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  Alphabet Murders, The The Labours Of HerculesBuy this film here.
Year: 1965
Director: Frank Tashlin
Stars: Tony Randall, Anita Ekberg, Robert Morley, Maurice Denham, Guy Rolfe, Sheila Allen, James Villiers, Julian Glover, Grazina Frame, Clive Morton, Cyril Luckham, Richard Wattis, David Lodge, Patrick Newell, Austin Trevor, Windsor Davies, Margaret Rutherford
Genre: Comedy, Thriller
Rating:  4 (from 2 votes)
Review: Here is Tony Randall to tell us that he is taking on a fresh challenge, the role of Agatha Christie's famous detective Hercules Poirot. We next see him in his guise as the Belgian, informing us there is no point in following him because he is not in London to investigate crimes, yet someone might have other ideas about that as nearby a clown is visiting a swimming pool and while he is practising his diving while drunk, an assassin shoots him with a poison dart as he stands on the highest board. Meanwhile, Hercules feels as if he is being pursued, and when he goes to a health club to unwind, he has to face two eccentric characters...

Unlike with Sherlock Holmes, there are few who think anyone other than David Suchet is the best Hercules Poirot, and for those that have seen this film, Randall is usually considered the worst. The main sticking point is the approach, which was strictly playing for laughs, and while Poirot could be viewed as a figure of fun with his idiosyncrasies, he was always deadly serious about his job. Here the detective is far more frivolous, with a whimsical Randall chasing the killer around London as if this were a comic romp instead of an adaptation of one of Christie's most celebrated novels, and for many that is unforgivable.

It was certainly a curious choice for director Frank Tashlin, as for a start it was in black and white so his cartoon colours were noticeably lacking. Despite that, his sense of irreverent humour is well to the fore, and if you take this version as more of a spoof than anything with any gravity at all, then you'll likely get on with it far better. Surely Dame Agatha's original made more sense in its execution than this movie, which flits from scene to scene without much care for logic, and in the end plumps for the suspect we thought it was all along rather than go for the big shock reveal that might have offered viewers a surprise.

As it is, the only surprise comes in the rendering of the protagonist, with Randall more like one of Tashlin's cartoon characters: you can envisage Daffy Duck in this same plot with very little tweaking. And as Randall's Porky Pig sidekick, step forward Robert Morley as Hastings, a man from the ministry (some ministry or other, anyway) who has been assigned to ensure that Poirot is kept safe during his stay in London. This is made all the more difficult when Hercules insists on dumping him and the police at every opportunity to follow his latest lead, leaving Hastings looking increasingly dishevelled as he fails to spruce up during his pursuit (how strange to see Morley with a five o'clock shadow).

There has to be a mystery woman, and she is played by Anita Ekberg, ideal for this director's movies if not for Agatha Christie stories. She is introduced trying to strangle Poirot while he is in the health club and awaiting his massage, telling him she must speak to him but she feels the urge to kill someone too. This woman frankly makes no sense as a personailty, and jumps up at irregular intervals to muddy the waters of the investigation, which the Belgian realises is taking the form of killing people whose initials correspond with letters of the alphabet: A.A. for the clown, B.B. for the next victim, and so forth. He gets caught up in the machinations of a wealthy English family, but it's clear all involved were more interested in the gags, one of which includes a cameo from Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple (her expression is priceless), suggesting a series was being considered with Randall's Poirot. Understandably, that never happened. Music by Ron Goodwin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Frank Tashlin  (1913 - 1972)

American director whose films were heavily influenced by his years spent working in cartoons. In his 20s and 30s, Tashlin worked at both Disney and Warner Brothers in their animation studios, before moving into comedy scriptwriting in the late 1940s, on films like Bob Hope's The Paleface. Tashlin moved into directing popular live-action comedies soon after, with Hope in Son of Paleface, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in Artists and Models and Hollywood or Bust, and most notably Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? These films were full of inventive, sometimes surreal touches, and used many of the techniques Tashlin had learnt as an animator. Continued to work during the sixties, but without the success of the previous decade.

 
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