Monday, March 9, 2015

"Evil Under the Sun" the Movie

Evil under the Sun
Image Credit: Barnes and Noble
Hercule Poirot is my favorite Agatha Christie detective of the half dozen that she created and "Evil Under the Sun" is my favorite whodunit. The movies "Death on the Nile" and "Murder on the Orient Express" are terrific but "Evil" is the best of the three because of the music, costumes, scenery, and humor.

Costumes to Die For!

Academy Award and BAFTA Award winner Anthony Powell designed costumes that will take your breath away. His artistry can also be seen in "101 Dalmatians," "Death on the Nile" and "Hook." Many of the women's costumes have huge polka dots the color of gumballs or a Wonder Bread wrapper. Most of the jewelry is brightly colored and obvious costume jewelry, although the characters are wealthy. Even the "MacGuffin," a blue diamond that looks like the Hope Diamond, is paste. The plastic bracelets are piled on three or four at a time almost up to the elbow on Diana Rigg and Maggie Smith.

The women's hats are simply stunning. All are broad brimmed with large decorative doodads. The brims soar at all different angles like a cubist painting. My personal favorites are the Chinese red hat worn by Diana Rigg, the black and white hat worn by Jane Birkin after her transformation, and all of the hats worn by Sylvia Miles. There are a lot of turbans, typical of that period.

The women's costumes imply a couture origin, such as the form fitting jackets worn by Diana Rigg, Jane Birkin, and Maggie Smith. Diana Rigg's silver lame evening dress worn to the first dinner is a knockout. Perhaps the most amazing costume is worn by Jane Birkin. She appears to be the mousey little wife wearing headscarves and long flowing outfits in drab shades of brown and olive green. After her husband is accused by Poirot, the couple leaves the hotel. Her descent down the staircase in a wasp waisted black and white suit with a geometric hat literally causes jaws to drop.

The men's costumes are dashing. Roddy McDowell looks quite the sailor in his nautical attire, complete with neck scarf jauntily tied. James Mason's entire bespoke wardrobe screams elegance. The best men's costume is the bathing costume that was designed by Peter Ustinov himself. Who can forget the red rubber beret bathing cap or the wool bathing suit? The piece de resistance is the elephant print cover-up robe he wears to the beach.

Check out the costumes in this movie trailer for "Evil Under the Sun." Watch for Diana Rigg's silver lame gown, Maggie Smith's bracelets, Jane Birkin's drab toned outfit, and Roddy McDowell's sailor suit.


The dialogue is witty, urbane and full of zingers. Maggie Smith presages the Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey with lines like: "Couldn't we make this a private investigation? You know how peculiar people can be about a spot of murder" and "I hope you haven't come here to practice your sleuthing games on my guests - they've all got far too many skeletons in their cupboards to join in with enthusiasm."

Playing the obligatory crass American, Sylvia Miles says to her husband, James Mason, "Hmmph, my hero. I swear, if you were a man I would divorce you." She also has the best sight gag crushing her cigarette into a carefully cut tomato. After being insulted by both Sylvia Miles and James Mason, Roddy McDowell spouts "Is coarseness a substitute for wit, I ask myself?"

Here's Dame Maggie Smith talking about her character in "Evil Under the Sun."


The location of Majorca sparkles and glimmers in the sunlight. The plot places the island in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Albania. Location scouts couldn't find just the right island. Director Guy Hamilton suggested Majorca, where he just happened to be living at the time. Majorca Island is drop dead gorgeous. Majorca is located just east of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea and is the largest island in the Balearic Islands archipelago, which also contain Ibiza. Both are popular tourist destinations. The Raixa Estate serves as the setting for the hotel.

Two of my favorite scenes are there. The sight of Peter Ustinov "swimming" in that outrageous costume is hilarious. I also loved the dialogue between Maggie Smith and Peter Ustinov when he asks, "How many classes are there" when told he has received a medal, first class. It almost looks like an ad-lib from the reaction by Maggie Smith and other actors.

Plot and Dramatic License

I almost forgot that there's a great plot! The Diana Rigg character is murdered. Like most Agatha Christie mysteries, there are multiple suspects that are isolated to one location. Monsieur Poirot gathers the suspects together and announces the murderer.

The problem is that the evidence is purely circumstantial. As one character says to Poirot, “Where were you at the time of the murder?” After a plot twist, Poirot solves a previous murder based on evidence collected for this one.

Fans of the book and David Suchet know that a great deal of dramatic license has been used in the movie. Purists may not like the change of location or whodidit for the movie. While I'm sure that the Devonshire coast in England is just lovely, Majorca is sunny and spectacular.

The movie plot is a bit convoluted compared to the book. The murderer in the book is a logical choice, but then the movie would have fewer characters and costumes! The screenwriter, Anthony Shaffer, also wrote "Death on the Nile" and "Murder on the Orient Express."

Guy Hamilton, the director, easily deals with plot and character. After all, he directed four iconic James Bond films: "Goldfinger," "Diamonds Are Forever," "Live and Let Die," and "The Man with the Golden Gun."


Cole Porter's music evokes the time and mood of the era, between the two World Wars. The songs include many of Porter's most popular compositions: "In the Still of the Night," "You're the Top," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Night and Day," "Anything Goes," "Begin the Beguine," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Just One of Those Things," "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," "You Do Something to Me," and "It's De-lovely". These are just a few of the 881 songs written by Cole Porter, according to the Web site

John Lanchbery arranged and conducted the exquisite music. Lanchbery is best known for orchestral arrangements for the ballet and converting operas into ballets, such as “Merry Widow” and “Die Fledermaus”. His movie work includes “Tales of Beatrix Potter” and “The Turning Point.” Unfortunately, the CD jacket does not list which orchestra performed under John Lanchbery.

Haven't I Seen That Face Before?

Many of the actors in "Evil Under the Sun" have appeared in "Murder on the Orient Express" and "Death on the Nile" In my opinion, Peter Ustinov is the best movie Poirot. He manages to walk in a mince despite his rotundity. I wish that he had played Poirot in “Murder on the Orient Express.”

Actors in Multiple Agatha Christie Movies

"Evil Under the Sun"  
"Death on the Nile"  
"Murder on the Orient Express"  
Peter Ustinov
Hercule Poirot
Hercule Poirot

Maggie Smith
Daphne Castle
Miss Bowers

Denis Quilley
Kenneth Marshall

Colin Blakely
Sir Horace Blatt

Jane Birkin
Christine Redfern
Louise Bourget

About the movie
Available for download on iTunes for $9.99
Available on DVD from Barnes and Noble for $4.99
Run time: 1 hours 56 minutes
Released in 1981 by Lions Gate