Friday, 31 May 2013

Episode-by-Episode: Triangle at Rhodes



The short story 'Triangle at Rhodes' was first published in 1936 and formed the sixth episode of the first series of Poirot in 1989. The episode was directed by Renny Rye and adapted by Stephen Wakelam in his only Poirot outing.

Script versus short story
Quite a lot of the scenes in the short story have been restructured, that is to say some of them appear in a different order from the source material, particularly towards the middle of the episode. However, the adaptation stays very closely to the short story, and almost all the lines are kept intact. Some references are expanded, such as the arrival of the two couples on the ferry, a fact merely stated by Douglas Gold in the short story. One character is deleted, namely Sarah Blake. Instead, Pamela Lyall gets most of her lines and takes a leading role in the 'investigation' (much like other women Poirot takes under his wing in future adaptations, e.g. Jane Grey in Death in the Clouds). She also gets to point out the triangle shape, a task assigned to Poirot in the short story. A major addition to the story is a subplot concerning Major Barnes (General Barnes in the short story), somewhat reminiscent of Evil Under the Sun, a novel very similar to this short story. He is a secret agent keeping an eye on the Italians in the face of the Abyssinia crisis (we also see Blackshirts throughout the episode). Moreover, there's the added Catholicism of Douglas Gold - which is probably intended to explain why he is not the murderer. Also, Poirot's escape for peace and quiet on a mountain top (in the short story) here becomes an excursion, much in the same way as in the adaptation of Appointment with Death. Finally, Poirot intends to leave the island in this adaptation (probably to keep him away from the actual murder and enable the insecurity about the poison bottle) and gets mixed up with the police (reminds me somewhat of the exciting scene in the adaptation of Yellow Iris!). For anyone who claims Poirot is never angry - take a close look at this scene.The ending of the adaptation is quite different to its source, with Poirot and Pamela tracking down the poison used for the murder (with the help of the forensic officer, a "friend" of Major Barnes)- and then an extravagant chase scene with two fishing boats (I do understand that they need to fill out the episode, and they to add some excitement, but particularly in future episodes, these the-villains-try-to-escape scenes are actually quite annoying...).



 (I think it's necessary to emphasise that the introduction of the Abyssinia conflict is actually somewhat in keeping with the source material. In the story, the men discuss "this Palestine business' at the bar, so to change that into 'this Abyssinia business' isn't too far off the wall. Also, the story was published in 1936, so to focus on an event from 1934-5 would also be quite accurate).

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
This really is such a visually stunning episode. It's also the first episode to feature Poirot in an exotic location, and director Renny Rye utilises the location to its fullest potential. Scriptwriter Wakelam adds an opening scene outside the by now easily recognisable London home (in bleak autumn weather), which serves as the perfect contrast to the Mediterranean scenes that follow (in an added scene from the city market). Rye captures so many beautiful shots it's impossible to mention them all. I'll focus on the mountain top with the small church (capturing the magnificent view) and a wonderful image of Lyall, Mrs. Chantry and Mrs. Gold next to a temple at sunset - almost resembling Greek goddesses. An excellent use of the location.I don't know if it's been filmed at Rhodes (as I haven't been there), but it certainly looks authentic. I also like the police station, a very 1930s building. In terms of soundtrack, this really is one of the scores I would die to have on one of Gunning's releases. The version of the theme tune is lovely and it brings so much atmosphere to the story!

Actors and characters
A few bits on Poirot first. This is the only episode before Taken at the Flood in Series Ten that we are told (or, rather, shown) that Poirot is a bon catholique; he makes the sign of the cross after Mr. Gold and even explains to him later that 'your faith will be of great consolation to you'. This isn't completely off the mark from the story. In fact, Poirot mentions the bon Dieu to himself while on the mountain top (in the short story). Also, there's a small scene in which we see him tie his bow tie (fun fact: Suchet mentioned in Poirot & Me that he used to get tip off Americans from teaching them how to do their bow ties when he was a young and struggling actor!) and a small scene in which Poirot instructs a maid in how to pack his cases properly. Both instances excellently capture the personality from the stories.

Now, on to the guest actors. Frances Low is great as Pamela Lyall and a perfect "Hastings substitute" for the episode. Also, there's Angela Down as Marjorie Gold, who should manage to fool first-time-viewers into believing in the wrong triangle.

14 comments:

  1. I just watched this again via Amazon Prime. I have hearing problems, and I couldn't get subtitles so I had a hard time following some of this (it's been eons since I read it). What was Gold gawking at in the beginning? He seemed to be contributing to the scenario. I feel like I missed something.

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  2. I have always felt there was a weakness to the plot twist: while the two murderers could "act" in the sense of pretending to feeling jealous, they could not totally fake Valentine and Douglas's friendliness toward each other. Some of the signs that Douglas liked Valentine were really his doing.

    Pamela Lyle of this version is quite the Hercule Poirot groupie, isn't she? I suppose she is somewhat like that in the source material, at least, interested in the case, but there is a fan-girl-ish-ness here I didn't get from the original. You begin to realize that Poirot has that effect on many women.

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    1. "Some of the signs that Douglas liked Valentine were really his doing."

      And she encourages him too. In fact, the incident on the beach looks like she's deliberately trying to make her husband jealous.

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  3. "A major addition to the story is a subplot concerning Major Barnes (General Barnes in the short story), somewhat reminiscent of Evil Under the Sun, a novel very similar to this short story."

    I've always felt this counts as one of the stories that were later expanded into longer stories or novels (eg Plymouth Express/Blue Train), as the misleading love triangle and holiday setting surely provided the basis for Evil Under the Sun. Perhaps the production team thought the same and that's why the Barnes subplot was added to the adaptation.

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    1. There are also similarities to Death on the Nile, particularly when Poirot warns Marjorie to do home before it's too late.

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  4. Does Poirot really imply Blackshirts ie fascists aren't all that bad?

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  5. Why is Barnes chasing around after Pamela at the start? It's quickly forgotten about.

    And just why is Poirot suspected of being a spy? The customs official barely glances at him before detaining him, and doesn't even look at his passport.

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  6. "Moreover, there's the added Catholicism of Douglas Gold - which is probably intended to explain why he is not the murderer."

    I've always thought the implication is that, while Douglas might easily have been able to get a divorce, Marjorie wouldn't have, thus increasing the motive for murder (lifted directly from Lord Edgeware Dies), hence the various conversations about divorce earlier.

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  7. Good evening,

    I can confirm it has been shot in rhodes Island as i went there to find filming locations, little detail the musical theme which can be heard in the film is a Lalo schiffrin theme composed for the film "escape to athena" which was also chot in Rhodes Island (with David Niven, Telly Savalas, Roger Moore and many others..)

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  8. these the-villains-try-to-escape scenes are actually quite annoying...


    They certainly are . . . especially in productions like "THE A.B.C. MURDERS", "HICKORY DICKORY DOCK" and "THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN".

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  9. I've been to Rhodes, so I can say this looks a lot like Rhodes -- it may not have been but it sure looks a lot like it. I also speak a bit of Greek and I can confirm that in the scene with the old yaya (grandma) and the young girl who discuss the poison, they really are speaking fairly well pronounced Greek. The version I have has no English subtitles in that scene, so I don't know if they were originally there. I'll tell you what I understood. First, the girl says to Poirot, "oxi, perimenete" which just means "no, wait" (it sounds politer in Greek). "Ya-ya" means grandma. When the old woman touches Pamela's face, the young girl says "min fovasse," which means "don't be scared." Pamela says "kali spera" (good afternoon) very carefully, consistent with her character, and the old woman says "kalos ____" (good something, it sounds like a greeting but I didn't catch it). The old woman, in answer to the young girl's question, says, "Such a beautiful woman, miss. Why? It's not good. No. No." Pamela says "prin dio emeras," meaning "two days ago." The word "kapion" (someone) gets repeated a lot. The old woman says, "afti i gynaika," which means "this woman." Then when the discussion of the poison comes up, the old woman says just what we're told she's saying -- "not English men, it was one English woman." Throughout the episode, Poirot is pronouncing "efharisto" (thank you) fairly poorly, but it's consistent with his character to not pronounce it well. I imagine that Suchet would have been able to pronounce it very well if he had wanted to! Also, all the people who say "den xero" (I don't know) during the search pronounce it pretty well.

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    1. Thats great LGP. Often wondered what they were saying!

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  10. This is one of Christie's better plots as it hangs together without the logic errors she so often has. There is a lot of misdirection, for instance, no hint at all that Marjorie and Cmdr. Chantry are even acquainted. At about 23 minutes we hear Marjorie telling Pamela that Douglas wants a divorce. You are supposed to have noticed his Catholicism and know that he would NOT have gone for divorce. Poirot explains that in his disjointed revelations to Pamela. This episode is odd in that there is no summing up scene.

    Did you notice that when the passports were stolen the concierge says Marjorie was frightened by an insect and Poirot sort of rolls his eyes at Pamela? Of course, Marjorie wasn't frightened of the poisonous snake, so she wouldn't have been frightened by a bug.

    The Italian/spies subplot is good. I never caught any commentary of any kind about the black shirts on the part of the tourists. Having Poirot detained as a spy is a ridiculous addition.

    The filming locations were spectacular. The merging of two characters into Pamela Lyall was well done. The character is delightful; I actually know/have known women with just that zest for life and zest for gossip, down to the grins!

    I am grateful to the poster for translating the Greek. It's too bad that the films never captioned the non-English passages in any of the films.

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I'm a passionate fan of Poirot, Agatha Christie and the ITV series. If you have any questions, comments, suggestions or requests, please e-mail me at poirotchronology@gmail.com, post a comment on one of my blogs, or get in touch on Twitter @pchronology. (I used to call myself HickoryDickory)