Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Sir Peter Ustinov, Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus) travels to an island resort to investigate the circumstances in which a diamond was given to a famous stage actress (Diana Rigg, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). However, the actress in question is murdered before Poirot is able to complete his investigation.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“Twaddle or not, it is the only explanation which fits all the facts.”
Evil Under the Sun is the fourth and last of the Agatha Christie movies produced by British moguls John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin. Despite being considered a critical and financial flop (the movie failed to recoup its costs), Evil Under the Sun isn’t a bad movie — it’s an elegant and well-acted murder-mystery.
While it’s definitely the least effective Brabourne-Goodwin whodunit (Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Death on the Nile (1978) and The Mirror Crack’d (1980) are their other productions), there are plenty of goodies here — Christopher Challis’s (Two for the Road) gorgeous cinematography (most of the movie was shot on the beautiful Spanish island of Mallorca) and the Cole Porter soundtrack are big pluses.
I also thought writer Anthony Shaffer (Sleuth) did a good job developing the storyline, especially the way he explores character dynamics. Additionally, the dialogue is witty and sharp, and the obligatory scene where Poirot unmasks the killer is handled well despite the fact that the explanation was a tad convoluted. The only thing I didn’t like about Shaffer’s script is that some characters were pushed to the background.
Once again, Sir Peter Ustinov plays the astute and inquisitive Belgian sleuth who will stop at nothing until the culprit of the crimes he investigates gets apprehended. Ustinov is very good (it was nice to see that Poirot has more screen time than usual), but as might be expected, the small but impressive supporting cast hogs all the attention.
The cast’s two Dames, Maggie Smith (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) and Diana Rigg, give the best performances in the movie. Smith plays the sassy hotel owner of the hotel where all the action takes place (Smith played a different character in Death on the Nile). Rigg is a hoot as a temperamental theater diva who enjoys manipulating the people around her — the talented Riggs even gets to sing Porter’s “You’re The Top”!
Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes) is also on hand as a gossipy, sharp-tongued writer of tell-all books. James Mason (Lolita) plays a theater empresario and Sylvia Miles (Midnight Cowboy) plays his domineering wife. It was, however, disappointing to see that Miles and Mason had so little to do. Also with Colin Blakely (Equus), Jane Birkin (1960s style icon and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s mom), Nicholas Clay (Excalibur) and Denis Quilley (Anne of a Thousand Days) as Rigg’s weakling husband.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
I feel Evil Under the Sun has been unfairly maligned by the critical mass. Although the movie is not what you would call great, it’s obvious that the filmmakers did the best they could with the source material. The endless shots of the beautiful island of Mallorca are a bonus. For Agatha Christie enthusiasts, the delighfully droll Evil Under the Sun is a must-see whodunit. Recommended. Color, 117 minutes, Rated PG.