Saturday, July 30, 2011

Guest Review: Evil Under the Sun (1982)

By Philip Schweier

I’ve always been a mystery fan, ever since I watched Scooby-Doo in its original run. But many mysteries rely on some sort of gimmick, denying the audience (movie or book) the opportunity to solve the crime along with the detective. Perhaps the solution lies in a photograph the audience never gets to see. Or maybe there’s some bit of information to which only the detective is privy, choosing to reveal it only at the end denouement.

Such is the case in Evil Under the Sun (1982), the third in a series of five film adaptations featuring Agatha Christie’s Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot. The first, Murder On the Orient Express (1974), starred Albert Finney leading an all-star cast. Peter Ustinov took over the role (and did a much better job, IMHO) in Death on the Nile (1978). Following Evil Under the Sun, Ustinov reprised the role in a handful of made-for-TV movies in the mid-1980s, then in the Golan-Globus big screen production, Appointment with Death (1988).

In Evil Under the Sun, Poirot is initially tasked with determining why Sir Horace Blatt (Colin Blakely) would wish to insure what is determined to be a fake diamond. He explains he originally bought the stone as a gift for a dalliance with an unnamed actress, only to be dumped for another man. After much haggling back and forth, the lady in question finally relented and returned the diamond. He accuses her of having a copy made to deceive him.

To get to the bottom of the affair, Poirot joins a small group of tourists to a remote island hotel on the Adriatic. There, he encounters Arlena Marshall (Diana Rigg), the bane of all the other guests, who turns out to be the lady in question. It would appear she is having a none-too-secret affair with Patrick Redfern (Nicholas Clay), much to the dismay of his shrinking violet of a wife, Christine (Jane Birkin).

She has also drawn the ire of stage producers Myra and Odell Gardener (Sylvia Miles and James Mason), and author of her biography Rex Brewster (Roddy McDowall), not to mention her own husband Kenneth (Dennis Quilley), and step-daughter, Linda (Emily Hone). The hotel is run by a fellow thespian, Daphne Castle (Maggie Smith), from whom Arlena may have stolen one too many roles.

So it’s hardly a great surprise when Arlena is discovered dead on the beach (it’s a murder mystery, after all). But consider: Diana Rigg + beach scene + swimsuit = hubba-hubba. But in the interest of giving the ladies equal consideration, Peter Ustinov gets into the swim of things in his own 1930s-era beachwear.

Afterwards it becomes a case of whodunit, as Poirot’s little gray cells separate clue from red herring, and with a tremendous amount of imagination, comes up with a solution as tow HOW the murder is committed that requires no small amount of disbelief on the part of the audience. So much effort is required on the part of the killer that he/she overlooks one of the basic rules of storytelling: keep it simple.

As for WHO is the murderer, I won’t spoil it here, but I will say don’t bother trying to figure it out. Just go along for the ride, and take your best guess. The truth is you’re not as smart as Poirot, because you see, he knows things, and he ain’t sharing those facts until the very end. It’s a movie for mystery fans who enjoy a fun romp into the world of crime detection.

The film is directed by Guy Hamilton, a capable man for the job who has helmed a number of noteworthy movies, (notably James bonds films), telling screen stories in a straightforward, capable manner, but frankly, with little imagination or distinct creativity. He might be credited for the use of Cole Porter tunes for the score, which I appreciated immensely.

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Java Bean Rush said...

Hello Mr. Schweier,

Ustinov is my favorite Poirot as well. He's a natural at delivering humor in very gruesome situations.

In addition to the lovely beach-tog wearing actors, the scenery in Evil Under the Sun is wonderful see. You're on the same island the whole time, and you get lots of flashbacks (as is common in a Poirot film) but you never tire of it.

Roddy McDowell is a hoot!

I'm with you in that I'd prefer mysteries that I can solve if I pay close attention. Hiding clues gets me miffed sometimes. But I've learned to concentrate on how the characters in the films are presented. There are movie storytelling patterns that an audience member can rely on to make a decent guess as to whodunnit. [Results may vary.]

Thanks for the great review.

- Java

DorianTB said...

Mr. Schweier, as a fan of Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot, and many of the stars of EVIL UNDER THE SUN, I agree with Java Bean Rush: I thoroughly enjoyed your Guest Review of this delightful, urbane entry in the Peter Ustinov-as-Poirot movie series. Among other things, I'm reminded of my dear late mom, who was a big fan of Maggie Smith. Our favorite among the many witty lines in EVIL... was Smith's sly quip about Diana Rigg's ex-showgirl character being able to "kick higher and wider than the other girls." :-) Great post!