L’EXCROISSANCE or, Giving the (Moving) Finger to Christie

My buddy Kate over at Cross Examining Crime just wrote an interesting article on Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger. While she’s not as fond of the novel as I am, she had a fascinating take on the character of Megan Hunter here.

By an amazing coincidence, I happened to watch the TV adaptation of The Moving Finger this evening. You know the story I’m talking about, right? The one set in the little village where everyone is receiving poison pen letters? And then a pair of outsiders come to the village to stay because one of them was injured and nearly died. And he just happens to be a police inspector from the Surete, remember? And his boss is that flamboyant ladies man of a sleuth, Superintendent Larosière. Surely you haven’t forgotten this part? You know, when the Superintendent falls hard for the awkward daughter of the village solicitor, the girl named Louise? That’s right, and she had a best friend named Clara, who was the daughter of the town artist, M. Maloverde, but Clara drowned, and now everyone is getting killed, and nobody knows who the killer is because the whole thing stopped making sense in the first half hour? Remember?

Of course you don’t remember because it never happened in an Agatha Christie novel. That’s because Christie knew her way around a plot. But the creators of the hit the French series Les Petits Meurtres D’Agatha Christie (The Little Murders of Agatha Christie) never saw a Christie novel that they couldn’t improve by giving it the ol’ Gallic twist! Since 2009, the series has adapted 23 of Christie’s novels and one short story, and decimated them.

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How have they “improved” things? Well, for one thing, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple are out! The first series features the aforementioned Larosiere and his bumbling assistant Inspector Lampion. Larosiere is a buffoon who takes all the credit for Lampion’s quiet wisdom. (Except for when Larosiere gets it right himself. Consistency of character would be way too boring for these people) Either way, each ninety minute TV-movie contains at least twenty minutes of French “humor” often involving suspects thinking Larosiere is gay (hyuck yuck yuck) or inflicting painful indignities on the actually gay Lampion (har de har har). And there’s a lot of sex, most of it quite unattractive. For example, in Finger, the old lady (think Miss Emily Barton from Christie’s novel) who rents her house to Lampion is having a torrid lesbian affair with her maid, the truly grotesque French version of Partridge.

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In place of Miss Marple, we have a sexy young journalist named Alice Avril who butts into the murder investigations of Commissaire Swan Laurence. You could cut the sexual tension between them with a knife. Or you could cut both their throats with a knife and end the madness.

Avril and Laurence make up the second and all subsequent seasons of this travesty, and their adventures take place in the 1950’s, as opposed to the 1930’s setting of the first season. The cases are indiscriminately based on Poirot tales, Miss Marple tales, Tommy and Tuppence tales, and a few stand-alones. The creators of the series have taken great care to get period details correct. The episodes look beautiful. But this doesn’t matter at all, for the series is not only crap, it’s an affront to Christie fans everywhere. That’s why I’m so baffled by all the positive reviews on Amazon. One fan states it’s the best filmed rendition of Agatha Christie’s work yet! Others talk about the delightful “Francophile” adaptations of the Mistress of Mystery’s novels. All I can ask myself, is “Why? Why? WHY???” Did the writers simply not have the imagination to create an original series? Are they mad at Dame Agatha for some reason? And just how many francs did Mathew Shepard ransack from the French in exchange for their right to mock his grandmother’s legacy?

The Moving Finger is part of the second set of programs made available with English subtitles. Yes, after buying and loathing the first set, I purchased the second set and set about picking the scab off. I took a bullet for all of you. You’re welcome.

For those of you who love Christie enough to collect any and all adaptations (yes, I once considered myself one of these people) and are unsure as to whether you should or shouldn’t give these versions a try, below I will elucidate the basic differences between each episode in the first set and the Christie novel on which it is based along with my measure of the French sex quotient in each episode. (I have only watched Finger from the second set; there are four more to suffer through.). Be wary of spoilers.

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Les Meurtres ABC (The ABC Murders): This starts out as a fairly faithful adaptation in that there is a series of murders based on the alphabet, and a copy of a railway timetable is found by each body. Since Superintendent Larosiere is an official policeman, unlike Poirot, his relationship to the suspects is different, more like a bully. The murders are much more gruesome in the series, and the bulk of the story centers on Larosiere’s competition with another detective to be the first to solve the case. Then the adaptation goes completely off the rails with a different murderer whose very Francophile motive asks you to sympathize with a mass murderer. (FRENCH SEX QUOTIENT: 3 gigolos out of 5. Fortunately for Lampion, the rival detective is a closeted homosexual, so somebody gets lucky!)

 Am stram gram (Ordeal by Innocence): This might be the most faithful adaptation, although it puts odd new twists into the story. At least it is less burdened with the tiresome comic interactions between Larosiere and Lampion. (FRENCH SEX QUOTIENT: One gigolo. Lampion falls in love with one of the young male suspects, who very kindly rebuffs him and tells him to live openly and be happy.)

La Maison du peril (Peril at End House): A garbled version of the original, with some very odd new characters added in. The ending is sort of the same as the original, although the murderer is looked upon with more sympathy for no good reason other than l’affairs d’amour. (FRENCH SEX QUOTIENT: Four gigolos. Larosiere falls madly in love with the Nick Buckley character, and she returns his affections. Lampion gets hit on by an elderly male suspect.)

Le chat et les souris (Cat Among the Pigeons): Hmmmm . . . Both versions take place at a girls’ school. And there is a tennis racket somewhere in there. I think about half the solution sort of resembles Christie’s, but it’s a complete mess otherwise. (FRENCH SEX QUOTIENT: A midget gigolo. Surprisingly little considering that Larosiere is surrounded by women.)

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Je ne suis pas coupable (Sad Cypress): This one has something to do with a feminist retreat and, in a plot twist that is particularly insulting, Lampion is disguised in drag as a champion of women’s rights. Buried in there is the original story, however, complete with the original solution. (FRENCH SEX QUOTIENT: The equivalent of a dose of saltpeter. Larosiere and Lampion pretend to be married. Zero laughs ensue . . .)

Un cadavre sur l’oreiller (The Body in the Library): Identical to the novel. Except the library is now a whorehouse, and all the upper class suspects are hookers. Larosiere is suspected of the murder since the body (once found in a British library in St. Mary Mead) is now found in his bed. Somehow it reaches the same ending as the book version, but this time you feel like you have to take a long, hot shower and really scrub. (FRENCH SEX QUOTIENT: Many, many gigolos! Hey, it’s a bordello, so everyone gets lucky! Larosiere has a favorite hooker named Esmeralda, and Lampion has a sweet, doomed romance with the piano player, Raymond.)

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Jeux de glaces (They Do It With Mirrors): The only episode in this set from the second season, it is set in the 1950’s and features Commissioner Laurence. Although many characters are cut or combined, and far too much time is taken establishing the bickering relationship between Laurence and the obnoxious female reporter Alice, the plot at first seems to be very much like the original. Then everything goes flooey! The wrong people die, and the wrong people turn out to be guilty, and the whole thing becomes a travesty unworthy of Miss Marple. (FRENCH SEX QUOTIENT: Three and a half gigolos. The character most like Gina from the novel flirts and sleeps with every other character, including Larosiere.)

Why am I bothering to discuss this awfulness in my blog? Well, I can think of three reasons. First, I can WARN YOU OFF!!! Do not bother with this series! Do not give Mathew Prichard any more undeserved drachmas! Do not encourage this kind of malevolent nonsense!

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Second, I can steer you in the right direction, toward the first incarnation of Miss Marple mysteries starring Joan Hickson. These are perhaps the most faithful adaptations out of all the adaptations of Christie in the world, in tone and plot, even if the occasional character is excised. I also happen to adore David Suchet’s Poirot, although by the end, there were some major missteps (especially the unbearable revision of Appointment With Death). The later Miss Marple series has its ups and downs, although by the middle of its run there’s a pretty steady slide into what-the-hell! And third, I got the chance to plug Kate’s article about the real Christie novel, The Moving Finger. I may not agree with all Kate says there, but at least on her site you’re dealing with intelligent writing about the real thing! Thanks, Kate!

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23 thoughts on “L’EXCROISSANCE or, Giving the (Moving) Finger to Christie

  1. I’d like to be shocked, but given the abominations that Matthew Prichard has allowed to happen on his watch I think we all know we’re well and truly past the point of feigning surprise any more. I’m pretty sure that if I offered him anough money to be allowed to call my lessons Agatha Christie’s School Teaching — on, say, the basis that I use numbers and there were numbers on the pages of her books — he’d let me.

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  2. Thanks for all your kind mentions. But poor you! How you made it through all the episodes I do not know! Think I would need counselling if I was forced to watch them. This makes the ITV Miss Marples, with murderous nuns and Nazi hunters look 100% faithful to the books! You should definitely put a review on Amazon to show buyers the truth about these episodes and save people from a fate probably worse than death. You should also watch a Joan Hickson episode as some kind of antidote.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Good thinking! A few hospitals these days do have cinemas, so we could just commandeer one and put the Hickson collection on loop, so sufferers of this series and others can come and receive treatment.

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  3. Oh, I completely agree with you about Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. She was always the one I liked best in that role. And yes, the stories were faithful to the original, too. As to the others? Really, a sexy young journalist? No, no, no. Just…no.

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  4. Just as well I haven’t seen these, I don’t think my blood pressure would stand it… many thanks for taking a bullet on behalf of all of us… mind you, we shouldn’t be surprised, look at what Mark Gatiss has done to Sherlock Holmes. I enjoyed the first series but now it’s just too self referential and boring.
    But at least we have the work of Joan Hickson and Jeremy Brett to console us…

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  5. This is a fantastically entertaining review and summary, Brad, and I’m grateful but sorry for the slog you endured to familiarize yourself with this series. I had not known it existed, and I will endeavor to keep it that way.

    As everyone realizes all too well, producers and writers just can’t seem to leave the source material alone when creating literary adaptations for TV or film. Is it too subtle an art or do the creative minds think it will be improved by “really shaking things up a bit”? I have never returned to the Mrs. Bradley Mysteries adapted from Gladys Mitchell’s books after initially viewing them. Only Speedy Death remains faithful; the rest are far removed from their source texts tonally and narratively, to the point of being unrecognizable. (I maintain the GM tribute site at gladysmitchell.com, which has all the books represented in reviews but could use a visual update from the Dreamweaver site design circa 2000…)

    Thanks again for putting this review together!
    Jason H

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    1. Many thanks for the kind words, Jason. Ironically, I just finished watching this series’ version of Five Little Pigs. It was easily the most faithful rendition of the original novel I have yet seen. True, they eliminated one of the pigs (but they kept the mother alive in prison to take his place). Otherwise, the only major difference was the absence of Hercule Poirot. And that makes me wonder anew what the French were thinking replacing a classic character of fiction with this oddball duo of French policemen. It would be like filming the Sherlock Holmes stories with a sleuth named Abelard DuLac! That’s it! I’m through complaining!

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      1. Never stop complaining! When it’s as informative and as felicitously done as you offer here, it becomes a great (and enjoyable) service to the rest of us. I remember seeing the Suchet Five Little Pigs adaptation years and years ago — the one with Aidan Gillen of the British Queer As Folk — and really enjoying its style and writing. But hearing that this French version was very faithful to the text, sans Poirot, does make one wonder what they’re up to with that series….

        I have to confess that, unlike so many other committed GAD fans, I haven’t read the Christie canon in its entirety nor can I completely remember one plotline over another. (A few stand out; Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None are unforgettable; I have a particular fondness for The Mirror Crack’d, which I think has a great motivation for the killer.) So when it comes to adaptations — of Christie, of Sayers, of Conan Doyle — I tend to take it on its own terms. Still, I don’t think I’d be fooled by the addition of a lot of Gallic farce and casual affairs into the story!

        Thanks again, and cheers — Jason

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  6. “Miss Marple mysteries starring Joan Hickson. These are perhaps the most faithful adaptations out of all the adaptations of Christie in the world…” Can’t be said too often. Wasn’t Lampion an idiotic character in Tintin? Yes, Seraphin Lampion, the vulgar car salesman you can’t help liking. Will avoid this French farce. Why do we type the words “unfunny would-be comic interludes” so often?

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    1. C’est vrai, Lucy. The person who invented “unfunny would-be comic interludes” should receive an all expenses paid luxury vacation to a tropical island! From U. N. Owen . . . . .

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  7. I think you are being waay too harsh on this show. While I haven’t seen all episodes, I enjoyed the ones I watched, I thought “Taken at the Flood” was a clear improvement over the awful Suchet version. It is clearly supposed to be a parody of sorts, some enjoy the humour, some like you don’t. I think people should give this one a try, It is much better than the new “Partners in Crime” or several of the later “Poirot” episodes.

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  8. Taken at the Flood is coming up, and if it’s as faithful plot wise to the original as Five Little Pigs was, then it’s a step in the right direction. The new Partners in Crime was unwatchable. And I think I mentioned, or at least intimated, that Suchet sort of went off the rails at the end.

    But, R.K., that’s as much as I’m going to relent for you. You said, “It is clearly supposed to be a parody of sorts,” and I don’t believe it was their intention at all. Every bit of packaging suggests this is an homage, not a spoof. So yes, some will appreciate the humor and others will not. Meanwhile, newcomers to Christie will be baffled over her reputation as a brilliant plotter, while people who really love her have the right to be angry about what these people have created using her name.

    Maybe, just maybe, I would have found something amusing in a series about a buffoonish pair of French detectives who solved original cases.and maybe, as you suggest, this sort of humor might not be to my taste. At least, I wouldn’t have felt so pissed off.

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  9. Hahaha! I absolutely can’t believe you bought the second set!! This is above and beyond the call of duty, surely?! However, I do hope you’ll summarise them – the burning question is, can they get worse??

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  10. Looks to me like this series has too much “sex” on the brain. This turns me off because it’s like sex has to be used in order to appeal to this generation. Sex sells BUT that’s not why Agatha Christie’s books sell. That’s not why Christie is the Queen of Crime and still one of the most popular mystery writers of all time.

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