Friday, November 24, 2017

A Little Man With Enormous Moustaches

“There’s no doubt at all about what the man’s profession has been. He’s a retired hairdresser. Look at that moustache of his.” 
"The Murder of Roger Ackroyd"

The transformation from an image conjured up by a collection of words printed on paper to a fully realized visual image is always a perilous one. If you have a hundred persons reading the exact same description and ask them to visualize the contents for other people, you might still end up with a hundred different manifestations of what should be one and the same. This holds especially for adaptations of popular works, often ensuing in discussions on what actually defining characteristics actually are, and how free an adaptation (or interpretation) can be, and if one can argue that "the original work" might not always be the best base. Today, I wish to take a look at one of the most often adapted infamous beings from mystery fiction and look at the characteristics and merits of each interpretation. When I mention the name of mystery queen Agatha Christie, you'll probably instantly understand what I'm talking about. I'm naturally speaking of the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot....... 's moustaches.


Hercule Poirot's moustaches are an important presence in the stories featuring the Belgian detective, appearing in all the stories where he appears in to. Would Poirot be Poirot without his moustaches? Of course not. There's a reason why you thought of Poirot when you saw the image above. Had it been a hat or a walking stick, you would never had recognized it as a symbol for Poirot. It's thus not an exaggeration to pose that Poirot only exists in our minds as a character because of his moustaches. The moustaches don't exist for Poirot, Poirot exists for the moustaches.

While often interrupted by long segments with a mystery plot, the stories by Agatha Christie about Poirot's moustaches do manage to portray a lively image of them. They have been described as "magnificent" (Double Sin),  "suspiciously black" (Appointment with Death) and "stiff and military" (The Mysterious Affair at Styles). A certain expert on moustaches from Belgian has been known to say that "nowhere in London have I observed anything to compare with them" in regards to the entity known as Poirot's moustaches. While Poirot's moustaches are already grand on their own, time is of course invested in them to keep them in tip-top shape. It's been said that the only thing about his own appearance that pleased Hercule Poirot was "the profusion of his moustaches, and the way they responded to grooming and treatment and trimming" (Hallowe'en Party). Poirot's moustaches don't do well in warmer climates however, as the heat makes them go limp (The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb).

As one of the most popular of Christie's creations, Poirot's moustaches have been adapted for both the silver and the smaller screen back home countless of times, each interpretation bringing something new on the table. In this humble monograph I will not attempt to do a comprehensive write-up on the moustaches, but only examine a selection of those adaptations, mostly the ones I myself am most familiar with.

Murder On The Orient Express (Film, 1974, on the face of Albert Finney)


The moustaches in the 1974 theatrical adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express are indeed magnificent: the profusion is unmistakenly there, especially between the nose and mouth, but notice how meticulously trimmed it is: the moustaches form a triangle, but the ends curl upwards to give it a playful look and to soften the facial characteristics of the man behind them. The moustaches are also undeniably suspiciously black.

Death On The Nile (Film, 1978, on the face of Peter Ustinov)


The moustaches in Death on the Nile however are not suspiciously black, and not even unsuspiciously black. One could argue that it wouldn't make sense for Ustinov to have black moustaches considering his cranial hair, but this does raise questions of what should be considered more important in an adaptation. Compared to the moustaches in Murder on the Orient Express, the Nile moustaches also lack the energy: look at how thinly grown it is beneath the nose. Is it a magnificent moustache? While there's certainly length, and the playful curls at the ends do add some character, one can only say that these moustaches are far less impressive than the 1974 ones.

Agatha Christie's Poirot (TV, 1989-2013, on the face of David Suchet)


David Suchet had the honor of being the vessel of Poirot moustaches for the longest period of any of its interpreters and that allowed for something not possible in earlier adaptations: change throughout time. Early on in this series, Poirot's moustaches were, while not as rich as in the 1974 Murder on the Orient Express moustaches, quite splendid: they were full, black and featured a more pronounced curl at the ends. I described the 1974 Murder on the Orient Express moustaches as a triangle, but here we have moustaches that feature nicely rounded curves that emphasize how well trimmed it is. The moustaches were often revised in later seasons: by the time of the last season, Poirot's moustaches were similar in volume like in earlier seasons, but the energy, the vigor had made way for fatigue, as the curls had all but straigthened out.

Murder On The Orient Express (TV, 2001, on the face of Alfred Molina)


They are black, yes, but obviously, these moustaches lack the strength of the 1974 editions, as well as those from Agatha Christie's Poirot. They look like they were only grown a few weeks ago and certainly don't show signs of having been groomed and trimmed, and don't even invoke the grandeur that Poirot's moustaches must have. No criminal would fear these. 

Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple (TV, 2004)


In the Japanese animated series Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple, we have a set of moustaches that are magnificent. Look at how richly grown it is, that's almost two fingers thick, enough to cover his mouth completely. Yet it is not only volume: notice how the curl up at the ends actually turn inwards. The 1974 edition only managed to curl outwards, while the moustaches in the early seasons of Agatha Christie's Poirot pointed straight upwards, but the moustaches in this series have enough density and volume to manage a curl inwards!

Murder on the Orient Express (PC videogame, 2006)


In this PC videogame adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, David Suchet was once again allowed to portray the vessel of Poirot's moustaches as Poirot's voice actor, and one can see that the moustaches here are quite similar to the early ones from Agatha Christie's Poirot. The curl up and the volume is quite similar to the TV series, while the distinct triangle form is reminicent of the 1974 theatrical adaptation of the famous moustaches.

Orient Kyuukou Satsujin Jiken (TV, 2015, on the face of NOMURA Mansai)


While the setting was relocated to Japan and the names of all the characters were changed, this two-part special is in fact both a faithful, and radically original adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, and it doesn't take a genius detective to recognize that Suguro Takeru's moustaches are in fact Poirot's moustaches. While a bit thin at the center, Suguro's moustaches have a refined look, emphasized by the distinct "W" form of it, different from the earlier triangle or horizontal line with curling ends forms. The ends are this time also exceptionally long, again showing off how much work such a moustache needs.

Murder On The Orient Express (Film, 2017, on the face of Kenneth Branagh)


The 2017 theatrical adaptation of Poirot's moustaches is by no means black, but it is definitely magnificent. "Stiff and militairy" they are not, as the volume is almost threatening: most of the other moustache adaptations mentioned earlier would fit two or three times in it! In fact, these are the only moustaches that actually go around to the sides of the face, in a distinct "WW" (double W) form. The almost grotesque form however becomes less pronounced once you actually see it in motion, probably because it is in fact basically a cartoon moustache. Character designs in animation often cheat by making certain characteristics always visible on the design no matter the camera angle, for example a standing pluck of hair that is always seen on the right side of a character no matter where the camera is. The 2017 moustaches follow the same principle: because the moustaches are so absurd long with a double W form, you'll see "W"-shaped moustaches from basically any angle besides from the back. It makes the moustaches ever present.

This monograph on moustaches has gone on for long enough, so I will end my admittedly incomplete examination here for the moment. The goal of this study was to indicate a preliminary selection of adaptations of Poirot's moustaches, and there is still much room for further research, for example in regards to the two videogame adaptations of The ABC Murders. Admirers of the moustaches are welcome to comment on their favorite interpretation of Poirot's moustaches in the comments below. Merci.

3 comments :

  1. It does not surprise me that the moustache is such a prominent identifying feature of Poirot. That is because he has nothing else left to identify him, except maybe for patent leather shoes and his "little gray cells." As a personality Poirot has all "the personality of a paper cup" as Chandler would say.

    I left a list of sources for the mystery/science fiction/fantasy hybrid on the Beneath The Stains of Time blog.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Did you personally like the japanese animated adaptation of poirot & marple? I personally like it.Even though the art was simplistic and looked a bit retro,the story telling & voice acting was good.Also I like the way Mable's character was created to connect poirot & marple.Wished it would adapt some other classical stories but the series ended.Any idea why the series ended?Wasnt it popular in Japan?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Didn't watch much of it. And I assume they just accomplished what they wanted to do. Not everything has to run forever.

      Delete