The Agatha Christie Hour: Set 1
by Jef Burnham
Now available on DVD from Acorn Media.
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No Miss Marple or Poirot here. The Agatha Christie Hour is a ten-episode series adapted from the lesser-known short stories by the “Queen of Crime.” Set 1 from Acorn Media compiles the first five episodes on 2 DVDs and is probably for Agatha Christie aficionados only, as the stories presented in these five episodes vary widely in quality and interest.
The first episode, “The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife” introduces us to Parker Pyne, another among Christie’s recurring characters who use their exceptional mental faculties to set things right in the world around them. Pyne is a statistician who, upon retiring, determines to use his skills like a doctor, specializing in the treatment of unhappiness. The causes of unhappiness, Pyne discovered through his statistics, fall under only “five main categories” he assures you. And in this tale, he is charged with treating the unhappiness of a middle-aged woman whose husband has taken quite a fancy to a beautiful, young secretary. The setup here is rather exciting as we are introduced to Parker Pyne’s unique approach to the mysteries of human behavior, but Pyne’s methods leave almost no room for chance, and there are no surprises once he goes to work.
The second episode, “In a Glass Darkly,” is a dull and predictable tale of a man who has a vision whilst looking into a mirror of a woman being murdered, only to meet her minutes later. The most interesting thing here is a hint of the origins of psychiatry as applied to those men returning from WWI with PTSD. But it is extremely predictable.
“The Girl on the Train” is the absolute peak of this set. In this delightfully P.G. Wodehouse-style tale, an unemployed, hapless Wooster-type leaves his home in search of adventure. But he ends up in way over his head when he bumps into a beautiful blonde on a train, who puts him on the trail of a mysterious man who looks vaguely like the King.
The themes of “The Fourth Man” are rather compelling, if parts of the episode aren’t altogether cheesy, as when two adult women are passed off for the young adolescent versions of their characters. When a priest, a lawyer and a politician meet an ordinary citizen on the train, he tells them an extraordinary story which forces them to question whether or not any single order can possibly provide all the answers for living in the modern world.
And finally, we have “The Case of the Discontented Soldier” in which a retired army major seeks the kind of excitement that only the statistically-driven mind of Parker Pyne can provide. This time around, we’re allowed to enjoy the mystery of Pyne’s treatment for a bit longer than in “The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife,” and we’re even led to believe, for a moment, that maybe he didn’t plan everything that’s happening to the major. But as the episode progresses, Pyne’s plot becomes wholly transparent, and subsequently lacking in thrills as the story reaches its climax.
Overall, the episodes in this set are a letdown mystery- and suspense-wise. The quality of the transfer on the other hand is great considering the age of the material. And the sound is decent too (except for the audio in “In a Glass Darkly” which is often too low to make anything out). However, the stories, with the exception of “The Girl on the Train,” are a bit on the dull side for Agatha Christie, and I can only recommend this for the most avid Christie fans.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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