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Murder in Three Acts (1986)
Director: Daigo Udagawa

Murder in Three Acts is a 1986 British-American television film produced by Warner Bros. Television, featuring Peter Ustinov as Agatha Christie's Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Directed by Gary Nelson, it co-starred Jonathan Cecil as Hastings, Tony Curtis, and Emma Samms. The film is based on Christie's book Three Act Tragedy.

Murder in Three Acts (1986)

Bicycle, not spacecraft

The strangest thing: when films are made of Christie structures, the first thing they worry about is the characterisation of the detective: Poirot or Marple. Clearly, the filmmakers obsess over the potential for engagement within the constraints of the original text, but they focus on the character and not the mystery per se.nThis is a mistake in my book. I know many viewers like to gravitate to characters. Somehow these folks relate situations to people. I have luckily escaped that fate, so I easily fall into Christie’s real talent.

What she does is create remarkably complex situation puzzles where the notched wooden pieces slide in and out effortlessly. A feature is that once all the people are assembled, she retrospectively displays the way most things you have understood are reinterpreted in a different way and the result is more coherent — more logical — than the previous view of the world.

If you look at her books, she is not at all interested in characters. Excepting the detective, they are as cardboard as they come. The detectives are fleshed out in some detail, but only so we can understand the reasoning and discovery process. For her, Marple is intuitive, Poirot obsessively logical.

So in judging a Christie adaptation, I have to look at how well they created an edifice of history that makes sense — and the the way she has her detective smoothly adjust it piecemeal to be more sensible in the last scene.

Well, adaptations usually preserve the last scene and have a detective with the appropriate name. But they get all hung up in character and ignore the subtle machinery of cause. It is as if a filmmaker thought the essence of Hamlet was in the flowery complexity of the character and the complex world that manipulates him.

That happens all the time with film Hamlets, and all the time — as here — with film Christies.

Posted in 2019

Ted’s Evaluation — 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.


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