In GAD We Trust – Episode 27: The Impossible Crime on Screen [w’ Nick Cardillo]

Does In GAD We Trust have a hype train? If so, stoke the conductor, point the rails, wake up the boiler, and do other train things, because episode 27 is here and Nick Cardillo wants to talk about the impossible crime on screen.

Written down, the impossible crime — sometimes called the “miracle problem” when no crime had been committed but something at odds with the laws of nature and probability has occurred — has a rich a varied history of brilliant and complex examples that are thrilling to experience. On the screen…less so. So Nick wanted to examine this, and we did.

We also managed to veer around a few associated topics (the use of humour in the Henry Merrivale novels of John Dickson Carr, for one), and kept free of spoilers for everything discussed, so hopefully there’s something here for you if the seeing impossible done doesn’t fire your interest, you massive weirdo (I jest, I jest; I’m sure someone somewhere probably thinks you’re grand).

You can listen to the podcast on iTunes here, on Spotify here, or on Stitcher here, or by using the player below. 

Thanks go to Nick for his time — you can find his Kickstarter for The Improbable Casebook of Sherlock Holmes here — to Jonny Berliner for the music, and to you for your continued (or new — welcome!) interest in these episodes.

More podcast soon — stay safe.

34 thoughts on “In GAD We Trust – Episode 27: The Impossible Crime on Screen [w’ Nick Cardillo]

  1. Welcome to the podcast fold, Nick, and congratulations on your writing projects!

    A number of years ago, I was in New York and made my usual pilgrimage to the Drama Bookshop in midtown Manhattan. While I was there, the proprietor and a friend got into an interesting conversation about mystery plays (of the whodunnit, not the religious, variety!) The gist of this discussion was that there really weren’t a lot of that sort of mystery play out there because they didn’t translate well to audiences. Too much information to unpack, too many details that had nothing to do with emotions to remember. And that makes puzzle mysteries very difficult to make work onstage or in movies. Agatha Christie herself deeply simplified her books, making most of the adaptations, in my opinion, highly inferior to the books. Impossible crimes might be even harder to pull off because of the even more technical aspects of many of the solutions; somehow they make great reading but not always great drama. That might explain why there’s far too little Carr on screen.

    I have heard a few of the radio adaptations – definitely Till Death Do Us Part and He Who Whispers – and I have to say I was not crazy about them. Granted I believe they were among the shorter programs (some of them are in two parts), but they felt terribly rushed. That, and Donald Sinden’s voice personally grates on me! He’s not my aural image of Dr. Fell!

    I think television is a much better medium: series can take their time with a case; the modern mini-series is also very popular, as I recently wrote about here:

    PLOT-TWIST AND SHOUT, or All’s Well That Doesn’t End Well

    That’s why you guys stopped talking about movies very quickly and switched to Jonathan Creek et al. That, and your obvious shared embarrassment about getting The Maltese Falcon so very wrong!! It was William Iverson in The Detective in Film who listed the three films Nick mentioned as three of the best, and he made sure that we understood that TMF isn’t a standard puzzle mystery but is such a wonderful detective story (and that’s what his book was about) that it qualified here.

    Have fun discussing JC. I recently rewatched most of the series, also inspired by Aidan’s posts. I have to say it didn’t quite hold up for me this time around, mostly because too many episodes seemed grossly padded with comic subplots. But there were loads of clever ideas, some of them certainly borrowed from the great writers.

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    • I think you mean William K Everson 😁 … I got to meet him way back when in fact. Known as “William K” to his friends. That book is great fun but there are plenty of factual errors (like naming the wrong actors as starring in THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES for instance).

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      • Yes, I meant Everson, but you can’t go back and fix these things! Score another one against WordPress . . . I think one of the things I like about that book is that sure, he was a film scholar/historian, but when it came to Westerns and mysteries, he also comes off as a bit of a fanboy. His enthusiasm is apparent, and enthusiasm can breed errors. So I forgive him. I also don’t believe that getting the cast names wrong on TPLoSH disqualifies Everson from knowing what a great movie The Maltese Falcon is.

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        • Don’t think I mentioned FALCON, did I? 😁 I gave Jim a copy of the excellent 1931 version but I bet he hasn’t watched it yet. That’s the thing about Everson really, he was a film collector first and everything else second. I have several of his books, including the one on screwball comedies which is good fun. He helped people seek out old and obscure titles and was a really important figures. His opinions are more conventional than my own but that’s par for the course. But you do need a pinch of salt with him – he was first and foremost an enthusiast with all that that entails, good and bad. That’s all I meant.

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          • I love Everson’s books. They achieved the highest effect of serving as catalyst for my actively and fervently seeking out many films (and I just purchased his daughter Bambi’s Hammet-Chekhov mashup play, The Thin Man in The Cherry Orchard). But when (in Detective in Film) he writes of The Wakefield Case:

            “No little of the prevailing confusion can be traced to the fact that its scenario is written by a woman, based on an original story by a woman, so its total lack of logic must be accepted tolerantly.”

            I find him difficult to defend.

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  2. I enjoyed that episode immensely, as you could probably guess. Great job!

    I have a tendency to believe that impossible crime fiction IS well suited to the visual mediums… in the right hands, of course. And for the reasons you explored. That the motion picture can easily convey what is often difficult for the prose writer to get across is readily apparent. The locked door mechanism in the film The Kennel Murder Case (which is clearly communicated to the viewer in a matter of seconds) is pretty much exactly one of two parts— and the vastly more complex part at that— of the more brilliant (because of the combination of the devices) impossibility in one of Carr’s novels that takes several pages for him to convey. And it is precisely this mechanism that explains why this novel (in my opinion probably his very best) is thought of by some as too complicated and difficult to understand. I’ll admit it’s a bit difficult to understand as Carr explains it. But SHOWN, it would seem quite clear.

    I think that Renwick clearly demonstrated in episodes such as Black Canary, The Tailor’s Dummy, Satan’s Chimney, etc… that the moving picture is capable of conveying the complexity of a Carr-like plot. As for the atmospheric aspect, that’s no problem— that’s something movies have always done well (as has television, in more recent years… a lot of recent TV has been staggeringly impressive in its visuals and atmospherics). That Carr was never well-treated by either movies or television is one of the great sad ironies, particularly considering his apparent fascination with the cinema. The movie/TV adaptations I’ve seen (of the Colonel March stories, The Emperor’s Snuffbox, Cabin B-13, The Gentleman from Paris, The Burning Court) have all been ineptly handled in terms of their puzzle plotting elements. But I think this is largely a matter of luck; Christianna Brand got royal treatment the first time out with Green for Danger, and I don’t consider either The Emperor’s Snuffbox and Cabin B-13 any more difficult to cinematically convey than Green for Danger (though admittedly GFD was followed up by a pathetic adaptation of Death in High Heels, and I’ve recently pondered how difficult it would be to pull off a good adaptation of my beloved Death of Jezebel). Incidentally, I believe the “bland eye,” “blind eye” confusion for Colonel March was merely a theory that has been surmised, not a substantiated explanation

    Another irony I note is that Renwick is considered primarily a comedy writer. While I’m quite impressed with his puzzle plotting (sure, it’s just a regrouping of elements from Carr and Chesterton, but they’ve all just been rejuggling existing elements), I find his comedy not only crass but very mechanical (the “prick-ly gentleman” bit in “Coonskin Cap” is an example [of many, many] that readily comes to mind— not particularly crass, this one, but as artificial as any plot point on which an Ellery Queen dying clue is based). For some reason, such artificiality doesn’t bother quite as much with plotting— I don’t really mind, say, a plot twist based on confusing “Captain” with “Kaplan— but as a source of humorous misunderstanding and embarrassment, it’s too mechanical (at least for my tastes).

    I don’t think Kennel’s running time can be offered as an explanation for much. The film is a jam-packed 73 minutes, which isn’t all that much longer than most Jonathan Creek episodes (most in the first series were 59 minutes, in subsequent series 50 minutes). It’s primarily quite faithful to the source novel (William K. Everson says it follows it “to the letter” which I think is overstating the case, but it’s relatively close). As I think that Van Dine is as a rule a lot of talk with little payoff, I consider this film the best of all possible Philo Vance worlds: Van Dine’s plot (which I consider probably his best) with most of the useless erudition and other detail omitted. And filmed by the great Michael Curtiz, who probably didn’t understand the plot, but sure knew how to make a film fun to watch. The one major change in adaptation to film is to reveal the identity of the culprit after the explanation of all other aspects (a beautiful flashback sequence that never reveals the face of the culprit), which adds the power of a more last-minute “who” explanation, but also makes the culprit’s identity seem somewhat arbitrary. At any rate, it’s one of the great films of the genre— I agree with Everson there (incidentally, I don’t think the Code should be considered an influence either, as it wasn’t strictly enforced until the following year— although the Code had already been officially adopted, Kennel is regarded as a precode film).

    There admittedly hasn’t been a lot of representation of impossible crime onscreen (note that of all the adaptations of And Then There Were None, only the 2017 Japanese version has included its impossible crime element), but there have been a few others worthy of consideration:

    The Night Club Lady (1932) – based on a Thatcher Colt novel by Anthony Abbott. The impossible crime element is rather simple (and not particularly richly clued), but the film is fun and well-directed in a style that resembles Curtiz’s work on Kennel. A second Colt film, The Circus Queen Murder also sort of involves an impossible crime element, but the plot is so botched it’s difficult to tell.

    The Dragon Murder Case (1934) – another Philo Vance film, this one with a problem resembling that of Carr’s A Graveyard to Let, but with a solution (as usual for Van Dine) far less interesting. Film starts off very well, so I often put it on to go to sleep to….

    The Mandarin Mystery (1936) – If one doesn’t like Queen’s The Chinese Orange Mystery, one is bound to like this “adaptation” of it even less. I don’t think I even understand the puzzle let alone the solution

    The Westland Case (1937) – a workmanlike impossible crime story from a novel by Jonathan Latimer with a Hammetlike atmosphere (sort of halfway between Sam Spade and Nick Charles). The solution is far from jaw dropping, but solid stuff, and it’s nice to see actual clueing and payoff. Stylistically, the furthest thing from The Hollow Man.

    Miracles for Sale (1939) – Fairly horrendous adaptation of Rawson’s Death Feom a Top Hat. Carr wasn’t the only author mistreated by Hollywood.

    The Verdict (1946) – another true classic (IMO), and perhaps the only other true classic of the impossible crime story on film from Hollywood’s Golden Age (other than Kennel). An adaptation of Zangwill’s The Big Bow Mystery, it actually improves upon the original novel in terms of motivation, and even includes a sort of mini locked room lecture (there were two earlier film adaptations of this story, but I haven’t seen them).

    Other impossible TV series have included Banacek (George Peppard as a Polish proverb-spouting insurance investigator, solving primarily impossible thefts), Blacke’s Magic (another magician/impossible crime link up, starring Hal Linden and Harry Morgan), and then of course occasional episodes of Monk, Murder She Wrote, Ellery Queen, Sherlock, and several others (is the current Father Brown series ALL impossible crimes? I’m not sure).

    One final note on why impossible crimes are still so rare on TV— as the Suchet Poirot series has demonstrated, people have increasingly come to prize characterization over plot, PARTICULARLY on TV. The characters of Poirot, Hastings, Miss Lemmon, and Inspector Japp are overwhelmingly cited as the key points of appeal of POIROT— and, as fond as readers used to be of Poirot, Christie’s characters were not at the center of her success.

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    • I’m notoriously bad at sitting down and watching TV or movies these days — I watched The Silver Curtain in five parts, and it’s only about 23 minutes long — but I will admit an interest in Banacek. George Peppard had such a magnificently charming presence, and I’d not even heard of this show until about two years ago. I anticipate watching it in time for Nick’s 80th birthday in 67 years.

      as fond as readers used to be of Poirot, Christie’s characters were not at the center of her success.

      Yes, absolutely this. Character undoubtedly plays a part, and people will latch on to different parts of the books, but if Christie’s plot and misdirection weren’t up to snuff she wouldn’t be anything close to the name she is today (witness all the other authors who had great characters and have fallen by the wayside as evidence). And I think this is why I find these apparent changes in the adaptations so vexing. When the person/people bringing the story to the screen don’t understand why the source material is so popular, the very thing that makes it special will inevitably get tossed aside.

      This is why — possibly controversially — I maintain that someone cannot be an Agatha Christie fan purely on account of watching Poirot or similar (if I called myself a huge fan of Poirot and then told you I only ever remember seeing five minutes at the end of one episode, you’d think I was batty).

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  3. Very interesting episode, thanks!

    There were in fact quite a few impossible crime / locked room movies in the 30ies, for example, Murder on the Campus (1933), watchable here:
    https://archive.org/details/murder_on_the_campus

    I suspect John Dickson Carr got inspiration from a lot of mystery movies for his novels, for example: Secret of the Blue Room (1933), with a room that kills, like in Red Widow Murders. (The film was based on an earlier german film: Das Geheimnis des blauen Zimmers (1932)).
    https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0024538/
    https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0022929/

    There was a small impossible situation in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), where Hannibal Lecter manages to vanish from a crime scene..

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    • There are indeed plenty of examples of old locked room movies — I actually used The Secret of the Blue Room as an example when Dan and I gave a talk about impossible crimes at Bodies from the Library a couple of years ago — but they tend to be of the easy misdirection type that Nick mentions early on.

      Indeed, the recording session ended with a discussion about various examples of locked rooms in movies (Fracture, The Invisible Guest, etc) but I excised it from this episode since they’re all examples that are easy to see through on account of a very basic form of misdirection…and citing yet more cases to reinforce a point made an hour previously seemed redundant.

      Carr seems to me to be more influence by his literary forebears — Chesterton, Meade & Eustace, Collins, etc.) than any movies that might have come out contemporaneously. We’ll never know, but the traditions carried through in his writing just feel as if he’s read those influential authors, y’know?

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    • Yes, there are several other Golden Age films that featured impossible crimes, including Grief Street (1931), Take the Stand (1934), The Last Warning (1938), Charlie Chan in The Chinese Cat (1944)… I suppose even the intriguingly-titled but terribly disappointingly-plotted It Couldn’t Have Happened (But It Did) (1936) includes an impossibility somewhere in its muddled story. But I’d argue there are only two that feature the impossibility as a central element as well as being otherwise excellent films: The Kennel Murder Case and The Verdict ( I suppose The Night Club Lady is also an arguable inclusion).

      As for Secret of the Blue Room serving as an inspiration for Carr, it’s possible, but I doubt it. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if The Dragon Murder Case served as his inspiration for A Graveyard to Let, if only as an example of how NOT to explain the mystery. There’s a lot of talk on the internet these days proposing that The Invisible Host (and more likely its film version The Ninth Guest) inspired Christie’s And Then There Were None. I’ve pointed out that 1933 non-canonical Holmes film A Study in Scarlet has arguably as many connections to And Then There Were None… but I suspect that Christie had seen neither. A lot of these “innovations” are natural progressions of a genre constantly seeking new plot ideas.

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  4. You say people latch onto character as if it’s a bad thing, but if a movie (or TV show) doesn’t have compelling characters, it doesn’t resonate with an audience for long. I just saw Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. There was a lot of fighting. There were monsters. There was a mythical land that was called Tu La but could have been Wakanda or Krypton. What made that two+ hours enjoyable was the people in it playing the people they played.

    TV audiences prefer series to one off movies, and they like series characters. That’s why Poirot built up Hastings, Japp, and Miss Lemon’s roles: most of what they added to the series could be found in any sitcom or procedural series, namely, some comic subplots and reflection off the main character. None of these versions of the characters were particularly Christie’s versions. To be honest, I didn’t need them, but then when it comes to mysteries on film and TV, I’m not a typical audience member. Neither are you guys. Scott listed a series of “memorable” locked room mysteries but gave most of them tepid to negative reviews. There are good ones he didn’t list for want of space, but in the scheme of all things cinematic, they are few and far between. As JJ mentioned, most of the solutions are simple, and if they are adapted from fiction, they have been simplified. That is true for a ton of the Poirot episodes and all things Christie. Even the Joan Hickson Marples, perhaps the most faithful adaptations we’ve seen yet, cut corners in most cases. The multi-part adaptations of P.D. James’ Dalgliesh novels often added plot threads that let the characters be more physical than they are in the books. (Besides character, audiences like things to be physical rather than erudite.)

    And yeah, we probably all read Christie for the plot. At least, the first time. As a kid, I raced through these novels to find out whodunnit, to see if I was right, to see if she had PLAYED FAIR!!! I usually lost the game, to my great delight (although I didn’t understand it as delight at that age.) But I have read most of the Christies multiple times. Unless one has short-term memory issues, you can’t do that for the surprise. I read her again to study the mechanics, but also for her social commentary . . . and her characters. And I think that if you compare Christie’s characters to, say, honkaku characters or early Ellery Queen, Christie did a fantastic job giving us just enough we needed to 1) enjoy the characters, and 2) see how cleverly she threaded characterization into the fabric of her puzzle plot.

    That’s why when I watch and complain about so many of these adaptations, I don’t see myself so much a purist as a person confounded by the arbitrary ruination of a perfectly good Christie plot for the sake of the screenwriter’s ego and a need for – what? sensationalism? updating an old plot to the modern age? If a character change doesn’t hurt Christie’s brilliant plotting, I’m willing to give it a try. Five Little Pigs and the Marple episode The Body in the Library turned straight characters gay. In Pigs, that didn’t really bother me: Philip Blake is a sour, angry man in both book and film, and it all comes down to thwarted love. That he didn’t get Caroline in the book and Amyas in the film doesn’t change his motivations or character particularly, and the film version gives us an added wrinkle around Amyas’ character. He was a sensualist and grabbed pleasure and adulation where he could get it. It doesn’t change Caroline’s reactions or affect any other characterizations or plot mechanics. But this doesn’t work at all the same way in Library because the elements that make up the character in the book fall by the wayside when they become a gay killer. And don’t get me started on the adaptation of Cards on the Table, one of JJ’s favorite books. There nearly every character is distorted: straight made gay, good made bad, bad made good, and the weird subplot of turning Mrs. Lorrimer into Anne Meredith’s mother is so ludicrous – and the fools that know Christie only for the TV shows thinks she created this plot and these characters. No, in Christie, character matters, and if you study her – which is admittedly a different experience than people unlike us have with her – you know.

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    • Brad, I have nothing against characterization, and I believe the stronger the characterization, the stronger the work. And, as I’ve mentioned, I believe Christie is vastly underrated in that department. But let’s face it— if skill in characterization were the primary requisite for being the best-selling novelist of all time, Agatha Christie would not be the best-selling novelist of all time.

      As much as readers love Poirot, the actual quantity of verbiage Christie employs to develop and explore his character in each novel is a strong indication of how important she considered him to the story (as well as the fact that she so easily removed him— as opposed to the love triangle— from Murder on the Nile, and similarly with her other plays… the only exception being the arguably-justified alteration of Appointment with Death, in which she considered the culprit identity as easily changeable as the identity of the detective). The fact that Poirot series audiences latch on to the series regulars is understandable and not a bad thing, but when that becomes the primary interest with an indisputably plot-centered author like Christie you have distortion of intent and core appeal that I would call unfortunate— not merely because I’m a puzzle plot lover (I’m really not nearly that blindly subjective— you don’t work over a quarter of a century professionally as a children’s entertainer without some recognition of non-cerebral audience interests) but because that is clearly not what Christie was primarily about.

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      • Scott, once again we sound like we’re arguing when we basically agree. Anyone who says they chose to read Agatha Christie for the characters (minus Poirot or Miss Marple) is a liar; I’m just saying what you said – that her characters are good. That’s one of the reasons that her books translate so well to visual mediums: actors can really sink their teeth into them. And they’re flexible enough to allow different actors to make different choices of interpretation.

        Part of Suchet’s success at playing Poirot was, as he himself explains, that he refused to treat the character as a joke. That’s why he is a more faithful rendition of the character than Ustinov or Finney, both of whose portrayals I enjoyed. I liked some of what Branagh did, too – even Tony Randall, in that horrific ABC film, was having fun with the character’s ego, as did Alfred Molina and the guy who played the main detective in the first run of Les Petits Meurtres d’Agatha Christie. Christie gave all these men a lot to work with! (Sarah Phelps took it all away in service to her Dark Purpose, which is why Malkavich is so hard to enjoy.)

        I think Christie writes more about Poirot in her books than any other character because not only is her a series character, but she doesn’t expect most of her readers to take a chronological approach to her books. That means they all need a primer of sorts on the main character. Christie may have complained about being tied to Poirot, but as you know, she was both fiercely protective of him (hating most of the stage portrayals she saw) and aware that his presence distracted from a plot to which audiences needed to pay attention. When I directed The Hollow, I missed having Poirot there, but since that cast of book characters is so strong (and Poirot is felt by some to be an afterthought in the book, although I don’t agree), the Angkatells and Cristows stood on their own. I don’t think I would enjoy directing Appointment with Death, despite the improvement of its ending from the book, because the book characters are too numerous and, mostly rather generic. That play NEEDS Poirot!

        SPOILERS
        Next year, I’m directing Murder on the Nile, to me one of Christie’s weakest adaptations, not least because the large cast and complexities of the plot pretty much have to be decimated to appeal to audiences in a two-hour chunk. So who do we have left after most of the passenger list has been culled?
        * We have the central trio of Linnet, Simon and Jackie (albeit with some name changes) – this is good because those three characters are among the strongest in a book where LOTS of people are vying for space and everyone thus has to be lightly drawn
        *. We have a woman who basically equals Miss Van Schuyler and a young niece who is basically Cornelia Robson. There are no stolen pearls, which reduces the old woman to comic relief, and the Cornelia character exists to provide a subplot with . . .
        * a young man who is basically Mr. Ferguson, although he makes no pronouncements against Linnet, giving him no motive (I added a line from the novel to at least make him appear to despise her because we are very short on motives here.
        * We have a Dr. Bessner, and he is given a ludicrous motive: Linnet’s father did business which caused revolution and wholesale death in Bessner’s home country of Herzokatransylvamacaroni, implying that Bessner wants revenge – except his little speech about this is never alluded to again.
        *We have a French maid named Louise who gets to be the second victim AND die like the book’s third victim, onstage in front of everyone. Too bad the owner of the hand that slides into view holding a revolver has been pretty much given away in earlier dialogue.
        *We have a Canon Pennefather, who manages to be both Andrew Pennington AND Hercule Poirot at the same time. This is where Christie probably deviates the most from what plot she drags in from the book in that she wants to have her cake (insert a different sleuth from Poirot) and eat it too (make the Canon a suspect as well as the sleuth; hence the Ferguson character keeps bringing up stuff that makes the Canon act fanatically devoted to getting Linnet’s money.)

        Thus, Christie here messes with the plot and still manages to turn out an okay adaptation (the killer and the main trick are still intact, just easier to spot) and the strength of the characters from the book serve her well in that regard. Every adaptation has taken a different spin on the characters, on who is included and how they are portrayed. Obviously, the strength of Christie’s plot shines through, but the characters do as well, thanks to her imagination. Even if Suchet’s series makes Tim Allerton a gay man, he’s still tied to his mother and still a somewhat reluctant criminal. I can only imagine how different Sophie Okonedo will be as Salome Otterbourne from Angela Lansbury: the latter was campy fun while this new incarnation will be a drug-addled jazz singer in the mode of Lady Day. They will both serve their supreme purpose to the plot, but they will no doubt both be riveting to watch as characters.

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        • Not disagreeing, but just for clarification, I DON’T think Christie writes more about Poirot than about other characters. Quite the contrary— when I referred to the verbiage expended upon him, I was speaking of how LITTLE it was. Oh, he may lead the word count with “Poirot said,” but when it comes to actual discussion of his character, there’s very little. She’ll throw in a little tidbit about him occasionally, but these stories are not about Hercule Poirot. Christie needed SOME detective to solve the cases, and he was handy and popular, that’s all. And though I think of all the talk of her hatred of him is exaggeration, I don’t think she showed much interest in him, either. 90% of what’s written about him in any book is at the service of the mystery story— he could be plugged in with Gideon Fell or Inspector Cockrill and the stories wouldn’t be all that much different. It’s a genre— or at least it was then— about the mystery, not the detective.

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  5. I don’t know about anybody else but I watched JONATHAN CREEK, a show I love, from its initial debut on BBC1 some 25 tears ago (gulp). And it terms of its original marketing and how I watched it on its original screening, this was always a comedy show with impossible crime elements, not the other way around. The two leads (Quentin and Davies) were only known as comedians and Renwick, other than a few episodes of Poirot, was only known as a comedy writer. Having said that, his is a very special brand of comedy. Anyone who has seen any of the episodes from his classic sitcom, ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE, will know that his ability to combine pathos, farce and high-precision plotting is truly a wonder to behold. In one classic episode the series’ often unfairly maligned hero, Victor, even spoils the ending of THE JUDAS WINDOW while his wife is half way through reading that Carr masterpiece, but genuinely without meaning to. And it totally cracked me up. Humour is a very personal thing, and the snake gag from fairly late in the show really doesn’t work now and it didn’t then either. But to me, it’s a blip. I find the show incredibly amusing and very clever too. The last series with his wife was an attempt to do something different, which I really respect. But no, I didn’t care for it as much either. I thought the final special was much more fun though.

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    • I, too, remember the debut of JC, and I also remember being surprised at how crime-based and serious it was given the comedic careers (as you say) of the three “big names” involved.

      The snake “joke” would be more of a blip if there wasn’t also a plethora of so transparently time-filling examples of this sort of thing elsewhere: the 3D pornography, the “blind” jazz musician walking in on a naked old woman, the “kipper” court case, the Animal Farm TV show… This sort of thing is less common early on (IIRC) and only seems to creep in more as Adam Klaus becomes a regular…which raises the question of why he was put into the series except for this sort of distracting stuff to fill out the runtime. Of the top of my head, I can only think of one instance (‘Danse Macabre’) in which these contribute to the solution of the mystery, too.

      But, the mysteries are superb, with some genuinely brilliant demonstrations that are undoubtedly responsible for my present day fixation on the impossible crime. JC wasn’t perfect, but that doesn’t mean t lacked merit — not by a long way.

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      • Well, the snake is a “blip’ for me because I quite enjoyed the Klaus escapades. He was always meant to be a regular but Buffy got in the way. They belatedly re-cast (I like Milligan) and on the whole I liked his role as I love magic. This incidentally is probably the right time to say that I always felt that Carr should work well on the screen because he wrote his impossible crimes so often as magic tricks which are meant to be seen by an audience.

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        • I don’t think there’s any Adam Klaus in series 1 apart from the first episode…and it’s not like they miss him. So if a series of late rewrites took out ASH scenes, frankly Renwick did an amazing job papering over the cracks that would have remained.

          I was always under the impression that Klaus was only added in later series to fill up screen time — much like Ade Edmondson in series 4, only there (and sadly wasted) so that a series of uninteresting side plots could be forced in to give the impression we were watching a soap opera particularly short on ideas (Bredan was married to a man, Brendan has a colonoscopy that gets nominated for an award, etc).

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          • I think Head became unavailable fairly soon after they made the pilot do Klaus was maybe going to come back in another series. But I like Renwick’s humour, so for me the other material was an enjoyable part of the texture, like Poirot having a smelly Cayman to deal with etc. But we are not going to agree. To be continued after you next podcast perhaps 😆 Have you seen ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE? It’s a classic 😁

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  6. Firstly thank you for the very kind reference to my posts revisiting Jonathan Creek. Unexpected but it made my day (and I am very excited to hear which stories you pick out for your bonus episode).
    The discussion was another interesting one. I would say that I think one of the challenges of adapting impossible crimes visually is that the camera gives a clarity that prose often tries to obscure. The camera obviously has to show everything that is physically in a space (else it would be a sort of criminous Peep Show with constant fish eye camera work). The author can describe a setting and imply because if our narrator or witness doesn’t mention a detail or places emphasis misleadingly then we accept that is because they are characters exercising their judgment, world view, etc. I think that is why the two Sinden Carr plays I have heard both work quite well – far better than the Marsh of Scotland Yard episodes. They allow for careful and controlled revelation of detail.
    That is not to say that it is impossible to do a good televised or filmed impossible crime story. Just that stories tailored for the one medium are harder to transpose to another.

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    • Your write-ups have been a source of real enjoyment — it was going to take something special to get me to watch ‘The Judas Tree’ again — and I’m only sorry that you’re so near the end of the show.

      Certain principles are certainly much better shown: think of the chains in ‘Satan’s Chimney’ or the manner of the body climbing the stairs in ‘The Three Gamblers’. Nick is right that the visual impossibility needs to be more than just “the killer wasn’t where we thought they were”, but that’s what gets used so frequently because it’s an easy way to end a thread that there’s an assumption people wouldn’t be payng too close attention to. JC at least rewarded that patience with some good visual clues and solid, drawn out explanations.

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      • As am I! It has been a fun little project to undertake.
        I agree with Nick’s point about visual impossibilities. JC does typically do these well (I think about the hair puzzle in Angel Hair or the changing face in the Tailor’s Dummy as being particularly good examples of this).

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        • I maintain that ‘Angel Hair’ is a work of underappreciated genius. Damn, I would love to come up with an alternative solution to that setup; that’s something of a holy grail in my eyes.

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  7. Unfortunately, I think it comes down to the impossible crime subgenre being very niche. As soon as the work makes it into the visual medium, where, as you say, many other people become involved with a project’s direction, I expect that the impossibility thing just isn’t interesting to enough people for it to be prioritized. It really seems to need a good guiding hand to keep it included.
    That said, I wondered if you might include some Japanese visual media in the discussion. I hear there’s some great Seishi Yokomizo adaptations, and of course the 7 billion episodes of Detective Conan/Case Closed will have some too. Probably a bit harder to find these though but worth reminding everyone they exist.
    As for Western TV adaptations, in my chronological viewing of the Suchet Poirot, I reached The Dream. This was an impossible crime in short story form, and I think the adaptation actually improves it! And this is the case with most of the early short-story series. The method in The Dream works nicely on screen, though the other part of the plot works a little less well.

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    • I legitimately struggle to remember Case Closed, er, cases after I’ve finished them — I think on account of the volumes’ tendency to finish in the middle of a story. Great for ensuring people by the next instalment, but it means that I can never look at a book as a completely closed example of three cases, and so they just merge into one (wildly creative, hugely entertaining) whole.

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