By Alice Maltin | Leonard Maltin November 28, 2011 at 1:00AM
Guest column by Alice Maltin
I love a good mystery and this DVD set includes a number of stories I’ve never seen. While we are all familiar with the adventures of Agatha Christie’s famous crime-solving characters, Miss Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot, the real “find” here is Tommy & Tuppence, Partners In Crime. The series, first seen in the early 1980s, is based on short stories in Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime novels.
Tommy & Tuppence: The Affair of the Pink Necklace. It is the 1920s and the delightful young newlyweds, Tommy Beresford and Tuppence Cowley (James Warwick and Francesca Annis), in need of work, open a London detective agency and receive on-the-job training. As they set about to find a missing gem, the plot thickens and threatens to end the partnership, though not in a nice way. There is romance, typically English dry humor and enough story threads to keep you watching until the 53 minutes has played out.
In The Secret Adversary, included in this package, Tommy and Tuppence are introduced to us and we learn how the two stumble on to a mystery that leads them to the detecting profession. I really think you’ll like these two and will want to see more.
Poirot: The Mysterious Affair at Styles is an excellent addition to this long-running series that’s always fun to watch. Of course, the setting is an English estate where a murder has occurred. There are many red herrings but only that famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot (masterfully played by David Suchet) can solve the crime.
Miss Marple: The Body in the Library. If Miss Marple (Geraldine McEwan) of St. Marysmead’s is around, so is murder. She quietly, but persistently, stays on the case of the murdered young woman whose body was found in the library. Did the killing take place in the library or did someone put the corpse there? To find out you need this collection from Acorn.
The Pale Horse – A Tale of Black Magic and Blacker Motives. Behold this pale horse for murder and death will follow him. Here the Pale Horse is an old coaching inn that, now, is home to three witches, or so it seems. Our hero is a young sculptor (Colin Buchanan) who must prove his innocence when accused of murder. (What would you expect from Agatha Christie?) Young Colin is handsome but the real treat for me is watching some wonderful character actors like Jean Marsh, who is beloved for co-creating and starring in Upstairs/Downstairs, and Leslie Phillips, who I first saw in the Carry On films decades ago and hasn’t stopped working since (he did the voice of The Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter series). The biggest surprise for me was the young, ambitious police sergeant, who turns out to be Andy Serkis, several years before he morphed into Smeagol/Gollum in Peter Jackson’s trilogy, Lord of the Rings. In any medium, this guy is interesting to watch; he brings a natural quirkiness to the part.
This isn’t my favorite Christie but it’s still worth spending an evening with two young lovers, three nasty witches, assorted miscreants and the British constabulary doing its best to find the real killers.
I have been spending several weeks now with Robbie Coltrane, whose portrayal of a forensic psychologist is positively addictive. He’s brilliant, arrogant and funny all at the same time. You want to shake him because all his smarts and understanding of human nature don’t spill over into his personal life, which is a mess. He’s not unlike our Dr. House except he’s married and can’t help being unfaithful. His wife is a good woman who is raising two children; she tries to keep it all together despite his gambling, drinking and wisecracking his way through any given situation. With all this, he manages to comprehend the thinking and motives of murderers far better than the Manchester police, which is why they reluctantly hire him for so many cases. The detectives are shown as human beings who are also fighting personal demons; some are lousy cops and should have chosen another profession.
This series was so popular in the UK it spawned two made for TV movies, both included here, and even inspired an American made version which lasted for two seasons.
I should mention that I watched this DVD set while pedaling on my recumbent stationary bike. When you find a series such as this, it’s like reading a good book that you can’t put down. As a result, I’m enjoying the ride and getting healthy at the same time.
Although the Granada-produced Cracker was shown on the A&E Network and BBC America, I never caught up with it until now. I feel lucky to have discovered it on DVD. Thank you, Acorn.