touches on the supernatural, when a young man sees a murder in a mirror and then meets the lovely victim only moments later. "The Fourth Man" is told by a fourth man in a railway compartment and concerns a case of the possession of one girl’s psyche by the spirit of her domineering companion who had recently died. (The teller in that last tale is a John Nettles so young that even "Midsomer Murders" fans will probably not recognize him.)
The second set has another five tales, some lighthearted, some serious. They are "Magnolia Blossom" (an unhappy wife tries to escape her marriage), "The Mystery of the Blue Jar" (a young man consults an expert on the paranormal), "The Red Signal" (a séance foretells sudden death and danger), "Jane in Search of a Job" (an Englishwoman takes on a dangerous assignment), and "The Manhood of Edward Robinson" (a henpecked fiancé sets off on the drive of his life).
The first tale portrays one of the nastiest husbands since Bluebeard, and the tone is quite serious. Two of the tales are concerned with con artists, and the viewer should be far ahead of the somewhat dim-witted protagonists. The supernatural appears in only one of the episodes, but not very convincingly.
All in all, these are amusing stories (except for "Magnolia Blossom") that are sure to please if not taken too seriously. For many, the greatest attraction is the Art Deco dresses, cars and architecture of the times in which the stories were written -- not to mention the Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart and Irving Berlin tunes being played by orchestras or heard over the radios.
As is common with all these re-releases of vintage TV series, it is a lot of fun spotting actors with familiar faces but not familiar names. Some of them are Rupert Everett, Amanda Redman, Ralph Bates, Stephanie Cole, Christopher Cazenova and the ubiquitous Nicholas Farrell.
Each episode runs 52 minutes and the subtitles are most welcome. Another gem from Acorn Media!
1915 -- My only major complaint about the Archeophone Phonographic Yearbooks is that new ones do not appear quickly enough! This series is dedicated to the popular hits that were recorded in a specific year, single singers, vocal groups and orchestral groups.
One of them is "1915: ‘They’d Sooner Sleep on Thistles.’" Here are 25 vintage recordings by such artists as Alma Gluck ("Carry Me Back to Old Virginny"), Morton Harvey ("I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier"), American Quartet ("On the 5:15"), John McCormack ("It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary") and of course Al Jolson ("Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers").
As always with Archeophone CDs, there is a booklet crammed with information and photographs about the year, the artists and each song. I am only sorry to notice that their art department has given the track listings on the jacket in a nearly unreadable orange print on a white background.
I urge my readers to see their complete catalogue on their webpage. It is indeed a treasure chest of history and nostalgia.
Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays for the Arts & Entertainment section.