Hercule Poirot has been a mainstay on British television screens over the past quarter of a century thanks to David Suchet’s definitive portrayal of the portly Belgian sleuth. Courtesy of UK distributors StudioCanal, three of the great detective’s most widely watched feature-length cases are now available on Blu-ray in a new box set – entitled The Poirot Collection – featuring Albert Finney’s Academy Award-nominated turn in Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and two of Peter Ustinov’s appearances as Agatha Christie’s flatfoot in which he encounters Death on the Nile (1978) and Evil Under the Sun (1982).
Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express sees Poirot (Finney) to exercise his famous little grey cells when travelling to London from Istanbul via the eponymous long-distance train. The detective is approached by a vulgar American businessman, Ratchett (Richard Widmark), about deciphering a threat on his life; a job which Poirot refuses. That night, the train is caught in a snow drift and Ratchett is shuffled off this mortal coil. It seems an impossible crime undoubtedly committed by one of the starry passenger list. Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave and Michael York all fall under the gaze of suspicion in what is the best of the triumvirate.
Equally placing the Belgian en vacances, the other two films – Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun – feature Ustinov in the lead role, first taking a barge down the Nile and then at an island holiday resort. In both cases, a beautiful young woman is murdered amidst a maelstrom of motives and a sea of watertight alibis. Lois Chiles meets an unfortunate end floating downstream with Jane Birkin, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, George Kennedy, Angela Lansbury and Maggie Smith all in the frame. Whilst Diana Rigg regrets sunbathing alone with Roddy McDowall, James Mason and the returning Birkin and Smith (in different roles) amongst the suspects.
Ustinov’s Poirot is the further of the two from the iteration of the character that we know from ITV and the source material, and both of his films in this collection present a far more comedic portrait of Christie’s revered sleuth. And yet, all three make for classic Sunday afternoon viewing as you attempt to beat the Belgian investigator to the real culprit. The strong supporting casts mean that they’re always fun and the production values make for whodunnit outings that tend to feel a little slicker than the later TV show, even if Suchet remains the most authentic Hercule.