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on March 31, 2013

I love Christie's books. I really think she's one of the best authors of all time, having almost single-handedly created an entire genre on her own. I've read Christie mysteries that while not great, certainly had great moments in them. They had some redeeming quality. Not this one.

Christie is normally excellent at her setups. Everything is presented for a later pay off. The reader/viewer usually hits their forehead and says, "Why didn't I notice that earlier?!" Not here. There was absolutely NO evidence or reason to connect some random murder, shown at the opening of the film, to the Redferns. In fact, I kept thinking through the whole film that this particular scene was just included to introduce Poirot to the audience...to show him sleuthing. How she ties the Redferns to this earlier murder just to establish proof of their murder of the main victim is WAY too convenient. Poirot just happens to find the jewel in the pipe of the murderer as he tries to sneak it out of the hotel. How preposterous was THAT?! Why in his pipe instead of his pocket? Totally random. How could Poirot possibly have known? NO clues are given to the audience about this and a lot of things along the way. I felt Christie painted herself into a corner with this one and had to cheat her way out. It's a shame because she always plays fair with her audience. Forget this lame story on DVD or in book form and choose: And Then There Were None, Toward Zero or Crooked House or Ordeal By Innocence for excellent mysteries with ALL the clues intact. In fact, all of those books are among Christie's personal favorites. I can see why. They're perfectly constructed. Evil Under the Sun however, is on par with her worst book ever...Endless Night. Don't bother with either of them.

FYI: As a rule, Christie's books do NOT play out well on film. Her mysteries are like puzzles, psychological games. There is a LOT of talking, clue collecting and back-and-forth among suspects. This is great for books, but NOT film, which can feel VERY static and boring. Film is a visual medium that needs to SHOW what's going on and NOT TELL the audience. Since her books are very talky, they tend to not make great films. Choose the books, instead. The experience is completely different.
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on January 21, 2014
By: Revit
The film version of Agatha Christie's Evil Under the Sun, staring Peter Ustinov as Christie's favorite detective Hercule Poirot, was released in 1982. Anthony Schaffer wrote the screenplay, Guy Hamilton was the Director, Cole Porter wrote the music and Anthony Powell designed the magnificent modernistic campy costumes.

As the story opens a hiker, Alice Ruber, is found strangled on the Yorkshire moors. Poirot was hired by the insurers to investigate the murder and added the investigation of a faux diamond being substituted for the genuine one belonging to millionaire industrialist Horace Blatt (Colin Blakely). Poirot interviewed Horace Blatt on his yacht who said that he given the diamond, valued at $50,000, to a New York City music show star, Arlina Stuart, (Diana Rigg), in contemplation of marriage. She had left him on the boat trip back to England and married Kenneth Marshal; he demanded the diamond back. Now he knows that she returned a faux copy of the diamond to him.

The participants all gathered at an exclusive island resort in the Adriatic, formally the summer palace of the King of Tyrania and now owned by Daphne Castle (Maggie Smith). Resort guests included: Odell and Myra Gardener (James Mason and Sylvia Miles), New York City theatrical producers, and Rex Brewster (Roddy McDowall) a writer and theatrical journalist. Newly arriving guests included: Kenneth Marshal (Denis Quilley), his wife Arlina and his 16 year old daughter Linda; Patrick Redfern, a dashing young man and his wife Christine (Nicholas Mason and Jane Birkin); and of course Hercule Poirot .
Odel and Myra Gardner face financial ruin resulting from Arlina quitting their successful musical in the middle of its run, and her refusal to accept a role in their newly planned musical. Rex Brewster faces serious debts due to having spent advances on the book he had written about Arlina. She refused to let him publish it. Horace Blatt will loose $50,000 on the diamond he had given to Arlina, unless he can get her to return the genuine one to him.

Arlina is found strangled on the beach near the faux diamond. Daphne Castle urges Poirot to investigate fearing a spot of murder would ruin her resort hotel. Poirot accepts planning to get a recovery fee on the diamond. As is often the case in Christie's mysteries, a lot of the participants have motives but their alibis seem to preclude the possibility that any of them committed the crime. Poirot questions all of the suspects several times. He uses his little grey cells to evaluate and organize the responses into a timed matrix. The next day, he awakens refreshed, and asks that they all gather in the lobby after he has had breakfast; then he will tell them how the crime was committed and who the guilty party was.

Can you solve this crime before Poirot finishes breakfast? I strongly recommend that you save your sanity, buy the DVD, and tell your family to join you with popcorn in hand to see the movie. You can watch it over and over until your little grey cells organize the information into a timed matrix. Then you can compare your solution with Poirot's. Incidentally if you also have a copy of this same mystery with David Suchet playing Poirot you can compare the two of them. You will find that disc in the "Definitive Collection" of twelve Agatha Christie mysteries. I believe you will find this version with Peter Ustinov playing Poirot to be far superior; I certainly do.
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on August 23, 2012
How can a film by a major studio containing such an array of first class actors be a bomb? Well, it happened here...in spades. It must be that the cast and crew wanted a holiday in Spain and so agreed to be in this ridiculous Agatha Christie story. The acting is almost tongue in cheek; you can't believe, for example, how awful Roddy McDowall can be as a gay and how ridiculous Diana Rigg is as the bitchy victim. (The costumes, all around, are grotesque, especially on Rigg and Maggie Smith.) If we hadn't seen David Suchet in the role of Poirot, we might have given a pass to Peter Ustinov. But alas, he is a parody of the character we all know and love. The pair of actors playing the villains have skills akin to what one might see in a high school play. James Mason, 73, is barely in the film but gets star billing. His crude hair dye is somehow appropriate.

Good photography is all this stinker has going for it. I hope the participants had a good time on location. For the rest of us, the final product is only yet another occasion to groan aloud.

Oh yes, where was the villain's stolen jewel? In his unlit pipe, as Poirot expected all along. Argggggggggg.
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on May 17, 2014
It never fails to amaze me that so many people will give a 5 star rating to what is at best a ho-hum film. As a long time Christie fan who has read every one of her novels at least twice, I have to say that there has never really been a great film production of any of her books and that includes the Suchet teleplays. The closest one was perhaps Murder on the Orient Express and despite excellent attention to sets and costumes, even that production had flaws. The biggest problem is usually the inability of screen writers and actors (even actors who are otherwise phenomenal such as Finney and Ustinov) to capture the essence of Hercule Poirot. Most productions exaggerate the quixotic character traits Christie incorporated into her iconic sleuth and end up playing him for laughs or as a bit of a buffoon, but fail to capture the brilliance of his mind which should be evident throughout instead of just at the denouement. Plus, Ustinov was just simply too large of a man to represent Poirot who was always portrayed as a small, slight, and very finicky man, who for instance would never appear in a bathing costume. Other than that, this production was generally faithful to the plot points in the novel despite several, minor, unnecessary points where it strayed and some of the other actors, who, though they played their roles fine didn't really fit the part - for instance, Diana Rigg was, I'm afraid too old at the time of filming to appropriately represent Arlena. And the costumes were off putting - they were largely over the top for both male and female characters. To me the costume designer/director apparently wasn't sure what era the story was supposed to be set in and so incorporated various clothing designs ranging from the 1910's through the 40's and thereby failed to create a coherent reference point in time. Plus, they made Maggie Smith's character look like a silly floosy who perhaps should have been running a brothel rather than a posh seaside resort. All in all, I did sort of like the camp quality of the film, but like most other adaptations of Christie stories, it falls far short of the book.
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A mysterious murder, unbreakable alibis, and a stolen diamond... all wrapped up in a glitzy, mildly campy shell.

Yeah, you can't expect "Evil Under the Sun," with its barbed Mediterranean atmosphere, to resemble Agatha Christie's usual cozies. This relaxed murder mystery does succeed at being fun and genuinely befuddling, although the martini-swilling, sunny atmosphere make the entire gruesome murder feel rather too... relaxing. A murder shouldn't seem like a vacation... or should it?

An insurance goof and a stolen gem send Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) to "Daphne's Place," a palace-turned-hotel in a small Mediterranean country. He arrives on the same boat as famed stage actress Arlena Marshall (Diana Rigg) and her new husband and stepdaughter. Arlena openly has an affair with boytoy Patrick (Nicholas Clay) -- and then she suddenly turns up, strangled on a remote beach.

There are suspects galore: her betrayed husband, resentful stepdaughter, an old rival who is attracted to Mr. Marshall, a pair of ugly American producers whom she's bankrupting, a flaming gossip writer who has written a steamy tell-all, and her boytoy's mousy wife. But no one had the opportunity -- everyone has an alibi. So Hercule Poirot exercises the "little gray cells," unravelling the clues of a discarded bottle, a midday shower, a cannon, and perfume in a cave.

Don't expect "Evil Under the Sun" to be any more faithful to its book than Arlena is to Marshall -- several aspects of the plot are rearranged or changed, and the sense of darkness is exchanged for a rhinestoned camp quality. And the plot unfolds at a leisurely pace, dropping in hints, clues and clever deceptions like so many plastic jewels on a beach.

In fact, the clothes say it all -- both Rigg and Maggie Smith wear faux jewels on silver lame, and American Myra resembles a Christmas tree with fur. Everyone swills martinis, sunbathes, and wanders across a lush little island to the hotel. Occasionally the impending murder and its aftereffects seem almost like an afterthought.

That said, "Evil Under the Sun's" campy quality is part of what makes it so much fun. Lots of catty, witty dialogue ("She always could throw her legs up in the air higher than the rest of us... and wider..."), sniping characters with plenty of motives, and a delightfully loathsome victim. You'll want Arlena dead by the time she tells her daughter to go play with the jellyfish, and then you'll want to know who could possibly have done the impossible.

Peter Ustinov has the right combination of smarts and comedy to play Poirot, the Belgian sleuth who saves the day and drives the hotel staff crazy. And while he succeeds in bringing Poirot's eccentricities to life (such as the "swimming" scene), he never takes it over the top to the point where Poirot becomes cartoonish.

The always-awesome Maggie Smith also turns in a wonderful performance as the razor-tongued "maitresse en titre turned hotelier," turning in some touching and funny moments among the sharp dialogue. And Rigg is wonderfully catty, nasty, glamorous and utterly uncaring of anyone else. The supporting cast also does a wonderful job, particularly the two who play the murderers -- and are the last ones you'd expect.

The one flaw is that all the humor, glitz and wit detract a little from the dark atmosphere one expects from a murder mystery. Instead, "Evil Under the Sun" is a campy comedy that happens to have a murder in it.
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Agatha Christie's novels had usually been filmed with a mixture of ho-hum and broad comedy and lots of tinkering with the plots, facts that annoyed Christie to no end. She resisted selling further film rights until the 1974 MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, which set a new standard for glamour, memorable performances by an all star cast, and remarkable faithfulness to the original novel. But when producers wished to pursue other Christie project, the star at the center ORIENT EXPRESS--Albert Finney--declined, and Peter Ustinov was signed in his place. The result was once more a mixture of ho-hum and broad comedy and lots of tinkering with the plots.

Even under the best of circumstances EVIL UNDER THE SUN would be a difficult book to film because so much of plot hinges on a meticulous time line; the result is an extremely wordy script that has undergone some sea changes to make the whole thing less demanding for those who don't want to be forced into paying attention to detail. The characters have also undergone a series of changes that one would not expect. Even so, the basic notion remains the same. Arlena Marshal (a role said to have been loosely based on stage star Gertrude Lawrence and played to perfection by Diana Rigg) is a hard-as-nails stage star, recently married, who comes to an island resort for a vaction. She becomes infatuated with a young man, which infuriates her husband and his wife; she ticks off a couple of producers who are seeking her services for a new show; she rips up a biographer when she refuses to sign a release for the book he has written about her. Indeed, just about everyone has cause to hate her--so it is no great surprise when Arlena turns up dead on an isolated beach. But when Poriot begins to sort through the alibis, he discovers that absolutely no one seems to have had the opportunity to kill her.

Some of the performances are quite nice: Diana Rigg plays a memorable bitch and Maggie Smith is quite good as her former rival and the resort owner. But the script is extremely weak, the whole thing is filmed in a ho-hum manner, and such guest stars as Roddy McDowell, Silvia Miles, and James Mason are largely wasted. And then there is Peter Ustinov as Poirot, who is utterly unlike the character Agatha Christie created and who plays the role as more buffoon than celebrated detective. Indeed, Rigg and Smith aside, the best that can be said for the movie is the Cole Porter score, which is evocative of the period and well orchestrated. If you like the Ustinov Poirot, you'll probably enjoy this one--but if your tastes run to Albert Finney or the more recent David Suchet, you'll probably find the movie an uphill effort all the way. The DVD includes a short "making of" film and various cast bios.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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on March 7, 2001
EVIL UNDER THE SUN contains perhaps the campiest dialogue and most over-the-top performances of the four sparkling, big budget adaptations of Agatha Christie mysteries (ORIENT EXPRESS, NILE, MIRROR, and this one) made by the same producers. Somehow, it all works better here with its exquisite locations, lyrical Cole Porter score, and knockout Anthony Powell costumes which are truly breathtaking.
As always in a Christie mystery, no one seems able to have done the crime (despite everyone having a viable motive), and it's up to Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov who plays with the part more than ever in his broadest interpretation of the role in five tries - two films and three made-for-TV movies) to sort things out. He does so in a beautifully played denouement at the film's conclusion which makes everything clear.
The new DVD release is to be treasured for its very saturated colors (the VHS tape seemed washed out and vaguely unfocused) and clear sound (though mono, it seemed wonderfully rich and full). It's a terrific addition to anyone's mystery library and remains my favorite of the Christie adaptations. (I would like to see MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPESS get a widescreen DVD release some day, however.)
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on May 28, 2013
Although coming later in the series of Agatha Christie mysteries than Murder On The Orient Express and Death On The Nile, this film has all the ingredients we have come to expect from this production team. An excellent cast, headed by Peter Ustinov, along with Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg, Dennis Quilley, and Roddy MacDowell, in an exotic locale provide us with the basic ingredients for a stylish "who-done-it". All of this is highlighted by John Lanchbery's arrangement of Cole Porter music, some of it well known and other sections from obscure, long forgotten sources, but is exactly in the right period style to heighten the atmosphere.

The island of Mallorca makes a fine substitute for Christie's original Greek Island setting, However, the transfer to DVD is very poor, and impairs one full enjoyment of the film. Fearing that I may have received a poor quality disc, I purchased a second copy from another source, with the same unhappy result.
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on August 30, 2016
Lively composition of major stars, scenic locations and pure fun. Peter Ustinov's Poirot is delightful. Diana Rigg is pure genius. And the young Maggie Smith is a total treat.
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on September 30, 2017
one of my favorite movies
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