Evil Under the Sun
- Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot
- Jane Birkin as Christine Redfern
- Nicholas Clay as Patrick Redfern
- Maggie Smith as Daphne Castle
- Roddy McDowall as Rex Brewster
- James Mason as Odell Gardener
- Sylvia Miles as Myra Gardener
- Denis Quilley as Kenneth Marshall
- Colin Blakely as Sir Horace Blatt
- Diana Rigg as Arlena Marshall
- Emily Hone as Linda Marshall
Based on the 1941 book by Agatha Christie, Evil Under the Sun may not be up there with Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile as a spectacular rendering of a classic murder mystery, but it does have its charms along the way thanks to a game cast.
The world-renowned Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot is contacted by one Sir Horace Blatt, an industrialist in need of his expertise. He concludes that a diamond in the man’s possession is in fact a fake, Blatt believes that his one time mistress Arlena has the real one that could be worth a huge fortune. Poirot agrees to look into the case and travels to an exclusive island resort in the Adriatic, owned by the acerbic Daphne Castle. Arlena is staying at the resort along with her new husband Kenneth and stepdaughter Linda, who she constantly belittles and berates. Also present is Patrick Redfern, a dashing young man with a roving eye, his meek and mousy wife Christine, bickering theatre managers Odell and Myra Gardener, gossip hound Rex Brewster and eventually Sir Horace Blatt himself. Arlena is a stage actress who has a habit of rubbing people up the wrong way with her bitchy behaviour and diva antics. Although married to Kenneth, she rather publicly begins an affair with the handsome Patrick. Everyone at the resort has some bone to pick with the obnoxious Arlena in one way or another. It is no surprise then to the very observant Poirot that the much hated diva eventually turns up strangled to death on one of the island’s beaches. With an array of suspects who by their own admissions had every reason to kill her, Poirot must deduce who the murderer is among them in order to solve the crime.
If Murder on the Orient Express was the classy and stately affair, and Death on the Nile was the exotic murder mystery, that makes Evil Under the Sun the lighter souffle of the bunch. Whereas the other two Poirot movies succeeded with intrigue, this one sadly falls a little flat in the thrilling mystery department. That isn’t to say it’s bad in any way, just not as memorable as the ones that came before it. Guy Hamilton has a decent go at directing this and the picture does benefit from a certain humorous edge, but after a while it becomes a bit repetitive. The island location is beautifully rendered and bathed in sun-kissed glory. The costume design is absolutely outrageous, with colours here, there and everywhere. The Cole Porter influenced score adds that dash of excitement, but other ventures in the musical department overdo the tropical setting.
What doesn’t falter in Evil Under the Sun is most of the talented cast assembled for it. Peter Ustinov, returning to the role, brings wise and eccentric charm to the part of Poirot. He is clearly having fun with the part, but brings an amount of gravity to it so it doesn’t slip into ridiculousness. Jane Birkin exudes scared vulnerability and weak-willed manners as the wronged wife Christine, who watches as her husband openly has an affair with the bitchy Arlena. Nicholas Clay is excellently virile as the muscled Adonis, most of the time seen in the most revealing pair of speedos known to man, whose dalliance with Arlena may have led to her death. Maggie Smith is an utter delight as the cynical hotel owner Daphne, whose sarcastic barbs and witty tongue make her a joy to watch. Roddy McDowall is a hoot as the gossip hungry journalist trying to unearth scandal, while James Mason and Sylvia Miles are wonderful as the constantly arguing couple. Denis Quilley, while slightly underused on occasion, is good enough as Arlena’s put-upon husband. Meanwhile, Colin Blakely injects garrulous humour to the part of Sir Horace Blatt. As the diva who eventually turns up dead, Diana Rigg has an utter blast portraying the glamorous but shallow and cutting bitch. Emily Hone is suitably angry and increasingly resentful as her stepdaughter.
So all in all, Evil Under the Sun isn’t the best adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel to hit the screen. But it has its positives that make it good entertainment for a matinee screening.