Cards on the Table [1936]

One of the analysis perspectives that was investigated in my modern fiction paper was the old saw of gender relations: sexism v. feminism. Almost as a kind of by-catch, I think more general gender and sexuality issues are central to this argument. Does sex define anything? Does is, or should it, in some determinative sense, matter?

For me these questions have always been fundamentally uninteresting. I’m basically liberal, which means that if what you’re doing isn’t hurting anyone, I don’t care. Scratch that: I’m not interested. Oh, look, you’re a woman. Er, so what? I guess in my mind, most of the Big Issues are settled, and now we’re down to haggling over details, quotients and so on.

So much for my perspective: as in most fields, I expect I am in the minority. One of the two lecturers on our trip has these questions I’ve glibly dismissed as a major academic focus. Well, I’m not wholly blind to the issue, occasionally I’ll notice something which I can’t explain, but seems related to this kind of thinking, and the one which has prompted this post is:
<!–more Spoilerage for Cards at the Table–>
I was watching the ITV adaptation of Cards at the Table, which is a Poirot mystery where a group of murders is gathered together and *shock* a murder occurs. Poirot’s task is to determine which of the four candidates is a multiple offender. It turns out that the murderer is an english doctor. In the TV version, he murders a patient because he has been having an affair with her husband, and she finds out and threatens to expose him. In the book, he murders the husband for the same reason.

What I’ve been trying to puzzle out is: why did they change the sex of the victim? Normally when things are changed there’s a discernible, if not good reason. But in this case, it does not change the manner in which the crime was carried out in a substantive way, it does not make the murderer more or less sympathetic, and it doesn’t make more “sense”. The change, as far as I can tell, is utterly pointless, except that it casts a homosexual as a murderer compared to a heterosexual. I think I’d have to be pretty paranoid to cast this change as having a homophobic agenda.

In the course of his investigations, Poirot triggers another attempted murder, and discovers that one of the afore-said murderers is in fact innocent. The young lady who had been thought to have murdered her former employer turns out to be innocent. She is a petty thief, and her employer found out. Before her employer could fire her, she was killed by a Watson-style friend to the thief. The way is plays out is that we are led to believe there was an unexpressed lesbian relationship at play, possibly unrequited.

Alas, as all my Christie books are in boxes in storage, I haven’t had the chance to examine the book’s portrayal of the lesbian plot, but it seems just possible that the main murder plot was altered to provide symmetry. However, that’s an awfully sophisticated point to be making, with a lot of attendant worries. Would anyone not piqued as I am even notice? If that is the case, is it a purely aesthetic change, or is there a wider or political agenda on the part of the production team?

I have no definitive answers here, but having puzzled at it for some time now, I find I can go no further, and would welcome any assistance that can be offered by you, my readers.

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3 Responses to Cards on the Table [1936]

  1. catnip_mouse says:

    I don’t have a copy of “Cards at the Table” with me. However, from memory the young girl _did_ murder her employer. She did have a female friend, but there was no suggestion of a lesbian relationship (at least not that I detected as a teenager when I read the book).

    The actual innocent was the major who had accidentally shot someone. The set-up was some guy was about to walk over the edge of a cliff, the major didn’t have time to warn him so he planned to shoot him in the leg. Unfortuanely the wife of the man the major was planning to wing thought that he was desperately in love with her and waas planning to kill her husband and grabbed his arm at the wrong moment.

    My guess would be that these two plots were combined in a such a way that the pretty girl wasn’t a murderer (Mrs Oliver would have approved)

    • mashugenah says:

      I’d forgotten about him. 😦 That murder was unchanged, more or less, from the book to the movie. It was the doctor, the one who murdered Shaitana whose sexuality was tinkered with.

      And the petty thief had murdered her employer? I’d forgotten that too. In the movie, she has a “friend” who kills the employer to shield her.

      • catnip_mouse says:

        Yep, the petty thief definitely murdered her employer (by poisoning). She has a friend in the book, but the friend is completely innocent. Towards the end of the story the friend is nearly murdered by the thief to keep her from talking about her former employers death. The friend is rescued by the Major (I think), and they become romantically involved (which doesn’t fit so well with the lesbian angle).

        I hink that there’s just some inherent hubis in Holywood screen writers that they alays feel they can “improve” stories when they adapt from books.

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