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The ABC Murders

WORST EVER Agatha Christie adaptation
After the adaptation of "Ordeal by Innocence" earlier this year, we thought things couldn't get any worse concerning the on-screen rape of Agatha Christie's novels - but, since Sarah Phelps was AGAIN commissioned to write the screenplay for a new adaptation of Dame Agatha's classic "The ABC Murders", we could have guessed... Portentous, pathetic, perverted from beginning to end - and believe it or not, even boring as well! Half of the goings-on were never in the book, least of all the gloomy flashbacks into Poirot's war experiences back in Belgium; the actors are unbelievably bad, the atmosphere is dreary, dark and seedy (in other words, just about everything Agatha's novels never were) - is that supposed to be holiday entertainment?? For HOW LONG is the BBC going to keep allowing Sarah Phelps to violate Agatha Christie's novels and ruin their viewers' Christmas holidays??

Ordeal by Innocence

An outrage
I've been an Agatha Christie fanatic ever since I was a teenager; I've watched all the adaptations I've ever come across, most are great, both movies and TV series. But, in contrast to recent very impressive movie adaptations, the quality of the TV dramas the BBC makes out of Agatha's classic seems to be in a steady decline. It's understandable that scriptwriters are desperately looking for some way to make the stories who are well-known to millions of fans look different, 'new' in some way - but this is in NO way an excuse for literally RAPING a classic murder mystery, as has been done in this case. Let alone the fact that a crisp and clever whodunit has been turned into a 'modern' TV drama, gloomy and bleak, with absolutely no character in it that you could describe as halfway sympathetic, the people who are responsible for this script actually went so far as to CHANGE the identity of the murderer! Which, of course, leads to the fact that nothing really goes together anymore, because Agatha didn't just write her stories like that - every little detail fits in. So, absolutely nothing fits in here at the end, because a different ending is superimposed on a story that had been very carefully worked out - not even the title works anymore, because the word 'innocence' isn't supposed to refer to whom we think throughout most of the book. It's high time the BBC stopped treating the work of the Queen of Crime in this way; millions of fans will be put off, and it's highly unfair to young viewers who aren't very familiar with Agatha's oeuvre - they might think that she actually WROTE trash like this.

Murder on the Orient Express

A bold venture that became a stunning movie
Being a lifelong Agatha Christie fanatic, and of course having seen the magnificent 1974 version of "Murder on the Orient Express" literally dozens of times, I was very curious to see what Mr Branagh, who had actually been bold (not to say crazy) enough to attempt a remake of it, had made out of it. I tried to go into it with an open mind, yet sure that it simply CANNOT be as good as the original. Well, I was mistaken: at some points, it's even better, unbelievable as this may sound.

Where he deems it adequate, Branagh makes some changes and additions, like the very first scene set in Jerusalem, where he also introduces himself with an enormous moustache (make no mistake: Dame Agatha had actually described Poirot many times as having a really big and extravagant moustache!), the fixed idea that his breakfast eggs should have exactly the same size, and a twinkle in his eye.

Then we get to know the first suspects - familiar territory for those who have seen the 1974 movie or read the book, but with a new twist: Colonel Arbuthnot is now a black doctor, which adds a nice note to his romance with Mary Debenham. Then the Istanbul train station - one of those moments where the new version surpasses the old one. A genuine Turkish chaos, through which Poirot, his friend Bouc and the other travellers have to make their way to the train.

We meet Mrs Hubbard - and very soon we stop comparing Michelle Pfeiffer to Lauren Bacall; she's different, but she's just as good. Ditto the other passengers; in some cases, Branagh sticks closer to the book than Lumet had done, and the casting in each case is brilliant. Then the train sets out on its journey - magnificent shots of it moving out of the station and into nowhere. As the plot unfolds, we see familiar elements mixed with breathtakingly beautiful outdoor scenes; while Lumet had decided to keep the whole thing confined to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the train compartments, Branagh enjoys making us see things from various internal and external angles. No matter which approach you prefer, they're both brilliant.

The only thing critics might claim as a minus is that Branagh's Poirot is perhaps a little bit too heroic, even to the point of personally fighting off and pursuing attackers; scenes that were never in the book, but in this day and age a movie probably simply can't do without them anymore. Anyway, as for the portrayals of the famous Belgian detective: while David Suchet simply WAS Poirot, Branagh, just like Finney and Ustinov before him, creates his OWN Poirot - a new version, but a most lovable one. And Branagh does a great job both as actor and as director - after having watched this movie I'd go as far as to say that, actually, he's a genius.

Unless you're totally biased and unwilling to accept new approaches to classic works of literature (like the many different Shakespeare productions that are being played all over the world), chances are you are going to be very much impressed by this uniquely bold and beautiful remake.

Sparkling Cyanide

Only Pauline and Oliver halfway save this film
This is no doubt one of the most disastrous Agatha Christie adaptations ever made. Just like the 1980s' US TV movies ("Murder in Three Acts" and "Murder Is Easy" were the worst examples), it simply 'adapts' the action, the characters and everything else to the present, including the most hideous hairstyles and clothes. Not one bit of love or even respect for the First Lady of Crime shows throughout, and there's not even any suspense to speak of - in a murder mystery, if you please! The only ones who make something halfway decent out of this film are the protagonists, Pauline Collins and Oliver Ford Davies - it takes really great actors to deliver such performances in a film like this.

The Ape Man

Fun with Bela the Ape Man!
Of course this film was meant deadly serious back in 1943, and it surely scared lots of moviegoers out of their wits - but today, it's become one of those little gems that every B movie fan will love: the script is absolutely lousy, the direction as well as the settings are meager, and most of the performances are highly hammy - except for Bela's, who as always puts his heart and soul into his performance even in a little cheapie like this. And even if, towards the end, we REALLY start doubting the sanity of the author - that priceless joke on this very subject in the final scene is worth the whole thing! Now rating movies like this one is always difficult: looking at it in an unbiased way, it's more or less impossible to give it more than 6 - but in our hearts, it gets a much higher score!

Poirot: Four and Twenty Blackbirds
Episode 4, Season 1

A classic Poirot story brought from the book right to the TV screen
For the first episodes of the then new TV series "Agatha Christie's Poirot", which was still in its 'experimental' phase - and nobody would have dreamed back then that it was to last TWENTY-FIVE seasons! - the producers picked some of Agatha Christie's short stories featuring the great detective; and they certainly made VERY good picks. Like in this case, with the fascinating case of the mysterious 'coincidence' of two brothers dying within just a few days, and the seemingly small, but Immensely important details of the meal one of them ate at his restaurant shortly before his death...

This was only the fourth episode of the first season of the series - and yet, everything's already there: David Suchet has practically 'become' Hercule Poirot (not without some additional humor for the delectation of the TV audience, but that only adds to his lovable eccentricity), the supporting cast also is formidable, and set design, costumes, hairstyles and everything else visible (or audible) are GENUINELY 20s' style in every little detail. It was already more than clear that this series would turn into something big! But this episode has also got a VERY interesting additional attraction: it takes us into both the painters' and the theatrical world of the time, AND, as the biggest contrast imaginable, in the very next scene we get an insight into a forensic laboratory of the 1920s... All in all: it's really unbelievable what a great artistic and entertainment value a 50-minute TV series episode can achieve!

Poirot: The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly
Episode 3, Season 1

David 'Poirot' Suchet really gets going!
Although this is only the third episode of this GREAT, long-running series starring David Suchet as Agatha Christie's world famous master sleuth Hercule Poirot, Mr. Suchet has already perfected his role. His French accent, his gentlemanly but slightly haughty behavior, his dry humor, his pedantry make all the keen readers of Agatha Christie's novels feel like Poirot has actually 'jumped' right out of the book and onto the TV screen! Hugh Fraser as Hastings, Philip Jackson as Japp, and Pauline Moran as Miss Lemon are also present already as the (almost) steady supporting cast - so the foundations are laid for a series that would rise to unforeseen heights in the course of the next 25 (!) years...

And besides the magnificent acting on ALL parts, we can also admire a PERFECT recreation of the atmosphere of the 1920s - everything from clothes and hairstyles to interiors to cars. Really a BIG achievement for a TV series that's still in its 'infancy', so to speak! But the producers started out with ALL the right stuff from the very beginning - and the reward turned out to be one of the most popular, most high-class and longest-running British TV series ever.

This episode, adapted from one of Poirot's 'minor' early cases, a short story first published in 1923, isn't too complicated, maybe you could even call it a little bit predictable; and yet, it's quite suspenseful, stylish, entertaining - and 'spiced' with a good dose of humor! A WONDERFUL hour of entertainment for Poirot fans, and not only...

Thirteen at Dinner

Great cast, good screenplay, but - lack of atmosphere...
Since Peter Ustinov had gained such a huge popularity playing Hercule Poirot in two great movie masterpieces, "Death on the Nile" and "Evil Under the Sun", US TV producers decided to start a series of TV movies starring him as Agatha Christie's great Belgian detective. The first one was "Thirteen at Dinner", an adaptation of one of Christie's most successful books, "Lord Edgware Dies" - and the recipe seemed perfect for a big audience success; which it actually was. Ustinov once again delivers his very own, distinctive and lovable performance of 'his' Poirot, Faye Dunaway gives a great performance in a double role, and the third 'big name' in the cast, Lee Horsley, very popular at the time among the young viewers, is an additional attraction; and the script is remarkably close to Christie's novel - the only thing missing is... any trace of a period atmosphere...

"Lord Edgware Dies" had been written in 1933 - and yet, the clothes, hairstyles, interiors (except for those of the old British manors), and even cars here are 'purely' 80s. Now, whether that choice was made for the sake of the audience or for saving extra production expenses is a mystery; fact is that it considerably weakens the artistic value of the otherwise very suspenseful and entertaining film. Alright, being a lifelong Agatha Christie fanatic, and inevitably comparing this adaptation to others, I may be a bit preoccupied; especially a young audience will certainly enjoy the movie just as it is - a well-done, highly entertaining murder mystery, with Peter Ustinov at his very best as always.

And by the way: Chief Inspector Japp, who's as always one or more steps behind Poirot in the procedure of solving the crime, is played by - David Suchet, who only a few years later would become THE perfect Hercule Poirot in the long-running, extremely successful and very authentic 30s' style British TV series!

Appointment with Death

The last, but not least of the Peter Ustinov 'Poirots'
After the two big all-star masterpieces "Death on the Nile" and "Evil Under the Sun", Peter Ustinov had really established himself in the role of Agatha Christie's master sleuth Hercule Poirot (although his outward appearance didn't quite match that of the Poirot Christie had created; but Ustinov simply gave a WONDERFUL note of his own to 'his' Poirot, which the audience took to very much); but during the 80s, unfortunately, the Poirot (TV) movies starring Ustinov were unable to keep up this former grandeur - mainly because the TV producers seemed unable or unwilling (or both) to recreate a genuine 30s' atmosphere for the adaptations of Agatha Christie's novels.

With "Appointment with Death", however, the 'old' tradition was resumed (it was a feature movie, not made for TV): once again, the costumes and hairstyles were carefully kept in late 30s' style, old cars and an old-fashioned luxury liner enhanced the period feeling - and, just like in "Death on the Nile", here, too, the audience also got to see famous landmarks in Italy and Jerusalem, and the ancient site of Qumran in Israel (not Petra in Jordan, as in the novel, because the production company was Israeli). And, once again, there also were quite some BIG names among the cast - Lauren Bacall, Piper Laurie, John Gielgud, Carrie Fisher, Hayley Mills, David Soul - ; not as many perhaps as in the two previous all-star movies, but the other, lesser-known cast members were VERY competent as well.

Except for some minor changes, the plot line is very true to Agatha Christie's original: Emily Boynton is tyrannizing her family, blackmailing her lawyer, even bullying strangers who 'threaten' to interfere with the family - in short: she is one of those people of whom you could say that they 'deserve to be murdered'; and since this is an Agatha Christie murder mystery, she IS murdered, of course... And due to her 'popularity', simply all the people who were near the scene of the crime at the time are suspicious - good that Hercule Poirot once again 'happens' to be there, too, and will no doubt throw light on the case. So now it's a kind of 'contest': which clever, experienced murder mystery fans will be able to find out the identity of the murderer before Poirot reveals it?? An enormously entertaining 'murder hunt', very stylish, with great performances and magnificent settings - one of the great neglected modern classics of the mystery genre!

Death on the Nile

A magnificent cast, opulent settings, a genuine ambiance - simply a MASTERPIECE!
After Agatha Christie's world famous fictional sleuth Hercule Poirot, the eccentric Belgian with the distinguished mustache and the brilliant 'little grey cells', had been brought to the screen again at last after many years in 1974 with "Murder on the Orient Express" starring Albert Finney, it took the producers four more years to 'dare' trying their hand at another one of Christie's most famous novels; anyway, it had to become an oeuvre able to compete with the previous film, which had been celebrated from the day of its release as one of the GREATEST movie masterpieces of all times - and yet, they DID manage!

The atmosphere of the 30s here is recreated in just the same careful way, with magnificent settings (most of them ACTUALLY genuine, since many scenes were shot on location: the Cataract Hotel in Alexandria, the Pyramids and temples of Ancient Egypt, even the original S.S. Karnak) and most beautifully designed costumes (for which Anthony Powell was awarded an Oscar), the plot, with a few little changes, is kept VERY close to the novel - and the cast, of course, quite equals that of "Murder on the Orient Express": the 'creme de la creme' of Hollywood's past and present superstars give the picture a touch of GREAT glamor. Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, Mia Farrow, Maggie Smith, David Niven, Olivia Hussey - and, of course, Peter Ustinov in the role of Hercule Poirot!

Now, inevitably we're being tempted to compare Albert Finney and Peter Ustinov and ask ourselves: who was the 'better' Poirot? From his appearance, Finney matched Agatha Christie's description more, and his behavior and movements also made us feel that the fictional Poirot had actually come 'alive'. But, on the other hand, Peter Ustinov undeniably spoke better French - and not only that: he actually managed to put his OWN stamp on the role of Hercule Poirot; and one that was so popular with the audience that he'd play the master detective five more times, both on the screen and on TV! In fact, for many people he really became 'identified' with Poirot - thanks to his continental charm, his unique humor, and of course his enormous range of facial expressions and tones of voice.

And so, with all these ingredients, this big scale production turned out not only an immediate box office hit, acclaimed and highly praised by the critics and beloved by the audience - but in the course of more than 35 years, has become a REAL modern classic, a sort of 'cult movie' for both Agatha Christie and Peter Ustinov fans; and a wonderfully suspenseful and at the same time entertaining movie to simply watch over and over again!

Evil Under the Sun

Entertainment, suspense and style brought to absolute perfection
Following the huge success of Peter Ustinov's first appearance as Hercule Poirot in "Death on the Nile" (whose artistic value certainly is equally high), the producers ventured into yet another big-scale, all-star movie adaptation of one of Agatha Christie's most famous novels: "Evil Under the Sun". Again, the cast list almost sounds like a 'Who's Who' of the most popular and brilliant actors of the time: Diana Rigg, James Mason, Maggie Smith, Jane Birkin (who both had also been with Ustinov in "Death on the Nile"), Roddy McDowall, and Colin Blakely and Denis Quilley, who both had been among the cast members of the first, and perhaps greatest, all-star Poirot movie of the 70s, "Murder on the Orient Express", with Albert Finney in the title role.

But, although not exactly responding to Poirot's appearance as Agatha Christie had always described him (a short, stocky man with pitch black hair and mustache, both smoothened with brilliantine), by now it was hugely versatile polyglot Peter Ustinov, who not only delivered a perfect French accent (no, of course Poirot is NOT French, he's Belgian, as he has got to underline constantly here as well; but his mother language IS French...), but also put his own personal stamp on the role - which would last through four more movies starring him as Poirot, until the audience had almost identified him with the Belgian sleuth.

So we must simply take "Evil Under the Sun" as it is - anyway, the 'different' Poirot is not the only change made in comparison with Agatha Christie's novel: the story was originally set on an island off the coast of Devon, and not on the obscure Mediterranean island of "Tyrania"... But then, who cares - the exotic atmosphere adds to the glamor of the cast - and of the characters: there, too, some changes were made, so that half of them are in one way or the other linked to show business. Besides that, a wonderful musical score filled with Cole Porter's greatest hits further enhances the carefully recreated late 30s' atmosphere - and contributes to the overall feeling of lightness and entertainment despite the dark and deadly goings-on...

Needless to say that there NEVER is a dull moment throughout the whole movie (actually, it's one of those movies you can just watch over and over again without getting tired of it!); and it's LITERALLY a murder hunt, not only for Poirot, but also for the audience: very cleverly presenting a 'jigsaw puzzle' of evidence and testimonies, it gives you the chance until the last moment to find out the murderer - if you can...

So, considering all those elements that so magnificently complement one another, from cast to screenplay and directing to settings and musical score, "Evil Under the Sun" undoubtedly ranks among the VERY best movie adaptations ever of the great works of Agatha Christie!

Dead Man's Folly

A very good adaptation - except for the lack of 50s' atmosphere
Of the three TV movies in which Peter Ustinov starred as Hercule Poirot (the other two being "Thirteen at Dinner" and "Murder in Three Acts"), in my humble opinion "Dead Man's Folly" is the most entertaining and suspenseful one; the script is marvelously close to Agatha Christie's novel, the cast is quite good for US TV standards, and the setting is a real old British manor, elaborately decorated, which tries to give the film a feeling of 'Old England'. BUT unfortunately, just like in the other two TV adaptations I mentioned, the producers obviously refused to create a REAL 1950s' atmosphere (the novel was written in 1956), and instead let the actors wear contemporary clothes and hairstyles of the 80s (and even use mobile phones!) - probably because that was what the audience wanted...

Anyway, as far as you can overlook those anachronisms (or in case you don't even notice them), this movie has got a very high entertainment value - mostly thanks to the protagonists, Peter Ustinov, Jean Stapleton as Poirot's highly imaginative writer friend, and Jonathan Cecil as Hastings. There's some nice humor in it (probably also for the sake of the TV audience; because in tone, the novel was quite a bit darker...), and it's a REAL murder mystery: the complicated plot unfolds slowly, and if you pay good attention to every detail and every word that's being said, you may be able to guess the murderer before Poirot presents the solution. If you're not too particular about the authenticity of the wardrobe, hairstyles, cars and music, this is an enormously enjoyable crime puzzle for every fan of the genre!

Poirot: Murder in Mesopotamia
Episode 2, Season 8

Finally on screen!!
It's a mystery worth being solved by Poirot himself why one of the VERY greatest novels Agatha Christie ever wrote had never been filmed before - but the magnificent TV series starring David Suchet, which 'took care' of literally EVERY one of Poirot's cases, finally fixed that in 2001. And the result - as was almost to be expected, considering the great expertise that everyone involved in the series had already acquired at that point - is a most STUNNING piece of TV art (which can easily compete with even the most expensive and most successful movies of its era), equally suspenseful as the novel (and that IS saying something...), with a wonderful performance, as always, by David Suchet, the undeniably BEST Poirot in film and TV history, and literally a LOVE for every little detail to be authentic 30s' style.

The settings are exotic once more here: an archaeological dig in Mesopotamia (due to the political circumstances at the time, the episode was shot in Tunisia, but actually at a REAL dig), with an expedition team consisting of various nationalities - and, of course, also all the human weaknesses that show so very clearly when a group of people is living so close together: passion, jealousy, hatred, drugs, theft... And together they all lead inevitably to - murder...

And once again, Poirot 'happens' to be at the scene of the crime; he came to Bagdad at the request of a Baroness, an 'old flame' of his (we're getting to know entirely new things about him!), and visits the dig with his friend Hastings, whose nephew happens to work there... Of course, all this wasn't in the book, but never mind - all the rest WAS; and it simply COULDN'T have been brought to the screen in a more clever, more stylish, and even more entertaining way! And in a way that lets us guess literally until the last moment about the identity of the murderer...

So, of course, we mustn't spoil anything for those who haven't seen it yet - the only thing I believe I can state with certainty is that this is one of the VERY best episodes of the whole series (which ran for 25 years!); a REAL treat for every fan of Agatha Christie, of Hercule Poirot, and of murder mysteries in general!

Poirot: Evil Under the Sun
Episode 1, Season 8

Back to the roots in Devon...
For every 'newbie' Agatha Christie enthusiast, this episode of the David Suchet Poirot series certainly is a great experience; a most intricate murder case set on a small island off the coast of Devon, the series' well-known protagonists Poirot, Hastings, Miss Lemon and Chief Inspector Japp in their very best shape, a very competent supporting cast, and, as always throughout the series a carefully and beautifully reconstructed 1930s' atmosphere. Those who have read the novel will find certain alterations, but none that would spoil either the plot or the atmosphere.

But it's us 'lifetime' Agatha Christie fans, who of course will know the 1982 movie starring Peter Ustinov, who will find it very difficult to answer the question: which is the better version?? Of course, the 1982 version 'transported' the whole goings-on into the Adriatic, with not only a stylish Mediterranean flair, but also a great all-star cast; the atmosphere of the 30s was being captured equally well, and there even were some elements from the novel that were changed in the 2001 version. BUT: fact is that Agatha Christie had never meant the ADRIATIC sun when she wrote that famous book with that famous title...

So I believe we must admit, that, although regarding their artistic value we could call it a tie between the two versions, there is one VITAL element here that had been eliminated in the 1982 version: the VERY British surroundings of Devon (which are captured in some magnificent landscape shots), which give us back the GENUINE atmosphere of the novel.

Besides, as mentioned before, David Suchet is simply THE 'Poirot', not only concerning his appearance, but also every little detail of his demeanor, his speech, and even his movements. The fact that the roles of Hastings, Miss Lemon and Inspector Japp are much bigger here than in the novel is probably due to their popularity with the audience, and they certainly are quite useful for the purpose of adding humor to the case; and so, in my opinion, this is one of the very best episodes of the whole series - and a rare case where an episode of a TV serial equals and in some points even surpasses a great, elaborate and hugely successful movie...

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Neither classic nor classy...
Well, so from the more than 20 adaptations of one of the very best 'Sherlock Holmes' adventures, the two that are probably considered as the classic ones are the 1939 version starring Basil Rathbone - and this 1959 version starring Peter Cushing. Now, of course we should always watch a movie unbiased and without comparing it to another version - but this version is, with or without comparison a pretty mediocre adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous novel; and the fact that it's the first 'Sherlock Holmes' movie in color doesn't make it better. Rather the opposite, in fact, because the well-known British Hammer horror movies weren't exactly famed for the quality of their special effects... (If you but take a look at those great AIP 19th century period horror pictures, with Roger Corman as director and renowned stars like Vincent Price and Peter Lorre, which were made at exactly the same time...)

And what's worse, the protagonists are REALLY overdoing it and trying to surpass one another at being snobby Brits - both Peter Cushing as Holmes, and Christopher Lee as Baskerville (and they'd already starred together in another remake of a great 19th century novel adaptation which is surely inferior to the b&w version: "Dracula"...); the only sympathetic character is that of Dr. Watson, impersonated by Rene Morell (but even he couldn't reach the amiable type of Nigel Bruce from the 1939 version). The only thing that's REALLY well done here are the set decorations, through which the very synthetic 'fog' flows, and which are unfortunately much too well lighted to create a really frightening atmosphere; REAL fans of Sherlock Holmes may find this film fascinating, while to others it'll probably be a nice little mystery from 19th century England at best...

A Modern Musketeer

Our first glance of Doug Fairbanks as D'Artagnan!
Well, it wasn't in 1921, in that world-famous classic swashbuckler "The Three Musketeers", that the world got to see Douglas Fairbanks for the first time in the role of D'Artagnan - it was in 1917, in this fabulous adventure-comedy! So, in the very beginning we see him dressed up 17th century style, with long hair and mustache - and a meaningful wink towards the audience, which tells us that this is only his 'dress rehearsal' for his great role...

For in reality, he's a young fellow living in 1917 Kansas - but certainly not an average one. Why? Because his mother has always been an ardent reader of Alexandre Dumas, and she raised him literally with the hope that he'll become a modern-day D'Artagnan one day... And he REALLY is a gentleman of the old school in every way; he's a member of the 'Society for the prevention of cruelty to women', he intervenes wherever he witnesses injustice (and often with quite unpleasant consequences for himself), he does the most stunning stunts...

And one day, he sets out on his journey of adventure, just like D'Artagnan had done - only with a Ford instead of a yellow steed... And in the middle of the desert, he meets, of course, his 'damsel in distress': young and pretty Elsie, who's just about to be married (forced by her mother) to a man she doesn't want - and what a break: since their car has broken down, he's able, by adjusting his car to the railway tracks, to take them to their destination; and to steal Elsie's heart away on the way, of course... But now, in the Wild West, there are some REAL adventures waiting for our 'modern Musketeer'...!

What a wonderful mixture of Dumas and Western, of 17th century ideals and early 20th century reality; and, of course, a GREAT vehicle for the rising star Douglas Fairbanks! Here he can show both his romantic imagination and his great physical shape: in his youthful exuberance, he jumps out of windows on to lamp posts, climbs a church steeple, and even makes a handstand on the edge of the Grand Canyon! Ageless and timeless family entertainment even today, almost 100 years later - and, as we said, a foretaste on what was to come a few years afterward...

Reaching for the Moon

Reaching for the moon, and catching it, can be dangerous...
Alexis Caesar Napoleon Brown (Douglas Fairbanks), on the one hand a modest office employee, on the other hand is, as his names suggest (and he's got busts and pictures of his two great statesman idols in his apartment), the son of a mysterious European lady, from whom all he's got left is an old picture (she'd died when he was born) - and the dream that he might belong to some old aristocratic family... And so he reads books about how to make your dreams come true, and keeps talking about them with his girlfriend Elsie (Eileen Percy, who starred together with Doug Fairbanks in quite some of his early films, and they always made a very fine match), who listens patiently, showing interest and understanding - but also warns him that, when dreaming about a beautiful future, he shouldn't set his hopes TOO high...

And yet - one morning, a foreign gentleman comes to visit him; and to tell him that he actually IS the heir to the throne of the small European kingdom of Vulgaria (and what a name, too...)! So he leaves immediately, accompanied by the gentleman who explains to him that there is another pretender to the throne called 'Black Boris', who's got his spies everywhere, and they've got to be VERY careful until he'll reach 'his' kingdom and be officially crowned... And so, when he finds himself in the middle of aristocratic intrigues, Alexis very soon finds out that being a prince isn't AT ALL the way he'd dreamed of!

For the second time after "The Americano", Doug Fairbanks mixes comedy and political drama in a most successful and hilarious way; this time he plays it 'earnest' (and what a cute day-dreamer he makes!), while the 'statesmen' of the strange little kingdom act all the more funny! The scenery resembles Venice, the palace Paris or Vienna, while the population of the fictional kingdom is more Balkan-like (by the time the film was made, the USA had entered WWI, and so by now the depiction of a European country had changed, of course, with something definitely threatening about it) - and amidst all the schemes and intrigues, there remains a LOT of room for Doug's famous comedy and acrobatics... A really enjoyable movie, action-packed and fast-paced, and certainly VERY unusual, a (today) much-underrated classic among the Hollywood silents of the 1910s!

The Americano

An 'Americano' saves 'Paragonia' from dictatorship!
In "The Americano", for the first time Doug Fairbanks introduces some political contents in one of his wonderful early comedies (the last one he made for Triangle) - something he would repeat later on in "Reaching for the Moon", and in the legendary first United Artists picture "His Majesty, the American". And strange as it sounds, this quite intricate story about the economical problems of a small Caribbean Republic called Paragonia goes together JUST fine with Doug's usual comical and athletic antics!

He plays Blaze Derringer, a young American mining engineer, on whom his boss calls to go to Paragonia, where a political dispute has developed about the mines, on which the economy of the small republic obviously depends: the scheming and dangerous Minister of War opposes their re-opening under the supervision and with the capital of US companies; and so the Prime Minister himself goes to see the company's boss in New York, and he puts all his hopes into the capable young engineer - but Blaze, when his boss shows him on the map where Paragonia is, only shakes his head and explains: 'Too far from Brooklyn!'

Fortunately, the President's pretty young daughter Juana has also come along with the Prime Minister, and she waits outside the office - and as soon as our young hero sets eyes on her, he changes his mind, of course... And so he heads for the 'idyllic' Caribbean island - but very soon he finds out that the conditions aren't at all idyllic at the moment: while the Prime Minister was away, the mean General has arrested the President, Juana's father, and is now trying to drive all US businessmen out of the country by force - and Juana herself has also become a prisoner in her own house; which gives Dashing Doug a wonderful opportunity to save a damsel in distress AND at the same time restore peace and order in 'Paragonia'!

So here we can witness with what innocent eyes US Americans saw the political conditions in other countries before they entered WWI - yes, it DOES take a little bit of effort by today's movie fans to place themselves back into time, as far as 1916; but once you get into the spirit, it's REALLY worth to 'live' those days, before the War, before Prohibition, before Censorship... And as for 'Whitey', the African American who's the only one from the company who's stayed in Paragonia, and with whom Doug of course becomes friends immediately ('We Americans have got to stick together', he says - a very early example where race in a Hollywood movie was of NO importance at all!); yes, he's played by a white man appearing in black-face - but that wasn't regarded as anything offensive by the black population either: anyway, didn't Swedes play Chinese later on, for example, and Austrians Japanese? And another fact is that Native American Charles Stevens, one of Doug's best friends in real life, plays quite a vital role here: that of distinguished 'General Gargaras', whom Juana is to marry by force after orders from the mean Minister of War...

So this isn't only an unusual film in MANY ways, but it also provides GREAT entertainment throughout, with a clever plot, first-class directing and photography - and of course, marvelous performances by all involved! And it finds a perfect balance between political drama and romantic comedy; a RARE jewel indeed...

The Man from Painted Post

Doug Fairbanks, the Western hero
Because of the HUGE fame Douglas Fairbanks achieved a few years later as the initiator and first and best hero of the great swashbuckler genre, it's often being overlooked that, during the first years of his movie career, his specialty were comedies and westerns - or a mixture of both (like "Wild and Woolly")... Now, "The Man from Painted Post" is generally a serious western (although, of course, Doug can't resist throwing in a joke once in a while, nor romancing with pretty Eileen Percy, nor showing his terrific athletic skills...); and it shows us, first that Doug Fairbanks also played quite an important role in the development of the archetypal western movie hero, and then it depicts the West in a more 'genuine' way than the famous later talkie westerns of the 'classic' era, because it was made at a time when the days of the REAL 'Wild West' hadn't passed for so long yet...

And its subject is one of those that REALLY had been one of the most important ones for the cattle owners of the Old West: the problem of the cattle thieves. It's set in Wyoming, where the local cattle owners call on the help of a renowned detective, because their stock is constantly being reduced by 'rustlers'; and the detective, 'Fancy Jim Sherwood', the man from Painted Post, is of course Doug Fairbanks! But in order to be able to get to the bottom of things more easily, he disguises himself as an unexperienced Easterner - because none of the cowboys take him seriously, of course, when he arrives in a coach, dressed in a city suit and 'armed' with a set of golf clubs... He pretends he can neither ride nor shoot, and the thieves laugh up their sleeves - until 'Fancy Jim' shows his REAL self...

The patterns in this early western are still pretty simple: the good, brave hero, the frightened heroine he's got to rescue - and a REAL bad 'baddie' that's so mean that he mistreats his squaw (who 'doesn't count anyway', as he assures the pretty young teacher he's after) as well as his child; but of course, our hero is gonna fix him and get the girl in the end! A simple 'recipe' alright, but no wonder, since the genre at that time was just a little more than 10 years old - and besides that, we can find that very same 'recipe' in innumerable western movies throughout ALL later film eras... So this early example certainly is of BIG interest for fans of the genre; and, needless to say, for fans of Douglas Fairbanks!

American Aristocracy

The US business 'aristicracy' - and a 'bug-hunter'!
First, this wonderful old comedy 'introduces' us to the high-nosed, gossiping and bored 'high society' of early 20th century businessmen and their wives, who've got nothing to do but counting their money and boasting with their inventions - like 'hatpin king' Hicks, who invented the 'hatpin with the hump'; an enormous achievement for mankind, of course... While his daughter Geraldine isn't only bored by her life, but also looking for a REAL man; because guys like Percy, the malted milk big shot who is after her, in fact are nothing else but lazy braggarts.

And THEN, of course, we meet the TOTAL contrast to all this dullness: our hero Doug Fairbanks alias Cassius Lee, an entomologist (or just plain bug-hunter), who runs carefreely and cheerfully through the fields, jumps fences and climbs trees in search for some rare insect - and as fate would have it, Geraldine and her friends happen to pass him by in their car; and she'd announced to them earlier that she was SO bored that she'd kiss the first man she'll see... Which she does - and Cassius, completely perplexed, has been bitten by the love-bug! But what chance is there for a 'simple' scientist to get into the 'American Aristocracy'? He isn't even admitted to the big seaside hotel dance without an invitation... He gets in, though, by his usual way of climbing walls - but is shown very soon very clearly that he's an 'unwanted person' in those circles; although Geraldine remembers him and seems to develop quite a liking for him... And he also makes the acquaintance of Percy, who, being rejected constantly by Geraldine because he never DOES anything but making money, believes that he can use this dashing, athletic, fearless young fellow as a 'double' to show the girl what a 'great' sportsman he is. And Cassius, in urgent need of money, accepts willingly - but he soon finds out that Percy has got a dark secret...

This wonderfully light comedy was a perfect vehicle back in 1916 for the rising star Doug Fairbanks, and of course his hilarious antics amuse and impress us just the same today; but it's also a movie of almost historical interest: we get a VERY good glimpse into the world of haughty pre-WWI business big shots: the "American Aristocracy"!

Wild and Woolly

Doug wants to become a Western hero!
The wonderful opening scene of "Wild and Woolly" already tells us just about EVERYTHING about our hero: like a little boy, he's sitting in his room on the floor in front of a tipi, with a camp-fire burning next to him, and devouring a Western novel; then he gets up to admire the picture of his cowboy heroes and his collection of guns, and to jump onto a real saddle and practice shooting, and then play with his lasso - but then... his father's butler enters to inform him that he's got to leave for the office... Oh, but HOW much does Jeff, the son of a New York railroad magnate (JUST the kind of businessmen who have 'tamed' the West with their 'fire horses') long to be a TRUE Westerner!

But one day, he finally DOES get the chance to see the West: his father sends him to the little town of Bitter Creek, Arizona, to see if it's worth connecting it to the railway line! There's only one problem: the West of 1917, of course, isn't the 'good old Wild West' of the 80s anymore that Jeff dreams of... But, knowing of Jeff's big foible, the inhabitants of the sleepy hollow make their preparations for his arrival: they turn the hotel into an old-fashioned saloon, dress up like cowboys and Western girls, and even stage some 'tough' incidents for him to intervene and 'save' pretty young Nell from drunken 'baddies', and (after having replaced all the bullets with fake ones) later on even plan a fake 'hold-up' - and Jeff sure gets the thrill of his life! But since, unknown to the peaceful townsfolk, there also are REAL baddies in town, the plot suddenly takes a QUITE different turn...

Before achieving his world-wide fame with his great swashbucklers, Douglas Fairbanks had already become a much-loved star of comedies and westerns (a fact which, regrettably, is very often being overlooked today, and many of his early films have almost sunken into oblivion) - but he certainly was at his VERY best in a combination of both; just the kind of movies like "Wild and Woolly"! Here, our handsome young hero, romantic, bubbly, temperamental and athletic, is most DEFINITELY in his element when he can finally prove that he's a real 'Westerner' (in fact, Doug WAS a real Westerner, of course: he was born in Denver, Colorado, and in the days when the West still WAS somewhat wild; but he'd also spent quite some years in New York, playing on Broadway), and as always show us his marvelous acrobatic tricks - note HIS way of getting into his room on the second floor, with all the stairs being blocked by the gangsters...

The cast is wonderful, with lovely Eileen Percy (who was quite a star in those days, but today unfortunately is one of those many 'forgotten' names...), and the two 'usual suspects', Sam De Grasse and Charles Stevens (Doug's friend, a Native American and great-grandson of the famous Chief Geronimo) as the baddies; storyline and direction are superb, the pace is fast and keeps us entertained, amused and in suspense for EVERY single moment - in short: "Wild and Woolly" is one of those films that NEVER lose their freshness! And it'll thrill even 'newbies' to the silent cinema, it's great entertainment for the whole family; and besides that, it might be VERY interesting for fans of the Western genre to have a look for once at the way Westerns were long BEFORE the 'classic' Western era...

A Woman

Charlie can be simply EVERYTHING - even a lovely girl!
Well, well, well, Charlie becomes a gal... And this is the third time that we get to see him in drag (after "A Busy Day" and "The Masquerader") - but in "A Woman" he REALLY brings this role to perfection! And not only that: this short is so FULLY packed with hilarious gags that you simply can't stop laughing all the time...

It all starts like so many of his Keystone films: the little tramp takes a walk in the park and meets a pretty young girl, who's already 'occupied' with a gentleman, though, whom she blindfolds to play 'hide and seek' with him after he's knocked Charlie out. Well, such a thing demands revenge, of course, and so Charlie leads him with his cane around his neck to the lake - and pushes him in! But while the enraged 'gentleman' is trying to recover, Charlie gets friendly with his wife and daughter (Edna Purviance), whom the old philanderer had simply left sleeping on a bench, and they take him home with them, have tea together and get even more friendly - until Father comes home, and as soon as he recognizes the impudent little guy who pushed him into the lake, he starts chasing him, and the only way for Charlie is upstairs; and the only way out for him is to wear one of Edna's dresses, to shave his mustache, and to turn into a charming young lady... who immediately awakes Father's interest...!

The whole cast is simply wonderful throughout the whole film; and especially Charlie, of course - who really makes a most LOVELY 'girl'! Without his mustache, with a little bit of makeup, and playing it 'shy' in the most amusing way, he tricks and fools Father and his equally lecherous friend even into kissing each other!! Constant laughs are guaranteed in this outrageous and for its time quite daring picture; one of the most WONDERFUL examples of Keystone nostalgia, and great family entertainment even today, exactly 100 years later!

Easy Street

'Easy Street' - what a misleading name...
Of all the 12 two-reelers that Charlie Chaplin made for Mutual Films, "Easy Street" remains the probably most famous one until today, because of its artistic value, its strong social message, and the charming humor that, as always, lightens up his movies, even if they occupy themselves with such serious subjects as here. It's also been accused by some as being 'over-sentimental', though - alright then, call it that if you like; if you've always lived in a nice, secure, warm home with a loving family, a thorough education and a good job; unlike Charlie, who had lived EXACTLY the slum conditions he depicts here from his earliest childhood on...

We find the little tramp, lonely, cold and hungry, outside a mission; he steps in, follows the service - and is just about to leave with the collection box when he's literally being reformed by the pretty mission worker Edna; he gives back the money, hanging his head in shame, and starts wandering the streets again - when he passes by a police station where a big sign says: 'Policeman wanted at once'... And so he makes his decision: for once, he becomes a cop; what an unusual picture of our little tramp! Anyway, he's told that his beat is 'Easy Street' - BUT it's not at ALL an easy beat, because it's one of the worst slum streets, dominated by the big bad bully Eric Campbell, whose favorite hobby seems to be to make mincemeat out of every policeman that comes near him!

So, as soon as he meets the huge muscle-man, he understands that he hasn't got the ghost of a chance to beat him in any way - EXCEPT by using his brains: he applies the famous trick with the old-fashioned gas street lamp, which he pulls over the bully's head, sending him to sleep and to jail. And now HE is the hero on Easy Street! But of course, in a slum quarter like this, there are endless problems for the good-hearted young cop: starving women, hungry orphans, drug addicts... And since Edna also works for the mission there, they meet again, and he helps her relieving the pain and the poverty of the people - until the Bully escapes from jail, hungry for revenge...

This UNIQUE movie is perhaps the VERY best example of a tragicomic short film ever made: classical slapstick chase scenes almost intertwine with moments of despair, crime, violence - life in the raw, mercilessly realistic and yet at the same time bearing hope and a vision for a better world. THIS is Charlie's message, and it's JUST as current today as it was in 1917...

The Cure

Reminiscences of Charlie's Vaudeville days...
In "The Cure", one of those 12 marvelous shorts he made during his time at Mutual Films, Charlie Chaplin turns away for once again from his 'little tramp' image that had already become his 'trademark', and returns to a role he'd played LOTS of times back in England in his theater days: that of the wealthy drunkard. And of course, not only his great experience in this field, but also all the HILARIOUSLY funny ideas he fits into those two reels of sheer, GREAT comedy, provides today's audience with JUST the same amount of laughter as it did 100 years ago - Chaplin's films NEVER 'age'...

So our tipsy 'gentleman' arrives at the sanitarium, where he's supposed to get used to drinking water instead of whiskey; he makes us ROAR with laughter with the unbelievable things he does with the revolving entrance door, he flirts with Edna Purviance, just like huge Eric Campbell does (and for a short while, Charlie actually thinks it's HIM who's Campbell's love interest!), turns the massage by Henry Bergman into a wrestling match... While at the same time, the porter starts emptying the liquor bottles Charlie's brought along with him just in case - but that's not all: he throws the remainders of the bottles out of the window right into the sanitarium's water well...

In short: "The Cure" is certainly one of the VERY best silent comedy shorts; and so it's not only a REAL treat for Chaplin fans, but also an IDEAL way for today's audiences, both grown-ups and kids, to discover the magic world of silent movies!

The Adventurer

WHAT an adventure - Charlie's funniest 'Mutual' comedy
Whereas the other eleven shorts Charlie Chaplin made for Mutual Films, having for the first time full artistic freedom to develop his VERY own style, all had some serious or even tragic elements in them, this last one of them (and the biggest box-office success) gives us just plain, simple comedy that reminds us of his beginnings at the Keystone Studios - only with more wit and artistic ambition; and with quite an unusual protagonist, too: Charlie (who usually wasn't on the best of terms with the police in his movies, anyway) is a convict here who, just with the beginning of that wonderful 25-minute short story, escapes from prison in the most hilarious way! (He'd do the same thing 6 years later in "The Pilgrim", but in a different style that time...)

So we see him running and hiding from the cops with his usual, inimitable movements; only not in his 'tramp' apparel this time, but in prisoner's clothes... We see a whole bunch of policemen hunting him, shooting at him, and yet ending up rolling down hills or being tricked out by the little fellow in some other way! And then - something entirely different happens: down at the beach, where he's finally found rescue, he's got to save a mother, daughter and her fiancée from drowning; and the thankful family, of course, take him to their home and dress him like a real gentleman!

And of course, our hero develops tender emotions very soon for the lovely daughter (a blonde Edna Purviance this time) and vice versa, while he and the big fat fiancée (Charlie's friend Eric Campbell at his best once again) pick on each other with every opportunity - until the jealous suitor sees Charlie's 'WANTED' picture in a newspaper... Well, from that moment on, of course, the chase continues!

So, for all those who keep accusing Charlie Chaplin of being 'too much of a sentimentalist': they should SURELY watch "The Adventurer", to see that Charlie could also be just plain funny - and INGENIOUSLY funny, for that matter! Even after almost 100 years, this wonderfully crazy, fast-paced short FULL of unbelievable ideas still looks as fresh and entertaining as the day it first reached the movie theaters!

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