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 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.