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Archive for July 11th, 2017

by Sam Juliano

It has been maintained that the prolific output of Dame Agatha Christie has outstripped the sales of all published works aside from the Bible and Shakespeare’s plays.  Her works have been translated into a hundred languages,  700 million copies have been sold of her 66 novels and 14 story collections, her beloved And Then There Were None alone has achieved 100 million copies in circulation and her celebrated play “The Mousetrap” has by far enjoy the longest stage run of any ever written.  Witness for the Prosecution’s popularity has never abated and a film version from Billy Wilder is counted as an all-time classic.  These inconceivable statistics for a writer who specialized in a single form and was never seen as a major literary talent to be placed in the company of Poe, Collins or even her contemporary Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are astounding.  Hence, it is her books that have endured in the public’s affectations, and have not only been read and discussed in schools and book groups, but have been honored with endless film and television adaptations, following radio play runs and theatrical treatment.  Her most ardent fans can never seem to get enough of her even with the astonishing six decades-long output that concluded about with her finale Elephants Can Remember, released four years before her passing in 1976 at the age of 85.  The key to the Queen of Crime’s continuing popularity can be succinctly attributed to her ingenious plotting, which arguably places her at poll position among all mystery writers.  While Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved Sherlock Holmes and some fringe creations like John Dickson Carr’s Dr. Gideon Fell have also held the stage, Dame Agatha’s two most celebrated sleuths, the fastidious, egocentric Belgian Detective Hercule Poirot and the English village spinster Jane Marple have been entered into Western culture, incomparable in reader veneration and by way of prolific adaptation.  The American television series Murder She Wrote starring Angela Lansbury was heavily inspired by the character of Miss Marple, while the BBC has also sponsored a few series on Christie’s favorite character, most notably the one that features Joan Hicks.  But the British ITV studio’s monumental study of Poirot, one spanning twenty-five years and entailing seventy episodes is the high watermark of any project ever committed to Dame Agatha’s work.

Agatha Christie’s Poirot or just Poirot debuted in 1989 with a January 8th broadcast of “The Adventure of the Clapham Cook,” a 51 minute episode based on a short story that features the inimitable detective investigating a case in spite of termination by his client’s husband.  Much more than the unveiling of a new series, the show introduced to the world the actor David Suchet, whose incarnation of the stout and mincing mustached Belgian won the highest praise from Dame Agatha’s daughter Rosalind Hicks and grandson Matthew Pritchard, both of whom recommended the actor for the role.  Such renowned thespians like Charles Laughton, Albert Finney, Peter Ustinox, Sir Ian Holm, Alfred Molina, Tony Randall and even Orson Welles have essayed the famous detective over the years.  And new adaptations are an ongoing affair, with yet another version of Murder on the Orient Express set for November of 2017, with Kenneth Branagh playing Poirot and directing.  Yet, by overwhelming consensus, Suchet embodied what Christie envisioned, and fans worldwide have embraced him as the definitive actor.  Mind you, some of the others have done well by the role (Finny won an Academy Award nomination in 1974 for another version of Orient Express) but the character’s famed eccentricities, mannerisms, implied accent and movements have grandly coincided with how he was described on the written page.  And the feat of playing the character in all seventy of his appearances is one unlikely to be duplicated anytime soon if at all.

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