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Evil Under the Sun
The Kenneth Branagh-led and -directed adaptation of Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile has been pushed back (for now) until December, but Kino Lorber has unleashed a fair sampling of Christie mysteries on Blu-ray to tide fans over in the meanwhile. These include the 1978 version of Death on the Nile, starring Peter Ustinov as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, 1980's The Mirror Crack'd, with Angela Lansbury as Miss Marple, and our topic for today: the 1982 Poirot mystery Evil Under the Sun.
Ustinov returns in the lead role of Poirot, and Mirror Crack'd director Guy Hamilton makes another go-round at the helm. The Wicker Man and Sleuth author Anthony Shaffer adapts the screenplay (with uncredited rewrites by Mirror Crack'd writer Barry Sandler).
It's been a while since I've seen a Poirot mystery, as either a film or TV adaptation, so I'm not sure how reverent this film is to the normal formula. It does seem odd, however, that it takes nearly half the running time of Evil Under the Sun before anyone ends up dead. This feels especially odd because viewers can tell quite early on which character our prospective victim will be.
The superb Diana Rigg (RIP) is aloof actress and all-around con woman Arlena Stuart. Arlena has done a number of people dirty, and unfortunately for her, many of those people have all decided to enjoy a holiday at the same Mediterranean hotel. These include: proprietor Daphne Castle (Maggie Smith), who was Arlena's rival when they were both chorus girls; Arlena's would-be biographer Rex Brewster (Roddy McDowall), whose work is too tawdry to receive Arlena's permission to publish; theater producer Odell Gardener (James Mason) and his wife Myra (Sylvia Miles), whose fortunes were ruined when Arlena ditched their hit play mid-run; Arlena's current paramour Patrick Redfern (Excalibur's Nicholas Clay) and his grumpy wallflower of a wife, Christine (Jane Birkin), whose conspicuous lack of wealth makes them notable outsiders; and finally, Arlena's new husband Kenneth Marshall (Denis Quilley) and his peevish pre-teen daughter Linda (Emily Hone). Arlena's affair with Patrick gives at least three of those hotel guests obvious motives right there.
Plopped in the middle of these disgruntled vacationers is Poirot, who is quietly trying to track down a jewel that Arlena stole from titled millionaire Sir Horace Blatt (Colin Blakeley) when he was courting her. Ustinov's Poirot is broad and fussy, with an appetite for the finer things, that makes him appear not unlike a supercilious Santa Claus. The character is not fond of water, which makes a sequence in which he unenthusiastically attempts an afternoon dip in the Adriatic (in monogrammed swimming clothes, no less) a comic highlight.
While Evil Under the Sun does not have the most star power of these late '70s/early '80s Christies -- the 1974 Murder on the Orient Express is pretty hard to beat in that respect -- the assembled actors are all appealingly well-suited to their roles. Smith and Rigg are particularly pleasing as acid-tongued rivals. (While one gets faint hints of the bitchy Elizabeth Taylor/Kim Novak scenes from The Mirror Crack'd, director Hamilton has mostly dialed down the camp for this film.)
Once Arlena turns up strangled on a beach, the film significantly picks up momentum. As more and more of the assembled characters have plausible alibis for their whereabouts during the murder, Poirot gets more and more perplexed. The final revelation will not be a significant surprise to well-trained mystery-watchers, but that doesn't make this sunny excursion any less pleasant.
Evil Under the Sun is packaged with reversible cover art that features either the US or UK theatrical posters.
The AVC-encoded 1080p 1.85:1 transfer looks excellent. Apart from a few brief density anomalies, this is a bright, rich, and clean presentation. I commented in my Mirror Crack'd review that DP Christopher Challis has given that film a flat TV look. Challis has seemingly adjusted his approach with this film. It still is decidedly high-key overall, but it the color and depth feel decidedly more organic. Very satisfying.
No complaints from the DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono audio presentation. Dialogue is clear and well-supported. The score, which is all Cole Porter songs orchestrated by John Lanchbery, is perky and well-mixed.
- The same crew who has commented upon Kino's other recent Christie reissues is back again, with another lively discussion for this film.
Another diverting Agatha Christie adaptation, buoyed by a delightful ensemble of actors. Recommended.
Justin Remer is a filmmaker, oddball musician, and frequent wearer of beards. His new album, Dream Journal, is now available to stream or download on Bandcamp, Spotify, Amazon, Apple, and wherever else fine music is enjoyed.