Agatha Christie is one of those writers I can depend upon to invariably entertain. Often, her books are downright brilliant; the occasional book may not quite match her own standards, but it’s a rare book that is so bad I would regret reading it.
It goes without saying, then, that I am always game for a film based on an Agatha Christie novel. Murder Most Foul is based on Christie’s Mrs McGinty’s Dead; the book was the 25th in the Hercule Poirot series, though the film (directed by George Pollock, with a script by Jack Seddon and David Pursall) made Miss Marple the detective.
The story begins late one night, as a village constable goes about his rounds. He heads for a pub (which is closed, but where he’s obviously expected). At the window, the policeman is handed a mug of beer, which he downs happily, while sitting at a bench outside. He’s so engrossed, he never realizes there’s high drama silhouetted in a nearby window.
I was introduced to Agatha Christie through her short stories. My mother had inherited several fat tomes from her grandfather, and among these were a couple of anthologies of detective fiction. In those books, I first came across Poirot, Miss Marple, Harley Quinn, Tommy and Tuppence… and, what still remains one of my favourite crime stories, Agatha Christie’s Philomel Cottage.
This film is based on Philomel Cottage. A story of a woman who suddenly finds what seems to be all the happiness in the world: a sudden windfall, and true love.
Or is it, really?
The story begins by introducing us to Caroline ‘Carol’ Howard (Ann Harding), who lives in a tiny apartment with her friend Kate (Binnie Hale) and Carol’s hypochondriac Aunt Lou (Jean Cadell). The three women have a hard time, not exactly poverty-stricken, but not comfortably off either. Aunt Lou keeps cribbing about her poor health all the time, and the two younger women keep either humouring her or laughing it off (Aunt Lou keeps forgetting whether she’d been complaining of a headache or a stomachache, or which side of her was supposed to be hurting).
While writing my review of Piccadilly Jim—and comparing it to P G Wodehouse’s book—I was struck by the fact that most of the time, when I watch a film based on a novel I’ve read, I end up feeling let down. What is it, after all, that makes it difficult to recreate the magic of a book onscreen?
No, I’m certainly not saying all cinematic adaptations of books are bad; some are very good, as you’ll see in my list of ‘Goodies’, below. But there are Baddies too, and they, to my mind, far outnumber the Goodies.
When I began thinking about this topic, the first thing that came to mind was: I’m a purist. I like my books to be retained as is even on screen.
For anybody who’s been following my idea of ‘linked posts’ – each post connected to the one before, and to the one after – this probably comes as no surprise. And Then There Were None was based on Agatha Christie’s highly popular novel and play; Gumnaam is, in turn, an adaptation of And Then There Were None. Not a completely faithful adaptation, but a vastly entertaining one, as you’ll see if you scroll through the comments on my And Then There Were None post: most of my readers, even if they’ve not seen the Hollywood film, have had something to say about Gumnaam.
Since The Train was, all said and done (though I’m not convinced about it) a suspense film, I decided to stick to that genre for this post as well. AndThen There Were None is a classic suspense film, based on Agatha Christie’s book of the same name. Christie’s book (originally titled Ten Little Niggers) is supposed to be the best-selling book of all time – 100 million copies sold to date, and with several cinematic adaptations as well.
“The trial of of Leonard Vole for the murder of Emily French aroused widespread interest. In the first place the prisoner was young and good-looking, then he was accused of a particularly dastardly crime, and there was the further interest of Romaine Heilger, the principal witness for the prosecution…” — Agatha Christie, The Witness for the Prosecution
Tyrone Power’s last full-length appearance on screen (he died while filming Solomon and Sheba a year later), Witness for the Prosecution is also one of his most famous films. Surprisingly, not mainly because of Power—his role in it, though pivotal, is actually quite small—but because of the overall brilliance of the film: the excellent acting, Billy Wilder’s direction, and a very good adaptation of one of Agatha Christie’s best-known short stories.