Monday, October 23, 2017

Couple's Therapy: Love from a Stranger, 1937

It's Agatha Christie Month! All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. So far, we've focused on her series characters: we covered the cases of Hercule Poirot, explored small-town murder with Miss Jane Marple, and experienced international intrigue with Tommy & Tuppence. 

But man cannot live on bread alone, and Christie admitted that writing for the same detectives over and over could get boring. Luckily, Christie was prolific as hell, so besides the fifty novels featuring the previous characters mentioned, there are another seventeen that do not mention them at all....though some do feature supporting characters from their adventures. That's under her own name; under the name Mary Westmacott, she published six novels deemed "romantic", though this was a catch-all for "women's lit", books about non-murderous women and their relationships. She wrote a great many plays, too, even adapting her own novels for the stage - and when she did, she did not include her famous detectives. 

And then there are the short stories. A great many mysteries, yes, but it was in this medium that she really experimented with genres: ghost stories, adventure yarns, investigations into psychic phenomena. What stands out most, though, is not just the variety, but the bleakness of these stories: suicides, dead children, petty revenge.

Not that she completely abandoned her thrillers, but here she made them more, well, thrilling - less detective stories with clues than regular people confronting murder and madness around them. And for some reason, the most popular among these - for a while, at least -  was the short story "Philomel Cottage." It's of that oft-familiar Is My Husband Trying To Kill Me subgenre of thrillers. Here, a woman inherits a butt-load of money, has a whirlwind romance and marriage to a charming man she meets at a party, and only when she is whisked off to a secluded cottage does she begin to realize he may be a Black Widower.

First published in The Grand Magazine in 1924, it was later collected in The Listerdale Mystery (1934, UK only) and The Witness for the Prosecution (1948, US only). But it's real claim to immortality is in a popular stage production, written by and starring Frank Vosper. Popular and well-reviewed on both the West End and Broadway in 1936, the independent Trafalgar Films in turn adapted the production for the screen. In doing so, the filmmakers included some elements of Christie's source material - names, for example - and so were able to credit both the play and short story separately. The title, however, was all Vosper's:

Love from a Stranger
dir: Rowland V. Lee

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sweet Streams Are Made Of These

The following titles are available right now on Netflix.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
dir/scr: Noah Baumbach

Three siblings (but mostly the brothers) and their prickly relationship with their self-centered artist father. Baumbach's perfected familial patois - the repetitive conversations, the interruptions, the assumptions. Great performances all around, but especially from affable asshole Dustin Hoffman and Elizabeth Marvel, who's a...well, the oft-overlooked sister. Two wonderful ditties, too! Two!

Cannibal horror, Redford-Fonda romance...and some non-streaming titles like Only the Brave after the jump....

Friday, October 20, 2017

Things to Come

No Agatha Christie post today - had trouble obtaining a copy of Mon petit doigt m'a dit..., the French adaptation of By the Pricking of My Thumbs that started a franchise of Tommy & Tuppence films starring AndrĂ© Dusollier and Catherine Frot. But I did want to announce that next month is dedicated to 1947! Details after the jump....

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves: By the Pricking of My Thumbs, 2006

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at Tommy & Tuppence. So far, we've talked about their youthful escapades and their adventures as they approached middle age. We move into their golden years today, but with a twist...

Before Julia McKenzie took over the role of Miss Marple, Geraldine McEwan spent three seasons putting her own mischievous mark on the role. Following the success of the first season, it became clear that ITV was going to keep the train going as long as they could. Thus began the inserting of Miss Marple into non-series cases like The Sittaford Mystery. That announcement was controversial enough for fans, but it was pure scandal when it was announced that Miss Marple would be teaming up with another established Christie detective, in....

Agatha Christie's Marple: By the Pricking of My Thumbs (2006)
dir: Peter Medak

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Spies Like Us: N Or M?, 2015

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at Tommy & Tuppence. So far we've covered their early TV days - and now, their most recent appearance on the small screen...

In 2013, ITV aired the last episodes of signature series Poirot and popular reboot Marple, effectively ending an era of televised Agatha Christeries. Just two months after the final episode of Marple was broadcast, rival network BBC announced it was ready to re-stake its claim on the Queen of Crime, announcing the production of two miniseries in time for Agatha's 125th birthday in 2015. One of those was the three-episode And Then There Were None, which is a masterpiece, highly recommended. The other was Partners in Crime.

At the time of the announcement, Tommy was already cast (Jessica Raines would come aboard Tlater), because it was his idea in the first place. Comedian David Walliams, known for his collaborations with Matt Lucas on shows like Little Britain and Come Fly with Me, brought the idea of a Tommy & Tuppence reboot to the BBC, with Agatha Christie Ltd's Hilary Morgan support and company. Walliams, who earlier appeared in Marple: The Body in the Library, was apparently attracted by the idea of a couple bickering over a corpse. More than that, after re-reading the novels and short stories, Walliams felt that they were more worthy of celebration, to stand alongside Poirot and Marple as equals.

Naturally, a number of re-workings came. When picking an age for the Beresfords, the producers split the difference - late-30s/early-40s, with a son away at school. Mr. Carter of the Secret Service was still Mr. Carter of the Secret Service, but was also Tommy's uncle. The bellhop-turned-assistant Albert was greatly changed: he became a middle-aged, one-armed chemistry teacher frequently consulting for the Service. And of course, just as they picked an age for the Beresfords, they had to pick an era. The Roaring Twenties, as in the original stories and series? The War Years? The late-60s/early-70s?

No, no. These are spy thrillers, and what era screams that more than the Cold War? The action was updated to the 1950s, which meant Nazi spies would now become Soviet spies, in the adaptation of...

N Or M?
dir: Edward Hall

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Casting Coup Tuesday: N Or M?

It's Casting Coup Tuesday, where we dream-cast an imaginary adaptation of a beloved work. All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, in anticipation of the November 10th release of Murder on the Orient Express. We've imagined adaptations of a Poirot, and of a Miss Marple - and now, for your approval, a Tommy and Tuppence adventure...

Published in 1941, N Or M? is one of the more fascinating Agatha Christie reads. While all her novels keep up with the changing times, here Christie writes about life in England during The War, with all the fears and concerns of the era. The setting is a guest house in a small seaside town, where a variety of people escape the threat of Hitler's march on Europe: mothers whose husbands stay in London for work, middle-aged couples, the sick, veterans of The Great War now deemed too old to fight, German refugees, etc. All the while, there's talk of a Fifth Column, while radio and newspaper reports tell of the fall of France. And while history did echo the prevention of German invasion (the whole point of the mission), the book was obviously written before the horror of the Blitz. Surely that would have changed the tone a smidge.

Oh, but I mentioned a mission. So. Tommy and Tuppence are now in their forties - Tommy specifically puts his age at 46 - and while the twins Derek and Deborah are doing their part for the war effort, the Beresfords feel put out to pasture. Then comes Mr. Grant, a young member of the secret service who comes to Tommy on the recommendation of their old boss. To quickly sum up: there is a network of double agents within the government, there are two top spies that answer directly to Hitler, and one or both of them is staying at a guest house called Sans Soucie by the seaside. It is up to Tommy and Tuppence to find the spy.

Thus begins one of Christie's more exciting, surprisingly poignant, and all around best novels. The fact that it's only been adapted once, for television, only two years ago, is frankly shocking. You wouldn't have to change a detail to make it palatable for cinema-goers: there's romance, there's action, there's a torture chamber run by a dentist (33 years before Marathon Man), there's a kidnapping that ends with someone getting shot in the head midway through.

It is ready for filming. And I've got just the cast, after the jump...

Young Adventurers: Partners in Crime, 1983-84

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at Tommy & Tuppence. Yesterday, we talked about their television debut in The Secret Adversary. Well that was just the lead-up to a full series, entitled...

Partners in Crime (1983-84)
dir: Paul Annett / Christopher Hodson / Tony Wharmby