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Bait and switch
on March 26, 2005
At what point does a screenplay's "artistic license" exceed limits where such can be attributed to an author like Agatha Christie? This 1996 TV movie (screenplay by Alma Cullen) is titled "Agatha Christie's The Pale Horse" and subtitled "Supernatural British Mystery Classic." Contrast these two opening scenes:
FROM CHRISTIE'S 1961 NOVEL: Mark Easterbrook witnesses a hair-pulling cat-fight between one Thomasina Tuckerton and another woman. A week later he comes across a newspaper notice that Tuckerton died of natural causes. Meanwhile Father Gorman visits another dying woman losing her hair. Walking home, he stops at a local café to jot down a list of names before he forgets them. His cassock having pocket holes, he slips the list into his shoe, leaves, and is promptly murdered on the way home. Coroner Jim Corrigan and Detective Inspector Lejeune hypothesize he was killed in attempts to find that overlooked list and/or eliminate confessional and incriminating evidence of some kind. Later Mark encounters old friend Jim Corrigan. Discussing the case and the list, they note the presence of Tuckerton's name. Thus begins Mark's self-involvement and collaboration with Corrigan and other friends in this increasingly baffling series of possibly interconnected deaths.
FROM THIS 1996 TV MOVIE: Mark and girlfriend are attending a showing of Macbeth. Mark leaves early and witnesses someone brutally attacking a priest with his "borrowed" bicycle wrench. He rushes to assist the priest who hands him a bloodied list and dies. Police arrive, later find Mark's bloodied tool nearby, and see Mark holding the list with blood on his hands. A smug, scowling, abrasive Chief Inspector Lejune, with an previously unknown (to Mark) assistant named Corrigan, promptly accuses Mark of the murder, swearing he will convict Mark and plotting his conviction throughout the film. Mark, released on bail, must proceed on an investigative effort to clear himself.
Christie's original novel is tightly-constructed, well-written, fast-paced and interesting, perfect material for a first-class film. What a pity it is still unfilmed! What was done here was to borrow a couple of ideas from one of her novels, change them as desired, change the environment and characters surrounding the ideas (keeping a few names for appearances), changed crime(s) and murderer(s), then marketed the result under Christie's name. Some would call this "bait and switch."
It is certainly the right of TV or movie producers to fabricate material whole-cloth for television productions. The results may even be entertaining and worthwhile. But impostures under the guise of a major author's work should be exposed for what they are. If these producers had wanted to be truthful, they should have given this not altogether bad film another name, say "The 3-Witch Mystery" subtitled "based on an idea from an Agatha Christie novel" and had a 2, maybe 2½-star film.
DVD picture quality and sound are fine.