Wednesday 24 April 2024

The Alphabet Murders - 1965 film review

One of the very first crime novels I ever read was Agatha Christie's The ABC Murders. I absolutely loved the story. It was my grandmother's copy and I remember discussing the plot twists with her as I kept reading. That paperback edition was a movie tie-in, with cover images taken from the film of the book, The Alphabet Murders. I was intrigued, but I never saw the film. I learned that it was a flop and few people had a good word to say about it. Agatha Christie herself hated it. But I decided I'd like to judge it for myself, and now at last I've seen it. 

And my verdict is that, unfortunately, the panning that the movie received was well-deserved. There have been some dreadful adaptations of Agatha over the years, but this still ranks as among the worst. The problem begins with the casting of Tony Randall as Poirot - suffice to say that he's no David Suchet. He's not even a Ustinov or a Malkovich. 

The script is dismal. The writers, David Pursall and Jack Seddon, were responsible for Murder Most Foul, the film that introduced me to Agatha in the first place, so I have kindly feelings towards them, but really this isn't a great piece of writing. The director, Frank Tashlin, aimed for comedy and the result is more like The Pink Panther on a poor day than Agatha Christie, with a few eccentric camera angles thrown in for good measure.

There are some good names in the cast, although Robert Morley is as unsatisfactory a Captain Hastings as Randall is a Poirot. In many ways the highlight for me was a fleeting cameo appearance by Margaret Rutherford and Stringer Davis. I'm glad I satisfied my curiosity after so long, but suffice to say that this is a good example of how to murder a great story. 


Bill Peschel said...

It is rather astonishingly bad, although it's not as bad as "Innocent Lies" (1995) with Joanna Lumley in a Franco-Irish attempt at a Christie adaptation. It was so bad the family demanded a title card disassociating it from AC.

"The Alphabet Murders," however, is still bad. "The Pink Panther" link may have been intentional. The series was launched a year or two ago, and it may be they try with another French (Belgian!) detective.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Bill. I'm not familiar with Innocent Lies, though if it's worse than this one....