Evil Under The Sun Review
Just about anything would have been an improvement on The Mirror Crack’d and Evil Under The Sun is generally fairly good. But it’s a long way from the elegant wit of the first film in the series and everything seems a little bit tired, from Ustinov’s slapstick Poirot to the picture postcard locations.
It’s also noticable that the ‘star-studded cast’ has come down several rungs of the tinseltown ladder. Where we once had Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman we now have Diana Rigg and Sylvia Miles. Of this collection, only James Mason could be described as a real ‘star’ and even then his light had dimmed a long time before this was made in 1982. An even simpler comparison can be made by observing that Denis Quilley and Colin Blakeley featured way down the Orient Express cast list but are now in prime position above the title.
The film is better paced than the previous two series entries and manages to work up a certain momentum, despite the usual lack of real suspense. Only one murder this time, on the beach of an exclusive island resort, but a fairly clever solution which relies on the time-honoured manipulation of time and identity. It’s not exactly guessable - Dame Agatha cheats yet again - but if you are familiar with whodunnits then the twists in this one shouldn’t fool you too much.
The third-rank cast actually does quite a good job- memories of Liz Taylor are just about redeemed by the solid acting in this one. Maggie Smith and Diana Rigg are delightfully malicious as old chorus girls brought together thirty years later and their bitching is actually quite amusing. James Mason is relaxed and fun to watch and Roddy McDowell, required to do his old queen standby, does it to a turn. The only weak link is Nicholas Clay, playing an adulterous husband with a painfully fake Irish brogue and trying to get his - impressive - physique to do the acting for him. There’s a nicely over the top bit from Colin Blakeley though and young Emily Hone, playing a particularly foul teenage girl, is good enough to make you wonder what happened to her.
Guy Hamilton directs again, with a similar lack of pace, but is better served by his cast and he seems more sure-footed in the staging of the key events. He tends to indulge Peter Ustinov too much however. Ustinov, less controlled here than he was in his first Poirot movie, plays for laughs from the beginning and never convincingly suggests Poirot’s intellectual ability, so when he gets the solution it seems rather ludicrous that he could piece things together with such brilliance. Anthony Shaffer’s dialogue tends to encourage Ustinov in this, offering too many jokes - some good some bad - and not enough actual detection. Shaffer delights in the bitchy theatrical characters however, and his funny lines are usually as funny as he intends. But his structuring is not all it could be - the first hour of the film, prior to the murder, is slow and heavy when it should be light and airy.
Like The Mirror Crack’d, this film looks TV Movie flat - it’s shot by the same DP, Christopher Challis - and it lacks the requisite exotic atmosphere. All in all, it’s a pretty disappointing end to a series that started so well and Ustinov had to resort to peddling his poor substitute for Poirot in the TV movie market. These items of between-commercials filler were dismal, having been carelessly updated and cast with the sort of C-list stars who couldn’t even hope to aspire to a place in the credits of Evil Under The Sun. He returned to the character in 1987 with Michael Winner's Appointment With Death, a film so awful that not even the presence of John Gielgud and Lauren Bacall can redeem it.
The final disc in Optimum's Agatha Christie Collection is no better or worse than the others. Picture quality is acceptable but no more. The anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is a little crisper than on the other films with less grain but the colours are disappointingly dull and there is some artifacting in the darker interiors. The mono soundtrack, thankfully, is absolutely fine.
The only extra is a 1982 making-of documentary which runs about 10 minutes and contains interviews with Guy Hamilton, Diana Rigg, Roddy McDowell, Maggie Smith, Nicholas Clay, Jane Birkin, Peter Ustinov and James Mason. Nothing very interesting here though. Some very superficial observations about the characters and lots of smug comments about how nice it was making the film in a sunny clime. Like the similar piece on the Death on the Nile disc, this is in pretty poor condition.
Once again, Optimum provide no subtitles. This presumably saves them money but I think it's penny-pinching of the worst kind.