Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Thirteen remains an unlucky number

Thirteen at Dinner (1986)
Starring: Peter Ustinov, Jonathan Cecil, Faye Dunaway, David Suchet, Bill Nighy, Lee Horsely and Diane Keen
Director: Lou Antonio
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

When Lord Edgeware is found stabbed to death, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Ustinov) has to solve a case where the most likely suspect, the victim's wife (Dunaway) has an unshakeable alibi. What's more, Proirot himself insured that she doesn't have a clear motive either.

"Thirteen at Dinner" sees the actor to best capture Agatha Christie's most fussy detective portray him in an adaptation of "Lord Edgware Dies" that's been been updated to the mid-1980s, with the film starting with Poirot making a guest appearance on television talk show where he first encounters some of those who will play central roles in the multiple murders that will be committed within short order.

This is a high quality production that takes a story originally set during the late 1920s and early 1930s and seamlessly updates it to the 1980s. With a cast of extremely talented British actors and the look and feel of a cinematic release, only the obvious "dramatic pauses" where the commercial breaks and occassional, super-brief recaps of what late-comers may have missed (through characters reviewing what they about the case with each other) give away the fact that the movie originated on American television.

Peter Ustinov is excellent as always in the role of Poirot and his interplay with Jonathan Cecil as Hastings adds great humor to the film (although Cecil's overly fey portrayal of Hastings leads one to wonder if perhaps the two are a different sort of longtime companions). Another remarkable castmember is David Suchet who will start playing Poirot in the long-running ITV/KBGH series in the 1990s, who is here seen as Inspector Japp.

The only noteworthy complaint I have about "Thirteen for Dinner" is that I had the entire mystery even before the first murder had actually occured. I was made the same wrong deduction regarding one of the characters that Poirot did, but I figured out everything else. I don't know if I knew the answer to the mystery because I've read "Lord Edgware Dies" at some point, or perhaps seen the version starring David Suchet, or whetherthe plot is really that obvious, but having figured it all out early on did make the movie a little less fun for me than it could have been.

Still, I recommend it for those who enjoy Agatha Christie mysteries (and similar type detective literature and shows.)

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