Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, February 15, 2018


Peter Ustinov and Maggie Smith
EVIL UNDER THE SUN (1982). Director: Guy Hamilton.

"Even in the old days she would throw her legs up higher than anyone -- and wider." Daphne referring to Arlena.

At a resort run by former showgirl Daphne Castle (Maggie Smith), one of the guests is a former colleague and now star, Arlena Marshall (Diana Rigg of The Avengers). Although married, Arlena is fooling around with Patrick Redfern (Nicholas Clay), who is also married, to the plain-Jane Christine (Jane Birkin of Seven Deaths in the Cats Eye). When Arlena is strangled in an isolated cove, the suspects also include her wannabee biographer Rex Brewster (Roddy McDowall), and the producing team of Myra and Odell Gardener (Sylvia Miles and James Mason). Then there's Arlena's husband, Kenneth (Denis Quilley) and his obnoxious young daughter, Linda (Emily Hone). It is up to the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) to find out who the true murderer is. Evil Under the Sun is another over-produced, not quite "all-star" Agatha Christie adaptation, with a script by Anthony Shaffer that makes some changes but doesn't do too much damage to the novel. Overlong, the movie is very slow-paced and often dull, although some of the actors, especially Maggie Smith [Downton Abbey] and James Mason, do their best to keep things interesting with their performances. Mason and Sylvia Miles certainly make a very odd pair, and Miles is vivid if typically vulgar. McDowall does his usual middle-aged fop act. Ustinov is not the perfect Poirot, but he is amusing at times, and indeed the movie often plays like a parody. The picture only really picks up in the final quarter when Poirot assembles the suspects and reveals the clever solution, which (as usual) works better on the printed page than spelled out in wide screen and TechniColor. Still, it sends the audience out possibly fooled into thinking they've seen a better movie than they actually have. The film has absolutely none of the suspense of the novel, and you probably won't even care who killed Arlena. Rigg is excellent as the victim, and Clay and Birkin also make their mark as her lover and his discarded spouse. Smith's character refers to McDowall's with a stupid comment about "cherchez la fruit." The score consists of adaptations of the songs of Cole Porter. Since Porter's bouncy music is hardly appropriate for an alleged movie of suspense and intrigue, it almost kills the movie, lovely tunes notwithstanding, right there. Ustinov also played Poirot in Dead Man's Folly, which was a better Christie adaptation than this.

Verdict: Read Christie's book instead for a much more entertaining experience. **1/2.


angelman66 said...

I like this one way more than you do, Bill, in fact it is my favorite of the filmed Agatha Christies, followed by Death on the Nile. I just find the camp value irresistible... Maggie Smith is such a sly scene stealer, the Adriatic locations are so delicious (so is Nicholas Clay in a black speedo) and I always love Jane Birkin's transformation from mousy frau to Chanel-clad bitch-diva. Add in Sylvia Miles and Roddy McDowall and Diana Rigg (growling You're the Top!) and the Cole Porter score and I'm hooked. Have seen this one at least a dozen times--maybe even 20!

Sorry, Bill, guess I'm a sucker for camp and guilty pleasures! LOL

William said...

That's okay, Chris! I admit that I liked the picture more when I first saw it in the movies, and it isn't exactly bad. I still can't get over James Mason and Sylvia Miles playing a married couple. I met her once or twice and I can't even imagine what she and Mason would have had to say to one another, assuming they even spoke... Who knows? And I agree that the Birkin transformation is a hoot -- that's one of the reasons why I liked the final section of the film.