Saturday, March 17, 2018

"THIRTEEN AT DINNER" (1985) Review

"THIRTEEN AT DINNER" (1985) Review

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Peter Ustinov starred in theatrical adaptations of two Agatha Christie novels that featured her Belgian protagonist, detective Hercule Poirot. Three years after the second film, CBS Television hired him to star in three television movies featuring the Poirot character. The first one was the second adaptation of Christie's 1933 novel, "Lord Edgeware Dies"

Actually, the 1933 novel was published in the United States under a different title. And the 1985 television adaptation aired on CBS under that second title as "THIRTEEN AT DINNER". After appearing as a guest on a television talk show, Belgian-born detective Hercule Poirot is recruited by a famous American actress named Jane Wilkinson to convince her estranged husband, Lord Edgeware, to give her a divorce, for she has plans to marry the Duke of Merton. To Poirot's surprise, Lord Edgeware informs the former that he had already agreed to end his marriage to the American-born actress in a letter. However, Jane denies ever receiving it. The following evening, Lord Edgeware is murdered at his home. Scotland Yard's Chief Inspector Japp immediately suspects Jane of the murder. However, both Poirot and Japp discovers that the actress had attended a dinner party held by Sir Montague Corner on the night of the murder. This leaves Poirot, his friend Arthur Hastings and Japp to discover who had a reason to kill Lord Edgeware . . . or frame Jane Wilkinson for murder.

"THIRTEEN AT DINNER" was the first adaptation of Christie's 1933 novel that I had ever seen. However, I had also seen the 2000 adaptation from ITV's "AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT" and wrote a review of it. If I must be honest, I found the 2000 television movie mildly enjoyable, but unremarkable. And if I must be honest, I could say the same about this adaptation. Considering that this adaptation was set during the time it was made - namely the mid-1980s. There were a few updates in the story to adhere to its late 20th century setting - which included making both Jane Wilkinson and a fellow actor, Bryan Martin, movie actors. Otherwise, Rod Browning's teleplay more or less followed Christie's novel.

What I disliked about "THIRTEEN AT DINNER"? I had one major problem. Thanks to Rod Browning's screenplay, I found it rather easy to guess who was killer after the third victim, another actor named Donald Ross, was murdered. One would have to be an idiot not to figure it out. What I liked about "THIRTEEN AT DINNER"? Well . . . despite the new time setting, the movie managed to be more or less faithful to Christie's novel. I found some of the humor rather sharp, especially between Poirot and Hastings. I rather liked John Addison's theme for Poirot. I found it rather quirky and easy to remember. More importantly, I thought the characterizations featured in the film rather strong. And the film's photography remained rather sharp after thirty-two years, thanks to Curtis Clark.

What I liked best about "THIRTEEN AT DINNER" were the performances. I really enjoyed Peter Ustinov's portrayal of Hercule Poirot in this film. His Poirot seemed more witty and sharp-tongued than he was in movies like "DEATH ON THE NILE" and "EVIL UNDER THE SUN". Although Jonathan Cecil looked like the typical English twit, his version of Arthur Hastings seemed a bit more clear-headed. And there were a few moments in which Cecil's Hastings briefly engaged in little witty repartees with Ustinov's Poirot. I rather enjoyed it. Faye Dunaway seemed to be enjoying herself in the dual roles of prime suspect Jane Wilkinson, Lady Edgeware and impersonator Carlotta Adams. I found her performance very charming and energetic. Either that or she was simply giving her usual 100% into the roles.

Although Lee Horsley has appeared in more prestigious movie and television productions, I have to admit that I found his role as action star Bryan Martin in this teleplay to be one of his most interesting and best performances. Superficially, Horsley portrayed the actor as an easy-going and charming star. But with subtle skill, Horsley conveyed Bryan Martin as an over-weening and vindictive egotist. Another interesting performance came from a much younger Bill Nighy, who portrayed Lord Edgeware's weak-willed heir, Ronald Marsh. I enjoyed Nighy's performance very much and found myself wishing that his role had been slightly bigger. David Suchet, who would begin a twenty-three year stint as Hercule Poirot in ITV's "AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT", portrayed none other than Chief Inspector Japp in this film. He gave a funny and sharp performance as Japp; and I found his interactions with Ustinov very entertaining. Suchet considered this performance as one of his worst. I do not agree. I suspect Ustinov felt the same, for he had suggested that Suchet should consider portraying Poirot in the future. "THIRTEEN AT DINNER" also featured solid performances from Amanda Pays, Diane Keen, Glyn Baker, John Barron, Geoffrey Rose, Pamela Salem; Benedict Taylor, whose portrayal of actor (he was a writer in Christie's novel) Donald Ross struck me as rather intelligent; and Allan Cuthbertson, who gave a very entertaining performance as the "friendly", yet competitive and egotistical Sir Montague Corner. 

I might a well be frank. I did not find the narrative for "THIRTEEN AT DINNER" particularly exceptional, but it was pretty solid. In fact, I could say the same about the 1933 novel and the 2000 television adaptation. What did strike me as exceptional was the cast. The movie did feature a very entertaining cast led by the always superb Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot and Faye Dunaway.

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