The AGATHA CHRISTIE CLASSIC MYSTERY COLLECTION ($100) consists of a series of eight television movie adaptations of the author’s classic novels produced during the 1980s. Three of the films in the collection feature Christie’s master detective Hercule Poirot, while two others feature Christie’s equally popular amateur sleuth Miss Jane Marple. Peter Ustinov is one of the screen’s most popular Hercule Poirots, having played the character on the big screen previously to the three small screen mysteries contained in this set. Helen Hayes makes for a mildly charming Miss Marple in two outings offered here, although she will never replace Margaret Rutherford in this reviewer’s heart.
THIRTEEN AT DINNER
THIRTEEN AT DINNER finds Hercule Poirot appearing on a television talk show, which ultimately introduces him actress Jane Wilkinson (Faye Dunaway) and look-alike Carlotta Adams (Dunaway again). When Wilkinson imposes on Poirot to intercede on her behalf to get her husband to agree to a divorce, the Belgian detective is drawn into a genuine mystery, after said husband is murdered. The cast of THIRTEEN AT DINNER also features Jonathan Cecil, Bill Nighy, Diane Keen, John Stride, Benedict Taylor, Lee Horsley, Allan Cuthbertson, Glyn Baker, John Barron and Amanda Pays. Look for future (and definitive) Hercule Poirot David Suchet in the role of Inspector Japp.
DEAD MAN'S FOLLY
The plot of DEAD MAN'S FOLLY has Hercule Poirot showing up at an estate where a staged murder is to take place as a party game, one which invites the other guests to attempt to solve the make believe crime. Fortunately, Poirot is on hand when an actual murder transpires. Jean Stapleton is on hand in the role of Poirot’s friend and mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver, a character whom Christie inserted into a number of her books as a satire on herself. The cast of DEAD MAN'S FOLLY also includes Constance Cummings, Tim Pigott-Smith, Jonathan Cecil, Kenneth Cranham, Susan Wooldridge, Christopher Guard, Jeff Yagher and Nicollette Sheridan.
MURDER IN THREE ACTS
In MURDER IN THREE ACTS, Hercule Poirot is in attendance at the Mexican villa of retired actor Charles Cartwright (Tony Curtis), when an elderly reverend dies unexpectedly. However, at another party, it proves to be anything but a coincidence when another corpse pops up from off the guest list. This, of course, requires the keen insights of our famous Belgian sleuth to figure out who is killing off the party guests. The cast of MURDER IN THREE ACTS also features Emma Samms, Jonathan Cecil, Fernando Allende, Pedro Armendáriz Jr., Lisa Eichhorn, Dana Elcar, Frances Lee McCain, Marian Mercer, Diana Muldaur, Nicholas Pryor and Concetta Tomei.
A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY
A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY takes Miss Marple to the West Indies for a little holiday, however she quickly discovers that there in no vacation from murder, as a fellow guest at the resort turns up dead, after offering to show our amateur sleuth a picture of a murderer. The cast of A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY also features Barnard Hughes, Jameson Parker, Season Hubley, Swoosie Kurtz, Cassie Yates, Zakes Mokae, Stephen Macht, Beth Howland, Maurice Evans, Lynne Moody, George Innes and Brock Peters.
MURDER WITH MIRRORS
MURDER WITH MIRRORS has Miss Marple rushing to the side of her old friend Carrie Louise Serrocold (Bette Davis), at the behest of her stepson Christian Gilbranson (John Woodvine). When Miss Marple arrives at her friend’s estate she learns that someone has been attempting to murder Carrie by slow poisoning. Of course, finding the culprit in an attempted murder takes a backseat to actual murder, when Christian turns up dead. The cast of MURDER WITH MIRRORS also features John Mills, Leo McKern, Liane Langland, John Laughlin, Dorothy Tutin, Anton Rodgers, Frances de la Tour, James Coombes and Tim Roth.
MURDER IS EASY
MURDER IS EASY features Helen Hayes not as Miss Marple, but as Lavinia Fullerton, who is murdered on her way to Scotland Yard when she was to disclose the identity of the person responsible for a rash of deaths in her village. Lavinia’s untimely death lead’s American computer wiz Luke Williams (Bill Bixby) to take up her cause, as Luke journeys to Lavinia’s home village where he intends to uncover the identity of the murderer. The cast of MURDER IS EASY also features Lesley-Anne Down, Olivia de Havilland, Patrick Allen, Shane Briant, Freddie Jones, Leigh Lawson and Jonathan Pryce.
THE MAN IN THE BROWN SUIT
THE MAN IN THE BROWN SUIT is something of a different vein when compared to the drawing room murder mysteries contain in the set. Featuring a bit more action and romance than the other Agatha Christie titles in the collection, THE MAN IN THE BROWN SUIT stars Stephanie Zimbalist as American Anne Beddingfield, who steps off a plane in Cairo and falls head first into a murder mystery involving diamond smugglers. The cast of THE MAN IN THE BROWN SUIT also includes Rue McClanahan, Tony Randall, Edward Woodward, Ken Howard, Nickolas Grace, Simon Dutton, María Casal and Federico Luciano.
SPARKLING CYANIDE takes its title from the method of murder chosen for the victims in Christie’s mystery story. When the wealthy wife of a prominent attorney is murdered by champagne laced with cyanide, the lawyer intends to uncover the killer’s identity, which proves to be a fatal mistake, as his own champagne is laced with sparkling cyanide. The cast of SPARKLING CYANIDE features Anthony Andrews, Deborah Raffin, Pamela Bellwood, Nancy Marchand, Josef Sommer, David Huffman, Christine Belford, June Chadwick, Barrie Ingham, Harry Morgan, Anne Rogers and Michael Woods.
Warner Home Video has made the television movies that constitute the AGATHA CHRISTIE CLASSIC MYSTERY COLLECTION available on DVD in the proper 4:3 full screen aspect ratios of their original television broadcasts. All of the films appear slightly different than the others, but all fall within the expectations of vintage television movies spanning from the beginning to the end of the 1980s. Some of the films are decidedly crisper in appearance, but none ever appear softer than what one should expect from a cable rebroadcast. Colors hold up well enough, as saturation remains at the expected levels of these types of television productions. The film elements from which the movies are transferred are generally in good shape; even at their worst, blemishes are modest. Film grain is noticeable across the board, but never excessive. Digital compression artifacts are never an issue.
All of the films in the AGATHA CHRISTIE CLASSIC MYSTERY COLLECTION come with respectable Dolby Digital monaural soundtracks. As expected, the tracks are free from background hiss and other audible anomalies. Fidelity is adequate, and with the music and sound effects holding their own. Dialogue is always completely understandable and the voices always come across effectively. No other language tracks have been included on the DVDs, but English, French, Spanish and Korean subtitles are provided. Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features. No supplemental content is provided.
The AGATHA CHRISTIE CLASSIC MYSTERY COLLECTION offers hours of television caliber movie mystery fun. Some of the films don’t hold up as well as the others, but all have their own charm. Warner’s presentations are solid, making the collection worth acquiring for fans.
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