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Friday, August 19, 2016

Mr Davenheim's Clocks


When reconstructing the events leading up to a murder, it's important to get a record of what took place when. Clocks feature prominently in Agatha Christie's stories, particularly her early novels. In The Murder on the Links and The Big Four, a broken clock suggests the time of a murder. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, a doctor who mends clocks will accompany Hercule Poirot on his investigation. 

The TV productions didn't always use all the little clues Christie sprinkled into her stories. One of the casualties was often clocks (or broken clocks), as well as the recorded times, which led the police to suspect or arrest people for a given murder. But the productions often showcased beautiful clocks in people's homes, as set dressings for these period productions. In "The Disappearance of Mr Davenheim," we find a smart mantle clock in the large, modern home of a bank executive who has gone missing. But it's far from the most impressive clock in this rich man's house.



This is the one I really like. We see Mrs Davenheim standing near it when she's waiting for her husband to emerge from his study, as well as when he leaves her to walk into the village. But we don't get to see its entire grandeur yet.



Later, when Captain Hastings arrives to question Mrs Davenheim on behalf of Poirot, accompanied by the stalwart Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard, we see Mrs Davenheim lighting a cigarette before this clock. We see that it is a pedestal clock. Its structure and ornamentation are reminiscent of a Greek temple. I long to see more of it, but then Mrs Davenheim turns away from the mirror to see her visitors, and the camera turns away with her.



The only time we see the entire clock is on the night of Mr Davenheim's disappearance. His wife is calling the police, to ask for assistance in locating him. She stares through the open blinds, through the window, and down the road to the village. While she's hoping to see her husband emerge from the darkness, I'm hoping to get a close up view of the clock. Sadly, this is as close as we get, and no amount of enlarging or zooming will give us a really clear view of this clock. But one thing is certain. In addition to losing a lovely wife, and a spacious home, Mr Davenheim lost two really nice clocks the day he disappeared. 

Dragon Dave

Monday, August 1, 2016

Agatha Christie's Hotel on the Moors

I've recently learned that the Moorland Hotel at Hay Tor, or Moorlands House, was sold earlier this year to a company called Hieronymous Gruff Limited, which sounds as if it must be associated with Harry Potter in some way. The company plans to renovate the hotel, and even hire actors and drama students to help energize the new hotel's ambiance. 

When my wife and I planned our trip to England last year, we tried to book a room in Moorlands House. After all, to stay in the hotel where Agatha Christie stayed and wrote would have to be inspiring, right? But it had no vacancies, so we stayed in a nice, homey Bed & Breakfast nearby. But I couldn't leave Hay Tor without stopping by Moorlands House, and taking a quick photograph of the hotel Agatha Christie stayed in. There, in a room without a computer, or even electricity, she picked up her pen, and a pad of paper, and wrote a major portion of her rough draft of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1916. Or, as she put it, "I used to write laboriously all morning until my hand ached."

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Then, in the afternoon, she would take a walk across the moors, and think about what she had just written, as well as how to carry the story forward. No doubt during these walks she also climbed nearby Hay Tor numerous times, and gazed around the surrounding moors.




I'd like to return to Devon, and Dartmoor, to explore more of Agatha Christie's English landscape. If, in a few years time, I were to book a night in Moorlands House, I wonder if I might find a well dressed Belgian refugee, with an exquisitely tailored mustache, working there. Or perhaps a handsome Army officer walking with a slight limp, as a result of his WWI injuries? I'd like that. It'd certainly be something to see.

If you go there before I can return, let me know what the revamped hotel was like, okay?

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links:

Hay Tor Hotel Sale

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Arthur Hastings & the Battle of Messines

Recently, a reader wrote in to enhance my understanding of the setting for The Mysterious Affair at Styles. The clues she caught, but I had missed, set Agatha Christie's novel in 1917. Initially, this confused me, as Agatha Christie wrote her novel in 1916. She booked a room in the Moorland Hotel at Hay Tor in Dartmoor, and finished her novel. Unless she could hop into Doctor Who's TARDIS, and travel forward in time, how could she know what the next year would bring, and set the story, during World War I, in a specific month? 

But then I thought about the situation some more. Although she wrote the first draft of her novel in 1916, The Mysterious Affair at Styles was not published in the United States until 1920. (It wasn't published in her home country of England until 1921!) This means that, during 1917, 1918, or 1919, or perhaps even 1920, she could look back on WWI, how it affected her home town of Torquay, and decide when to "set" her story. 

So she wasn't envisioning the future when she wrote her first draft. Which is too bad, for those who are looking for more links between Doctor Who and Agatha Christie, aside from those covered in "The Unicorn and the Wasp," in which the Tenth Doctor encountered Agatha Christie during a crucial period of her life.


Agatha Christie, Donna, and the Doctor

Anyway, back to Captain Hastings, and how Agatha Christie's decision to set The Mysterious Affair at Styles means for his life.

In the TV production of "The Mysterious Affair at Styles", Captain Hastings watches Black & White Newsreel Footage of the "New Flanders Offensive." 


At first, I linked this footage with Battle of Passchendaele, or the Third Battle of Ypres, which occurred from late July until November 1917. But Christie (as Hastings) writes that Hastings leaves his English convalescent hospital and travels to Styles House on July 5, 1917. A review of the newsreel footage suggests that what Hastings was actually watching was the Battle of Messines, in which the British army set a series of explosives beneath German lines, and turned a defensive ridge into a series of craters. Although only lasting seven days, from 7 to 14 June 1917, it was one of those complicated, bloody land battles of WWI that caused thousands of injuries and deaths. 

Somehow, this makes it easier for me to imagine what Arthur Hastings is feeling. He's just spent seven months or so in this "rather depressing Convalescent Home," as he puts it. Now (in the TV adaptation) he sees all the deaths and injuries his fellow British soldiers are suffering. Surrounded by so many soldiers suffering, and presumably dying, this hits him hard. 



He's got to wonder how many more troops will be evacuated to stay in the place where he's been recuperating, and how many of those will die instead of getting better. And this is just from a little, preliminary battle, which involves getting British troops into better strategic positions, so that the real battle, The Third Battle of Ypres, (or, if you prefer, the slaughter) can begin.

Dragon Dave

Related Poirot And Friends entries
Arthur Hastings, a Beautiful Lady & the Battle of the Somme

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Strong Women, Humor & Homosexuality in the Library

Warning: This article contains spoilers!

Recently, I watched a TV adaptation of the Agatha Christie story "The Body in the Library." This production featured Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple, and the vivacious Joanne Lumley as her friend Dolly Bantry. I've loved Geraldine McEwan's work ever since I saw her playing Lucia in a London Weekend Television production of "Mapp And Lucia," and also as reclusive Miss Farnaby in the Fantasy Sitcom "Mulberry." In many ways, she seemed a perfect fit for the character of Miss Marple, but I always had trouble seeing her as that character. Ms McEwan must have agreed, for she left the series after playing the character for a mere two years. 

One thing I noted in the TV story was how many strong female character there were. Of course there's Miss Marple, who dresses in dowdy clothes and mumbles strange phrases that no one understands. As she seems so odd, few people initially respect her. But in the end, she solves the murder, and proves all the male police wrong, so there! Then there's her friend Dolly Bantry, who is thrilled to have found a corpse in her library. How delicious: a body found in her own library! A murder for her friend to solve! 


Hercule Poirot's library
 in Torquay, England

She empowers Miss Marple, taking her out to a seaside resort, and putting her up in the hotel where the dead woman worked, in order to tag along, and assist her friend, the great but quiet detective, in every possible way. We view Dolly as extraordinarily strong, because her husband retreats from the world when a body of a beautiful young woman, and all that implies, is found in his house.

There's the dead woman, who was so extraordinarily successful in playing up to an elderly man that he decided to adopt her, and leave her a fortune in his will. And there are the two villains, who turn out to be two women, who have fallen in love with each other. They kill the money-hungry young woman, and attempt to kill the rich old man, in the hopes of getting their hands on the money. Really, all the key characters are female in the production, with the exception of the police, who are all male.

For their adaptation, the production decided to do something modern and daring. They updated Christie's story to make the two villains female, and unite them in a homosexual love affair. I can't say this is really a huge change, when you consider how the Hercule Poirot stories starring David Suchet were adapted for TV. I suppose it did portray these two women as stronger, as they indulged in a love affair, despite how society of that time would view such a relationship. It also highlighted their intellect, in that they committed such an intricately planned crime, which called for great ingenuity, and a lot of work, to pull off.

Ultimately, the production left me dissatisfied, however. Although they left the revelation until the end, the homosexual angle struck an inauthentic note, and seemed out of character with Christie's writings. The production also stressed sexuality in other ways, most explicitly in the character of a male dancer at the hotel, who also had sex with any female guest willing to give him money. He seemed unapologetic in this regard, as if flaunting his liaisons as a virtue. Overall, the adaptation reminded me of a big screen movie, edited for pace and filled with humor. It unreeled too quickly for a mystery, and kept me laughing constantly. 

Sadly, Geraldine McEwan has left this mortal plane, so I cannot ask her why she left the series, and such a popular character, after a mere two years. But the changes to this Christie story, and the ample humor, left me feeling as if the production were more spoof than serious. After all, if you don't really love and respect the original material, you're likely to take far greater liberties with it, such exploiting the story's humorous potential, playing up the sexuality, and changing the identity of the murderers. 

I wonder if Ms McEwan had similar doubts about the character she portrayed, and how those productions were updated for modern sensibilities. While I cannot judge a series based upon one story, I must say that this production of "The Body in the Library" left me cold. 



And that's a horrible thing to say, especially in regard to writer Agatha Christie, her great detectives Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, and in association such a wonderful thing as a library.

Dragon Dave 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Agatha Christie Loves Life

Life in Torquay, England

A thought for today:

"I like living. I have sometimes been wildly despairing, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing."

--from Agatha Christie: An Autobiography

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Importance of the Family

Left to Right:
Lord Kalidor, Red Sonja, Prince Tarn, & Falkon
(Photo courtesy of Chud.com)

While based on a Robert E. Howard character, the Red Sonja known and loved by fans of the Sword and Sorcery genre was created by comics writer Roy Thomas. She appeared in Marvel's "Conan The Barbarian" series, and her popularity demanded reappearances, and eventually, her very own comic. Yet, when you think of Red Sonja, you typically think of a loner. 

Clive Exton, the co-screenwriter for the 1985 "Red Sonja" movie, chose to give her a family. Not a blood-based family: those were all killed by evil Queen Gedren. But a host of companions to assist her on her journey. Red Sonja, as I mentioned, is a loner, so it's not as if she invites these folks to tag along. But they come along regardless. One is Lord Kalidor, who has sworn to protect (and if need be, destroy) a powerful artifact in Gedren's possession. Another is young Prince Tarn, whose kingdom has been vanquished by Gedren's forces. He, in turn, is accompanied by his bodyguard Falkon, who overlook's all his young charge's faults. These people need Red Sonja, and in her own way, she needs them. And so, as I mentioned in my previous post, "The Gentle Humor of Red Sonja," Clive Exton gathered these other characters around her, and give her a sense of family.

Left to Right:
Inspector Japp, Hercule Poirot, Captain Hastings, Miss Lemon
Photo Courtesy of Gumshoe Pages

Would we have fallen in love with David Suchet's portrayal of Hercule Poirot in the TV series Agatha Christie's Poirot had Clive Exton not surrounded the famous detective with his friend Captain Hastings, his secretary Miss Lemon, and Scotland Yard detective Japp? Personally, I think not. I find the later adaptations, in which Poirot's early family is mostly absent, and he is only surrounded by characters unique to that particular story, rather empty. 

Hercule Poirot & Ariadne Oliver
(Photo courtesy of Pinterest.com)

It's only in the last few seasons, when the production team paired him continually with mystery writer Ariadne Oliver, that the series gave me that buzz that made those early shows so powerful.

But then, that's the importance of family. I'm sure Clive Exton knew it before "Red Sonja," but it's a skill he demonstrated in the fantasy movie, a few years before he perfected it in Agatha Christie's Poirot.

Dragon Dave

Links
Gumshoe Pages 



Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Gentle Humor of Red Sonja

On paper, the 1985 film "Red Sonja" has a lot going for it. It starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sandahl Bergman from the 1981 film "Conan The Barbarian," as well as a host of notable appearances. The story is painted on a broader canvas, and far more complex than "Conan." The movie contains some striking visuals, in locations, in sets, and in special effects. Yet ultimately, it all fails to come together. Perhaps it was just too ambitious a story to relate, given the director's experience and resources. When I initially saw the movie, I dismissed it, as did many others viewers.

Yet something in the film keeps drawing me back, insisting that I watch it again and again. Not only do I feel this call, but my wife does also. We've got the film on DVD. We can stream it on VUDU. We've even downloaded it to our computer, so we can watch it while on travel. Some stories are like that. For all their imperfections, there's still something at the heart of the story that makes it special to you.

While Robert E. Howard created a character named Red Sonya for a historical adventure, it was Roy Thomas who adapted her into Red Sonja, and included her in Conan's Hyborian Age. Even more so than in the earlier "Conan" movie, "Red Sonja" feels like several issues of a Marvel Comics series faithfully translated to the screen for our enjoyment. One great set piece follows another. None of them are as great as they should be, but they're all fun, or exciting, or visually interesting, or humorous.

Humorous? You naturally think of a Sword and Sorcery story being action-packed, but not necessarily big on humor. Yet the characters in "Red Sonja" have a sweet, endearing quality, and when they are together, you notice the gentle humor between them. It's the same humor that binds Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings together, as well as their secretary Miss Lemon and Scotland Yard Inspector Japp, and makes Agatha Christie's Poirot, particularly those early episodes, so much fun to watch. But then, Clive Exton, who adapted twenty of those early Poirot stories for television, and enhanced Christie's stories and novels to increase the characters' mutual affection, also cowrote the screenplay for "Red Sonja."

No wonder I love the 1985 movie "Red Sonja" so much.

Dragon Dave