Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Proirot experiences 'Evil Under the Sun'

Evil Under the Sun (1981)
Starring: Peter Ustinov, Diana Rigg, Jane Birkin, Maggie Smith, Roddy McDowall, and James Mason
Director: Guy Hamilton
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

When master detective Hercule Poirot (Ustinov) is hired by an insurance company to trace the path of a phony diamond, the assignment comes with an all-expense-paid trip to an exclusive resort island--just one of those hardships a detective must endure! Soon, however, Proirot finds himself in the midst of a murder myster that he must solve if he is protect his reputation: Famed actress Arlena Marshall (Rigg) is murdered right under his nose, and, while just about everyone on the island had a motive to kill her, everyone also has solid alibis.

"Evil Under the Sun" is another one of those great, all-star Agatha Christie mysteries from the 70s and 80s. I understand from a friend who's read the original book that this is a pretty loose adaptation, but she said that she felt the movie is actually superior to the book.

From Ustinov as Poirot, through McDowall as a effeminate theater critic, the cast gives excellent performances and everyone lives up to their star status, even those in fairly small parts, like James Mason. Diana Rigg and Maggie Smith were particuarly fun to watch, as they go through catty routines with one another. The film also takes full advantage of the gorgeous Mediterranean setting, offering some particularly beautiful shots as the characters move about the island. Another strong point is that the filmmakers actually paid attention to the time period in which the film is set; no 1970s-style hairdos and other silly slip-ups that were common in movies of this type.

One thing that is both a plus and a minus in "Evil Under the Sun" is the soundtrack music. It's all Cole Porter music that's been orchestrated for the film, and sometimes it works--the "Anything Goes" cue for when the hotel guests are frolicking, for example--but other times the orchestration is just too bombastic and intrusive to serve the film properly. At too many times--with a scene where James Mason's character is lurking in some bushes--the music calls attention to itself instead of supporting and enhancing what's unfolding in the film.

"Evil in the Sun" is a fine mystery movie--a great entry in the "cozy" genre--and it's made even better by the fact it plays fair with the audience. (I identified the killer even before all the evidence was presented, based on a scene the character shared with Proirot... and, to me, that makes for the best kind of mystery. I love being able to play along!)

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