Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is back, this time solving mysteries at an exclusive island resort in the Adriatic for Agatha Christie's Evil Under the Sun (1982).
Daphne (Maggie Smith) holds the position of proprietress at a former summer palace-turned-hotel. Her guests hold murder in their hearts.
Rex Brewster (Roddy McDowall) is desperate to sell his tell-all book about one of the other guests, and is livid that he cannot get a release form signed; one of the characters made off with an expensive jewel piece owned by Sir Horace Blatt (Colin Blakely) and he is not happy.
The film has its share of squabbling married couples.
The Redferns (Nicholas Clay and Jane Birkin) do not get along with each other; Arlena Marshall (Diana Rigg) flirts outrageously with other men in front of her new husband, Kenneth (Denis Quilley), and is unkind to her teen-aged stepdaughter Linda (Emily Hone); the Gardeners (James Mason and Sylvia Miles) are theatrical producers desperate to coax Mrs. Marshall back to the stage.
Even Daphne has a complicated history with one or two of the guests.
Everyone has a motive to kill someone else. However, the tension is handled with humor. The barbs and slings are often funny and sometimes shocking coming from the mouths of your favorite classic movie and television stars.
It's an island, so we get lots of great beachwear and coveralls.
Some of the costumes, however, are handled with humor. When the movie wants to poke fun at someone, it interrupts the signature vertical line with outrageous horizontals, outlandish colors or details.
However, some outfits are too clown-like and odd. Take Mrs. Gardner - a loud unpleasant woman who, at cocktail hour, wears puffed sleeves that are larger than her head. You want to kill her just for wearing that.
The comic tone of the costumes leavens the gruesome event of murder, but it is sometimes difficult to accept.
The characters all have some outfit which pairs white and/or black with bright red, navy blue or, occasionally, yellow. They could take a big family photo at almost any moment and look perfectly coordinated. Daphne's earrings match Rex's red socks. Rex's blue polka-dot neckerchief matches Mrs. Gardner's dress. Linda's blue swimsuit is reminiscent of the blue stripes in Rex's robe, etc., ad infinitum.
If this color coordination means something, the relevance is not apparent. It's disconcerting to behold an entire hotel full of guests who are perfectly united in color scheme and nautical theme, as if they were about to put on a production of Anything Goes.
Speaking of Cole Porter projects, the composer of "Begin the Beguine" makes his mark on the film. His music abounds in the score to set the era and the tone -luxurious, elegant and humorous.
Another interesting artist of the 20th century, Hugh Casson, architect and interior designer, lends his talents to the film. Casson created the watercolors under the title sequence. They are initially beautiful in and of themselves; they become especially meaningful on subsequent viewings. He doesn't reveal any clues to the mystery, but he does brilliantly set the tone for the film to follow.
When an actor's title card comes up, you'll notice some prop which represents the character, something you'll see him/her using during the movie.
Arlena's dashing red sun hat can be seen on Diana Rigg's title card.
Mr. Gardner's ubiquitous polka dot ascot and white pageboy hat is seen on James Mason's title card.
One of the characters loves to sketch, which becomes a plot point. Perhaps these little pictures belong to that person.
Daphne's resort on the Adriatic was actually filmed on the island of Mallorca in Spain. Every shot is stunningly beautiful. EMI Films -which also released Death on the Nile and The Mirror Crack'd- is known for lush production values in Christie films.
Though Evil Under the Sun has some distractingly funny costumes, watch this film for the impossible-to-solve mystery and the breathtakingly gorgeous location shots.
- Original New York Times review of Evil Under the Sun
- A Pair of Poirots: Suchet and Ustinov Discover "Evil Under the Sun"