Hercule-an effort: Almost entire Poirot series available on DVD



Poirot 11, 12 -- Just one more to go! Acorn Media has been releasing all of the Hercule Poirot television adaptations in the order of their original telecasts and finally with subtitles. Series 11 and 12 are the latest entries and they contain eight of the more recent episodes in which Inspector Japp, Captain Hastings and dear Miss Lemon no longer appear (and with them goes a good deal of the humor) and in which Poirot’s butler George (David Yelland) runs Poirot’s domestic affairs.

Series 11 includes "Mrs. McGinty’s Dead," "Cat Among the Pigeons," "Third Girl" and "Appointment with Death." Mystery writer Ariadne Oliver (Zoe Wannamaker), Agatha Christie’s fictional other-self, appears in the second and third stories. The fourth story was filmed in 1988 with Peter Ustinov as Poirot and Piper Laurie, cast against type, as the domineering mother. It is well worth seeing just for the acting.

Series 12 includes "Three Act Tragedy" (noted for the appearance of Martin Shaw), "Halloween Party," "Murder on the Orient Express" and "The Clocks." Because of the end of the "Orient Express" adaptation, which shows us a side of Poirot never hinted at before and certainly not in the original novel, I simply cannot recommend this version and will stick with the 1974 film with Albert Finney as a Poirot just on the safe side of parody.

This set also includes a 47-minute documentary, "David Suchet on the Orient Express," which is really interesting for those who never took that ride.

The good, but in a way sad, news is that Series 13, due to come out soon, will be the last of the Suchet Poirots. I will be quick to make my report when it arrives.

Note: These two sets replace three former Acorn sets, "Poirot, the Movie Collection," Sets 4, 5, 6. I checked the timing of "The Third Girl," which runs four minutes longer in this new collection. I am sure the other episodes will show the same longer timings on these new issues.

Pineapple Poll -- In 1951, Charles Mackerras arranged a few dozen melodies from the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas to form the score of a ballet called "Pineapple Poll." As an ardent Savoyard Gilbert and Sullivan lover), I have worn out many an LP recording of that score and play it frequently on CD, lamenting all the while that it has never been released as a video.

Well, it turns out that I have been wrong for many years. Back in 2004, the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society worked together with the Spectrum Dance Theater and performed the work as part of the Society’s season. Based on a Gilbert Bab Ballad, it tells the tale of Pineapple Poll and other lovers on and around HMS Hot Cross Bun.

The score is an absolute delight. Music from all but the last two of the Savoy works is represented. This production charmingly adds a short introduction from one and an entr’acte from the other to make the count complete.

Now and then the lyrics sung in the operetta to the melody being played actually have reference to the situation in the ballet, and that only adds to the fun. It does indeed help to have Gilbert and Sullivan memorized now and then.

Filmed before an audience, who seems to be having a wonderful time, the production uses, perforce, a scaled-down orchestra (the original score calls for 60 players) and a scaled-down corps de ballet. Who cares? The cast is having such fun that quantity has nothing to do with it.

There are one or two aspects of the choreography created by Donald Byrd that strike me as a bit silly (like rolling on the ground with legs twitching in the air); but the plot is pretty silly to begin with, so what matter? I do like the camera showing the full stage when it is filled with movement, saving close-ups for solos or pas de deux. The running time is 54 minutes and there is not a dull moment in them.

A copy can be ordered through the Society’s website, www.pattersong.org.

Note: The ballet can also be seen in a vintage black-and-white television version on a now out of print ICA Classics DVD, along with "The Lady and the Fool." The Seattle disc is far more watchable!

Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays for the Arts & Entertainment section.


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