Monday, 5 October 2009

They Came To Baghdad (1951)

PLOT: Bridget Jones does James Bond in a ripping thriller of intrigue, murder and bad typing.

Victoria Jones is bored of being a very bad typist and on a whim follows a dashing stranger to Iraq where she gets involved in an international conspiracy. Along the way she's kidnapped, betrayed, and goes undercover as an archaeologist with no idea that she alone is the last living key to a global disaster.

Crikey! This is thumpingly good stuff. Just when I was getting tired of murder cocktail with a twist, here comes a charming thriller starring plucky Victoria Jones. By her own admission she's neither intelligent nor smart, but she has bucketloads of pluck and cunning which sees her through a world of lethal murder and secret revolutions admirably.

Victoria is a great heroine and proves how even more fun a Bridget Jones book would be if the guest cast dropped like flies. She's endearingly at home at an ambassador's reception and totally out of place infiltrating a sinister society. It's knuckle-gasp time as she trots into work, surrounded by obviously Villainous Sorts, making a hash of typing up the lethal plans of the Olive Branch.

With her wounded pride and her "Some of the cleverest people can't spell" attitude she sticks out like a sore thumb against the ice cool Catherine who you just know is a bad 'un. After Poirot's perfections, Victoria is a breath of fresh air, armed only with her niceness and determination.

Christie pulls off 1950s Iraq with aplomb and not a whiff of racism, peopling it with vivid locals, arrogant Englishers, and offices with secret doors and hidden agendas. We get the super-super spy Fakir Carmichael who is so noble he'd make Biggles blub, we've the secretly efficient Mr Dakin, we've a wonderfully decent hotelier who doesn't mind that Victoria's broke, and diplomats with a love of good furniture.

It's splendid, splendid stuff - and just when you think it can't get better, comes Victoria's visit to the archaeological dig, and a spot of clear autobiography for Christie as she faithfully explains her Mesopotamian labours and the wonders of Max Mallowan. As charming as the reality was, the real Christie wasn't on the tun from a death cult. But there we are.

NEXT: Big bad momma in Petra - it's Appointment With Death!

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