Poirot (Classic): S05E03 “The Yellow Iris”

Zut alors, mes amis, but it has been awhile, non? Your faithful chronicler’s illness turned out to be quite a bit more serious than suspected, so apologies for the delay in getting back to the bidness.

Glad to report things are back to normal, and so we kick off the second half of the series (Good God, kids, can you believe we’re now over halfway through the whole enchilada?) with a tale of murder most foul, and… uh… a plot that really can’t hold up for forty-odd minutes.

The story proper starts two years in the past, with Poirot on a trip to South America, hoping to visit Our Man in the Argentine, where he’s presumably shouting “Good Lord!” at a herd of cattle. Unfortunately as Poirot arrives in Buenos Aires, the country is on the verge of a military coup, and so he’s delayed awhile in the city. That evening, he takes in dinner at Jardins de Cygnes, a fancy new French restaurant run by an Italian named Luigi.

(Side Note: There’s no pipefitting or plumbing significance to that name here, I just happen to find the name Luigi hilarious, especially when prefaced by “Senor”.)

At dinner that night is a table of other guests staying at the same hotel as Our Belgian, which naturally is going to be bad luck for at least two of them. On the hit list:

  • Iris Russell, a rich heiress and daughter of a former peer of the realm. She’s married to
  • Bart Russell (David Troughton), head of Sovereign Oil, seeking government bribing a general for oil concessions along with his partner
  • Stephen Carter, who’s a junior associate in their enterprise, with a secret that’s been discovered by
  • Pauline Wetherby, Iris’s younger sister and object of affection of reporter
  • Anthony Chapell, in town to cover the impending coup and who wangles an invite to the fateful dinner from
  • Lola Valdez, an Argentine dancer who may or may not be having an affair with ol’ Bart.

Whew. I’m exhausted already, and that’s before a musical number, a champagne toast in which Iris dies of cyanide poisoning, and the aforementioned coup taking place, which sees Poirot deported on charges of espionage by the new HMFIC General Pereira before he can prove Iris’ death wasn’t suicide.

I mean… it’s a lot to take in, honestly.

Fast-forward to the present, and two years to the day on the anniversary of Iris’ death, a new Jardins de Cygnes is opening up in London (that Senor Luigi gets around), and Bart has made reservations for six to unmask the person he believes to be Iris’ killer.

Complicating things is that someone has sent a yellow iris to Poirot’s doorstep, either as a warning or a plea for help, and after investigating around London (including a why-are-they-devoting-time-to-this-dance-number-from-Lola), it’s discovered that:

1) Two years on, the Argentine coup has failed, Gen. Pereira is in front of a firing squad, and Sovereign Oil is about to go under
2) Iris had a will that left everything in trust to Pauline until her 21st birthday, and Bart is in charge of the money until then
3) Absolutely nobody but Bart is particularly jazzed about recreating the deathiversary of Iris, because Jesus that’s grim.

On the fateful night of the dinner, Bart arranges for the same musical number to be sung, and proposes another champagne toast, after which Pauline collapses, dead of cyanide poisoning, which seems like pretty much the only way this was ever going to pan out, until…

Grey Cells:

Poirot assembles the remaining guests in… uh… the attic of the restaurant, I guess? I don’t know. There’s a parrot in a cage and some furniture covered in cloth. Anyway, turns out Stephen Carter had been using some UK government money in bribing pre-firing squad Gen. Pereira for those oil concessions, which was his Dark Secret that Iris was going to (did?) “expose” to Bart (who may have known this already?).

Poirot asks Stephen to check his coat pocket, from which a vial of cyanide is produced that Stephen claims no knowledge of. At that point, coffee is wheeled into the room from the restaurant below, and…

::pinches bridge of his nose and sighs::

…it’s Pauline, which we figure out about two seconds after the show stubbornly makes a point of not showing us the waitress’ face in three separate shots. Of course it is.

Poirot convinced her to only pretend to drink the champagne, then…

::rubs eyes and sighs again::

…pretend to be dead for what must have been at least an hour, which seems like a long time to have to sit motionless slumped over a dinner table, then remain dead as you get carted off on a stretcher once the police arrive, but WHATEVER, Poirot.

With this un-revelation, Poirot announces that Iris’ killer and Pauline’s attempted killer was none other than Bart Russell, who poisoned Iris for her money, then tried to poison Pauline because she was only a month away from her 21st birthday and on the verge of taking all that money away.

Ah, but how did he do it, you might ask? Well…

::facepalms and sighs again::

…once again we go to the Wear Any Part Of An Employee Outfit And Apparently You Become Completely Invisible To Your Closest Associates well, because ol’ Bart just slipped on a pair of white gloves and poured the champagne n’ poison while everyone at dinner was transfixed by the not-that-great musical number (twice!) in the dark. During the second dinner, he also planted the vial of cyanide in Stephen’s pocket, so I guess we can add “And Also You Become Basically A Ghost” to that descriptor.

The problem is, we’ve seen both these tricks pulled off recently and more than once, so by now it’s groan-inducing rather than clever. Furthermore, the way it’s shot is so obviously artificial that it beggars belief (I can goddamn guarantee you I’d notice if a waiter’s glove came within pinching distance of my breast pocket, no matter who’s on the stage singing).

[collapse]

It all wraps up with a pretty good gag about Poirot being hungry and Our Man Hastings introducing him to English cuisine in the guise of fish and chips.

Hoo, boy.

Credit where it’s due: the idea of a second chance at solving essentially the same crime is a rich premise. (Christie apparently agreed, because after “Yellow Iris” was published in the Strand in 1937, that same year she wrote the more musical radio play version of it, and after that went on to turn it into a full-length novel starring Col. Race called Sparkling Cyanide.

The problem here is that (in a rare Anthony Horowitz misstep) the basis for this adaptation seems to be the more musical radio play version, and, well… I’ll just let Joyce Grenfell sum it up from her review of same in The Observer, from 1937:

“The play itself turned out to be a ten-minute sketch padded with cabaret and dance music, and made to spread over forty minutes. When the sketch was playing my interest was sustained. But the sequences were so brief and the intervening music – though good in its proper place – so prolonged that my attention wandered. Much better to have treated the piece as the short sketch it really was”.

And that’s about it, really. Even the flashback stuff spends so much time on non-important details like Poirot’s deportation that you’re left with this empty feeling afterwards, like the whole thing was this really cool idea in search of a worthy plot it never quite found, and settled for reheated leftovers as the solution. It’s so overcomplicated with politics, oil, and long stretches that do nothing to advance the plot or characters that by the time we get to the solution I was just annoyed that the payoff was so unbelievable AND tired.

Not an outright terrible episode — it certainly does break with the traditional Poirot mold, which makes it at the least different — but there’s an overwhelming feeling that it could have been so much better.

Quotent Quotables:

Chapell (as Poirot is being dragged away by police): “Don’t worry Monsieur Poirot! I’ll call the French Embassy!”

Poirot: “No, no! The BELGIAN Embassy!”

___

Poirot: “The English they do not have a cuisine, my friend, they have only the food.”

 

Next Week – For Real! – On Poirot: In an act of what’s effectively suicide, an old man asks Poirot to be the executor of his will, which means he might as well have just stepped in front of a train. Will the reading of the will be anywhere near as entertaining as Frank Oz doing it in Knives Out? Almost certainly not, but let’s find out in… “The Case of the Missing Will”!