Movie Critique - Agatha Christie's Poirot: Evil Under the Sun

For my review of all books, movies and TV shows based on books, go here.

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation: Although I had a few character portrayal of Poirot a bit odd, the movie still delighted and charmed me. Christie's novel has certainly come to life set in a scenic location; with some class acts by the stars; and a pure pleasure of a murder mystery laced with shades of humor.

Evil Under the Sun is a 1982 British locked-room mystery film directed by Guy Hamilton and produced by John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin. The film is based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie. Screenplay was given by Anthony Shaffer with uncredited support from Barry Sandler. The film has Sir Peter Ustinov, Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Diane Rigg, Colin Blakely, Jane Birkin and Nicholas Clay among others in the lead cast. 

Hercule Poirot (portrayed by Sir Peter Ustinov) is called on to meet Sir Horace Blatt (portrayed by Colin Blakely) on his exclusive Adriatic Sea island to confront Horace's mistress about a diamond ring. Seven more guests and the owner of the summer palace, Daphne Castle (portrayed by Dame Maggie Smith), also come to the island. And Arlena Stuart Marshall (portrayed by Dame Diane Rigg), Horace's mistress gets killed. Now Poirot has to figure out who among the remaining guests and the owner have motive, means and opportunity to kill Arlene. And he is not short of suspects or motives.

For me David Suchet always comes to my mind when I think of Hercule Poirot, the fictional Belgian detective created by Agatha Christie. Poirot is one of Christie's famous creations who first appeared in the 1920 detective novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles. The other two of her creations are Miss Marple and Tommy & Tuppence, a husband and wife amateur detective team.

Recently Kenneth Branagh has portrayed the role in the 2017 American mystery film Murder on the Orient Express. And I have come to accept him as Poirot. But I think Suchet made the best impression of how Christie would have wanted Poirot to be in real-life.

In this film we see Sir Peter Ustinov in the role of Hercule Poirot. Ustinov had previously played Poirot in the 1978 British mystery film Death on the Nile, another Christie novel adaptation of the same name released in 1937. This film forms a sequel to the 1978 film.

Incidentally Kenneth Branagh is set to play Poirot again in Death on the Nile, sequel to Murder on the Orient Express, which is scheduled to release in September 2021. Ustinov and Branagh had their movies released in reverse order, funnily enough.

Poirot is a much serious type and seldom makes any filthy jokes. Yet in this film I found Ustinov's characterization of Poirot a bit cheap. He had the language, accent, physical features and the mind down to a pat. But he has Poirot making lewd innuendoes or having him glee at being a peeping tom or having to utter some cheap jokes. Ustinov wasn’t bad at being Poirot just some of the characterizations was disappointing. 

Although I was disappointed with Ustinov's Poirot, it was a delight to watch Dame Maggie Smith on screen, her much younger self. I have seen several of her film roles such as Mother Superior in the 1992 American comedy film Sister Act and 1993 American musical comedy Sister Act 2: Back in Habit; as Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter film series from 2001 thru 2011; and most recently as Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham in the 2010 to 2015 British historical television drama series and the 2019 British historical drama film based on the series, Downton Abbey. 

But all those that I watched were from much later in her career. So it was a wonderful treat to see her earlier film. Her portrayal of Daphne Castle is equally regal and commanding as most of her other roles. 

Roddy McDowall plays the part of careless and overacting writer Rex Brewster. But I fondly remember for his role of Roger Stanford in the 1972 TV film Short Fuse from the Columbo series; and from two episodes on Murder, She Wrote, another 80s-90s TV series

Another film noir favorite from the 40s and 50s, James Mason, can be seen in the film portraying the part of Odell Gardener, a producer of plays. I watched him be the cool and chill antagonist Phillip Vandamm in the 1959 American spy thriller North By Northwest and was blown by his action. Even in his later years his charm hasn’t gone down an ounce. 

Although I don’t remember seeing any of Dame Diana Rigg's films, her characterization of Arlena Stuart Marshall in the film gave me chills. She could have easily been a strong femme fetale in the bygone film noir era. 

She does have a duet with Maggie Smith in the film for the song You're the Top written by Cole Porter and music composed by John Dalby. 

Nicholas Clay portraying the role of Patrick Redfern looks like someone in recent years…couldn’t figure where I saw him. 

There were some deviations from Christie's novel, but the basic essence of the plot was still kept tightly knit. There is some racist humor in the film that I was surprised to see in a Christie novel. Again I have to re-read the book to see if she indeed write that way. The film was not a commercial success. 

The opening credits were overlaid on watercolors by British architect and artist, Sir Hugh Casson, who had taught Prince Charles to paint. He is credited as well. Check them out here.

Also note that the title for each actor comes with an item of costume or prop relevant to the character. Same goes with the rest of the crew as well. For instance check out the title card for costume designer Anthony Powell. You can see costumes painted on the side. He had won an Academy Award for Best Costume Design in 1979 for his work on the 1978 film Death on the Nile. And note the typewriter on a table by a chair facing a balcony for the title card for Screenwriter Anthony Shaffer. Also note the actual title of the film appears after all the main star cast are listed. 

Although I had a few character portrayal of Poirot a bit odd, the movie still delighted and charmed me. Christie's novel has certainly come to life set in a scenic location; with some class acts by the stars; and a pure pleasure of a murder mystery laced with shades of humor.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. Director Hamilton had also directed the 1980 British mystery film The Mirror Crack'd again based on Agatha Christie's 1962 novel The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side. He used the same producer, John Barbourne for that film too.

b. Peter Ustinov reprised his role of Poirot a third time in the 1988 American mystery film Appointment with Death based on Agatha Christie's 1938 novel of the same name. Anthony Shaffer again co-wrote the script. 

c. Peter Ustinov also made a series of made for television films following Evil Under the Sun reprising his role of Poirot - 1985 British-American mystery film Thirteen at Dinner based on 1933 Christie's novel Lord Edgware Dies; 1986 British-American mystery film Murder in Three Acts based on 1934 Christie's novel Three Act Tragedy; and 1986 British-American mystery film Dead Man's Folly based on Christie's 1956 novel of the same name. 

d. Diane Rigg's daughter Rachael Stirling and Maggie Smith's son Toby Stephens both were part of the 1989 TV show Poirot, Season Nine, Episode One titled Five Little Pigs. Chronologically if we see, Five Little Pigs was written after Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie. 

e. Director Cameo Alert: Check out the pedestrian passing the offices of insurance company. He is director Guy Hamilton.

f. Early in the film, Rex Brewster is talking about Arlena Stuart Marshall's play to Daphne Castle, he calls it as "Hail and Farewell". Incidentally this is the same play that Groucho Max's character Gordon Miller is trying to get backing for in the 1938 American comedy film Room Service.

g. This is the debut film of actress Emily Hone. She portrays the role of Linda Marshall in the film, step daughter to the main character Arlene Stuart Marshall. 

h. Sir Peter Ustinov designed his own bathing suit he wore in the film. Check it out below.

i. The game that Odell Gardener plays is the French game Pétanque, in which players throw hollow metal balls as close as possible to a wooden one. More about the game here

j. Note the hotel register that Poirot examines. We see some noted personalities of the 1930s such as  Cole Porter, Ivor Novello, Maurice Chevalier, Fred Astaire, Adele Astaire, Charlie Chaplin, and possibly Marlene Dietrich. Since most of them would have been dead in 1982, this must be an inside joke by the film makers.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. Poirot comments that he gets sick traveling by boat ever since he was a boy. However in the prequel, Death on the Nile, the plot is set considerably on a boat and Poirot doesn’t have any sickness. Was it a fault in the film plot or the book plot? Have to re-read both the books to see for myself. 

b. Early in the film while the Gardeners are watching Poirot and Marshalls arrive on the island, Odell Gardener mis-utters Myra as "Myrna"

c. One of Patrick Redfern's dialogue when quoted in flashback is different. First when it was heard by Poirot, Patrick is having an argument with his wife Christine and says "I can't even speak to a pretty woman without you jumping to the conclusion that I'm having an affair with her". Later in a flashback recall by Poirot the dialogue is changed to "I can't even speak to a pretty woman with out you jumping to the conclusion that I'm... well, having an affair with her."

d. How did Patrick know that Myra Gardener would ask him for a ride to the cove? If he and his wife had carefully planned the murder, they would need someone to alibi Patrick. But how that would be Myra is something I couldn’t figure out. Because Myra supposedly asks him by chance. Is this loophole existing in the book as well? Have to re-read it to confirm.


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