Monday, February 20, 2012

"Dumb Witness:" Bob the dog assists Hercule Poirot in solving a murder

I did not sign up for Classic Movie Dogathon hosted by Classic Film and TV Cafe. I love dogs, but wasn't sure if I would be able to complete an article for the dates of the Dogathon. In addition, my favorite dog themed movie is not a theatrical film. However, I had some extra time this weekend so I decided to get into the dogathon spirit. I chose to write about Dumb Witness. This is an Agatha Christie mystery starring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. The title character is Bob the fox terrier. He is a mute witness, not an unintelligent witness.

Captain Arthur Hastings (Hugh Fraser) has been invited to Berkshire by his old friend Charlie Arundell. Charlie is attempting to break the water speed record in his new boat. Hastings asks his good friend Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) to join him. At the speed trial, Poirot meets Emily Arundell, the aunt and benefactor of Charlie. She is there with her companion Wilhelmina Lawson and her fox terrier Bob. Poirot also meets other members of the Arundell family. They are: Theresa Arundell, Emily's niece and Charlie's sister; Bella Tanios, Emily's other niece; Dr. Jacob Tanios, Bella's Greek husband; and the Tanios children, Alexis and Katya. In addition, Poirot meets Isabel and Julia Tripp, two eccentric friends of Emily. The afternoon ends in disappointment as the engine of Charlie's boat catches fire and he fails to set the water speed record.

That evening, Hastings and Poirot go to the home of Emily Arundell for a dinner party. They are greeted by Bob who seems to have taken a liking to Poirot. When Bob attempts to jump on Poirot, Poirot nicely but firmly tells him no. Bob complies and Poirot compliments his good behavior and intelligence. Wilhelmina,  accompanied by a gentleman, is also there to greet Poirot and Hastings. Wilhelmina introduces the gentleman as Dr. John Grainger, Emily's physician. It becomes obvious in the next scene that dinner party was intended to be a celebration. All the members of the Arundell family are in attendance as are the Tripp sisters. However, Charlie's failed effort has led to a tense setting. Emily and Charlie argue because she will no longer foot the bills for his expensive hobby. The other guests hear the argument and the party takes a sober tone.

Bob the fox terrier as played by "Snubby"

Later that evening, Emily takes a nasty fall down her staircase. It would appear that Bob left his ball on the landing. Emily then stepped on the ball, and slipped down the stairs. The next day, Emily sends for Hercule Poirot. She believes someone in her family tried to kill her. Emily does not think she accidentally tripped over Bob's ball. She asks Poirot for advice. He suggests she make a new will immediately leaving everything to a friend she can trust. He advises Emily not to tell the friend who is the new heir. However, he believes telling her family members of a new will may prevent further "accidents." After all, if one can not benefit from the "accidents" then the "accidents" will stop. After his conversation with Emily Arundell, Poirot investigates the staircase. He discovers a hook in the wall next to the stairs. He surmises that it  may have been used to rig a tripwire. That means this wire, not Bob's ball, may have been the cause of Emily's fall.

Unfortunately, Hercule Poirot is not infallible. Despite following his advice to change her will, Emily Arundell dies. Dr. Grainger has signed a death certifcate which indicates liver failure. However, Poirot believes it is murder. Furthermore, Poirot feels it is his responsibilty to solve the case. Emily had followed Poirot's advice and left everything to Wilhelmina. In addition, he feels guilty for not sharing his discovery of the hook with the authorities.This hook has been removed from the wall since its intial discovery by Poirot.

What makes this story so interesting to me is the fact that Hercule Poirot bonds with Bob so naturally. After the death of Emily Arundell, Wilhelmina asks Poirot to take care of Bob because he is unhappy with her. It is a bit surprising that the Belgian detective agrees. After all, Poirot is meticulous about his hygiene and appearance. Dogs do tend to challenge neatness and order. However, Poirot genuinely likes Bob and the terrier seems to recognize Poirot's boundaries. In many ways, Hastings is the third wheel on this case. Bob becomes Poirot's partner in every sense. It is touching to see Poirot talk to Bob. He speaks to him as he would a person who lost someone he loved.

Bob with the Tripp sisters
I particularly enjoy Bob showing Poirot that he ALWAYS fetches his ball and places it in his bed. This makes Poirot realize that Bob definitely did not leave his ball on the landing of the staircase. Therefore, there must have been a tripwire and someone was trying to murder Emily Ardundell that night. As Poirot praises Bob's intelligence for the clever way he performs his game of fetch, Hastings seems to get jealous. In fact, Hastings comments that Bob's repertoire is "limited."

I think it is ultimately David Suchet and Hugh Fraser who make this story work so well. Both actors treat Bob as an actor not an animal. Suchet has a wonderful rapport with Bob ("Snubby"). The fox terrier is attentive when Suchet speaks to him, making me believe that Bob adores Poirot. Fraser's ability to communicate jealousy is brilliant. Hastings likes the terrier but clearly views Bob as a rival for Poirot's attention.

If you like dogs and murder mysteries, Dumb Witness is the perfect movie. The ending is touching because Poirot must decide Bob's future. In addition to the Bob-Poirot relationship, I enjoyed the Tripp sisters subplot. These two women believe they have psychic abilities and their seances provide some interesting comic relief. Overall, it is a good mystery from Agatha Christie that captures an era that we classic film fans love.


  1. Right on all counts .

    A great mystery woven in classic fashion distilled with the particular magic of " Bob " , this is definitely one of my favorites as well honey !

    Excellent article once again ! :)

  2. Bob is so cute! I haven't seen this, but it sounds like Poirot got a good partner in Bob!

  3. David: Thanks for being my number one fan.
    Kim: Bob is adorable and Suchet has a great rappaport with the terrier. I think you'd like the story. Thanks for coming by!

  4. I've seen this one a couple of times and thoroughly enjoyed it. The eccentric characters Poirot encounters are a treat, as is the Lake Country setting. But I think you're right that what makes this so special is Poirot's rapport with "Monsieur Bob." I wouldn't have pegged the fastidious Poirot as a dog lover, but he certainly was able to use him as a partner in solving the crime, showing that Poirot's amazing ability to draw inferences from detailed observations extended to canine behavior too!

  5. R.D,: Thank you for reading my post and commenting. I agree 100%, this showed Poirot's softer side. Who would have thought Bob would have won over the quirky Belgian detective.

  6. This movie sounds like a very charming film. Bob is absolutely adorable.. I will look for it..

  7. I wanted to stop by to let you know that I spotlighted this post on "This Week On Noir and Chick Flicks"..

  8. I've never really followed mysteries, although Agatha Christie can't be beat. I didn't see this, but it sounds awfully good. That dog is adorable. I do know of Poirot's personality, and I loved what you said: "... Poirot is meticulous about his hygiene and appearance. Dogs do tend to challenge neatness and order." That's an understatement! Good one, Tracy!

  9. I'm a fan of the David Suchet Poirot series and know I've seen "Dumb Witness" - but it's been a while and my memory is hazy. Your review reminds me it's time to find it and watch it again. Bob/Snubby is so adorable - he looks like a living stuffed toy. Great piece!

  10. Gilby, David Suchet has long been my favorite Poirot, and your review endeared itself to me because it's a great opportunity to display Poirot's warmer side. How delightful that even the fastidious Belgian detective was won over by the love of a good dog! :-) Got a kick out of Hastings finding himself feeling jealous of the pooch. Your reviews are always a delight to read, Gilby, and DUMB (as in mute) WITNESS is no exception!

  11. I don't understand why nobody ever touched Bob as in petting him, it just seemed so sterile and impersonal to me.

  12. Poirot almost touched him with his gloved hand! Love Bob/Snubby and I bet he generated a lot of sales for "wire fox terrors," as Poirot would say.

    Great series, wonderful acting, directing, settings, and costumes. I would put this up against any other, and I even put David Suchet up against John Thaw.