Friday, December 28, 2018

The Alphabet Murders (1965)

So, for those still complaining about the BBC's recently completed adaptation of The ABC Murders, if you really want to see a travesty of an adaptation, look no further than 1965's The Alphabet Murders.  As I mentioned yesterday, it is a truly awful adaptation, bizarrely cast, given a contemporary setting, using only the most basic elements from the source novel and then playing them for laughs.  Tony Randall's interpretation of Poirot seems to have been inspired by Peter Sellers' as Inspector Clouseau, (who had made his screen debut the previous year in The Pink Panther).  Captain Hastings (played by Robert Morley and recast, in this version, as an MI5 agent) is portrayed as a typically bumbling representative of the establishment, existing only to act as a comic foil to Poirot, while Maurice Denham's Chief Inspector Japp is reduced to being simply another curmudgeonly Scotland Yard man resentful at being bested by an amateur detective.  But, as already alluded to, the most damaging aspect of the adaptation is the descision to play it, and Poirot, for laughs.  With a sharper script, it might just have worked as a parody of Agatha Christie and the who English mystery genre.  Unfortunately, the script instead goes for slapstick and farce - the presence of Frank Tashlin, a former animator foe Warner turned director of comedies for the likes of Jerry Lewis, behind the camera simply compounds the problem.

The film comes from the same stable as the Margaret Rutherford starring Miss Marple adaptations, (which explains the bizarre encounter between Randall's Poirot and Rutherford's Marple in the above clip), and its box office failure might explain why a couple of the Marple films are actually based on Poirot novels.  The Alphabet Murders was the first Poirot film adaptation since a trio of 1930s films starring Austin Trevor (who appears in this one in a minor role as a butler), and proved such a stinker that another one wasn't attempted until 1974's Murder on the Orient Express.  It was an ill-judged enterprise, failing as either a Christie adaptation or a comedy. While the Rutherford Miss Marple films always included elements of humour, they never went in for full on farce, like this Poirot film.  Perhaps the producers decided that Poirot was such an outlandish character, particularly when put into a contemporary setting, that the film could only be played as parody.  Who knows.  Whatever the reasons, the portrayal of the character is far more 'disrepectful' than the interpretation presented in the recent BBC adaptation.  Like I said, before dismissing the John Malkovich version as a travesty, die hard Christie fans should really watch The Alphabet Murders.



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