Wednesday 27 June 2007

The Alphabet Murders (1965) Frank Tashlin

I honestly can't remember exactly how Hercule Poirot appeared in the original books by Agatha Christie, but I was pretty sure Tony Randall was overplaying the part horrendously before the titles ran and it got rapidly worse from there. Watch this with the expectation of a detective film and you're going to be extremely disappointed and probably more than a little embarrassed. Randall plays Poirot here like a cross between Salvador Dali and John Waters and the plot plays out like a less fun but no less fanciful take on the episode of The Prisoner called The Girl Who Was Death.

Someone is killing people on the basis of their initials: first Albert Aachen, then Betty Barnard, then Sir Carmichael Clarke and so on. For some reason Poirot is in London and investigating, when not being locked up by the police for upsetting young ladies, and he's being harrassed by a young mental patient called Amanda Beatrice Cross or ABC. She's played by Anita Ekberg, Miss Sweden fifteen years earlier and still a striking presence, even though she's hardly acting in the slightest. There's also Robert Morley as a bumbling secret service agent attempting ineptly to protect Poirot and many other regulars of English cinema like Maurice Denham, Julian Glover and Patrick Newell. There's even Windsor Davies though I couldn't find him.

After seeing how the film progressed through the first ten minutes, I tried to ignore the whole mystery angle because it obviously wasn't the point. Then again Hollywood just as obviously wasn't interested in realistic translations of the original source stories. There had already been two Hercule Poirot books filmed but both were bizarrely rewritten as Miss Marple stories instead. At least this one has Poirot as Poirot, but that's about it. It's a comedy film, pure and simple, and there's simply nothing else here except humour.

Unfortunately it's not particularly successful humour: far more embarrassing than successful. I spent more time enjoying the radical camera positioning, rapid fire point of view shifts and wild dolly shots. I get the impression that the people actually tasked with making the movie weren't really interested in the story at all, left Tony Randall to go hog wild with the pantomime character acting and concentrated instead on making the film look different. To my mind that's the only real success of the film because the rest was a waste of time. I enjoyed the Miss Marple/Mr Stringer cameo more than Poirot's entire act.

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