Poirot (Classic): S06E04 “Dumb Witness”

In a Lake District manor called “The Little Green House”, there’s a dog named Bob. Meet Bob:

bob

One night, Bob – accustomed to playing catch with himself by bouncing a ball down the stairs then running down and catching it in his teeth before it hits the floor – witnesses a Mysteriously Bathrobed Figure walk out to the adjoining boathouse, retrieve a screwdriver from a drawer, then proceed to screw in an eyelet at the base of the stair landing.

Bob, of course, barks loudly at all of this, but does anyone listen to Bob? Of course they don’t, because otherwise this would be a pretty short episode.

The next morning, Poirot and Hastings arrive to watch Hastings’ old school chum Charles Arundel try to break the world record for water speed in his boat on Lake Windermere. He fails, his boat catching fire, but this is England after all, so later that night everyone doddles off to the Little Green House for a dinner party.

On the menu for dinner is a family-size helping of Motive, because we learn that nearly all of the Arundel clan and their associates are either unhappy, hard up for cash, angry, or some combination of the three.

Which is a real shame, because the matriarch, Dear Old Aunt Emily seems a kind and generous woman who just won’t suffer nonsense after a point and is maybe a bit cranky due to her ongoing medical condition. Her having all the money doesn’t hurt, either.

On an entirely related note, Dear Old Aunt Emily mysteriously trips and falls down the stairs one night, nearly killing herself; although people are quick to blame Bob BECAUSE THEY ARE ALL MONSTERS because he left his ball on the landing, she naturally seeks Our Belgian’s counsel, with which he quite rightly advises her to make a new will giving all her money away to a friend instead of the family – and let them know, so as to remove any motive for doing away with her.

She does exactly that, leaving all her money to her faithful companion Bob Minnie; this, unfortunately, doesn’t prevent Em from getting whacked, as one evening after taking her medicine she wanders into the garden, spouts some green smoke from her mouth (no, really), and shuffles off her mortal coil.

And so Poirot asks, who would want to kill her AFTER she’d changed her will? What does Bob know that the others don’t? Do the Loony Tripp Sisters(TM) really have the ability to communicate with the dead? And who is the Mysteriously Bathrobed Amateur Eyelet Installer?

Reader, this is a great episode.

First off, it’s amazingly cast, with memorable faces and astonishingly good parts for the suspects. Caddish daredevil Charlie Arundel, quiet and withdrawn Bella, angry and controlling Dr. Jakob – even the waiter at the club, kindly old Doc Grainger and put-upon Minnie (who’s not above inheriting thousands, mind you) bring an inner life to their characters and a believability to their motivations. And, of course, Bob. Bob’s great.

(Side Note: Special mention here to Ann Morrish, who plays Auntie Em with the perfect mix of dignity, smarts, and… I dunno… “elderliness”?… to make her character ring true. She’s not a heartless bastard like so many moneyed heads-of-the-dinner-table we see, but she’s also not stupid or naive enough to not know what’s going on around her. I really was a bit pissed when she died. Good job!)

Second, this might be the wittiest, best-written Poirot we’ve seen in ages. It positively hums with verbal sparring, one-line zingers, and straight up funny situations, despite not being particularly comedic in tone overall (especially near the end). The script often has Suchet or Fraser batting a line of dialogue at the other like a shuttlecock, with the other man happy to return the serve to give us delightful little moments.

Part of why I liked this so much is that it’s not afraid to be goofy in the middle of everything here – the running gag of people being excited to be suspects in a Hercule Poirot case (“Question us, Mr. Poirot, just like we were normal people!” — The Loony Tripp Sisters(TM)), the homebrewed concoction of medicine Jakob gives to Auntie Em labeled, hilariously,  with a preprinted label that simply calls it “THE MIXTURE”, Hastings’ discomfort with Charles’ boyhood nickname for him (“It’s ‘Battla’. As in ‘Battle a’ Hastings’.”), even little throwaway scenes like Poirot being impossible about his rheumatism with the doctor at dinner.

It’s fun stuff, and that’s before we get to Suchet delivering once-in-a-lifetime lines to a fox terrier like “There is work to be done. First we restore the good name of Monsieur Bob!” Of course, the fact that Bob himself is adorable the entire episode doesn’t hurt, and the way Poirot and Our Man take to him over the course of the two hours is sweet to watch, particularly when Poirot starts thinking aloud to Bob the way he usually does with Hastings. (Sadly, they don’t keep the dog in this adaptation, but give him to The Loony Tripp Sisters(TM) as a replacement for their spirit hound, and I am not making that up.)

And whoa, do things get dark near the end, when alleged and implied domestic and child abuse get brought into the picture, with a really powerful scene from Julia St. John as Bella confessing she’s scared of her husband Jakob to Poirot.

(Additional Side Note: This scene, by the way, made the denouement come as much more of a surprise than it should have, given the solution’s reliance on the usual Christie games with letters and a second murder that logically narrows the field of suspects WAY down right near the end.)

Look, who says no to spending a couple of hours looking at gorgeous Lake District scenery and listening to David Suchet and Hugh Fraser trading bon mots and solving a murder with a cute dog and an incredibly watchable cast? Not I, dear reader. Not I.

Quotent Quotables:

HASTINGS (irritated): “You tick off the porter, and we miss the boat.”

POIROT: “Do not blame yourself, Hastings.”

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HASTINGS (creeping into Poirot’s room at night): “I was wondering if you were having trouble sleeping.”

POIROT: “So you awaken me to inquire? That is friendship indeed, Hastings.”

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HASTINGS (believing one thousand percent that Poirot is channeling Jack Hastings, his dead ancestor): “What does he say?”

POIROT (moaning): “He says you are to go back to your room and leave me in peace.”

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POIROT: “The routine of Bob is not the routine of Poirot!”

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CLUB WAITER: “There’s a call for you sir, Miss Emily Arundel.”

POIROT (bewildered): “She is dead, mon ami.”

CLUB WAITER: “You’ll have to take that up with her yourself, sir.”

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POIROT (taunting Jakob into taking THE MIXTURE to prove it isn’t poison): “Why not? It is – as you say – a ‘pick me up’ – not a ‘put me down’.”

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POIROT: “Hastings, a favor. Whatever I say, you will nod in agreement.”

HASTINGS: “Did I ever do otherwise, Poirot?”

 

In Two Weeks, On Poirot: Hoo boy folks, it’s one of those you-can-only-pull-that-trick-once marvels that Dame Agatha would gift us with every now and then, but the adaptation here is.. well, it’s something else, that’s for sure. I’m gonna be honest here – if you’re new to these and haven’t read this one first, I implore you to do so before watching the adaptation. For… reasons… Series 7 kicks off with… “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd”!