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Evil Under the Sun (1982), based on Agatha Christie's 1941 novel of the same name, with a screenplay by Anthony Shaffer and Barry Sandler, marked the second time that Peter Ustinov played the role of Christie's Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot. Co-starring with Ustinov were Diana Rigg, Jane Birkin, who was also in another Christie adaptation, Death on the Nile (1978), Nicholas Clay, Maggie Smith, Roddy McDowall, Sylvia Miles, James Mason and Colin Blakely, who had appeared in Murder on the Orient Express (1974).
This was the fourth Agatha Christie film adaptation by EMI, who had also produced The Mirror Crack'd (1980). The three previous films had been more-or-less faithful adaptations, but the setting for Evil Under the Sun was moved from the Devon coast of England (reportedly because the hotel that inspired the film was being renovated) to the Mediterranean. The movie was actually shot in various locations in Majorca, Spain, with interior shooting done at the Lee International Studios in Wembley, London.
When asked how he felt about portraying Hercule Poirot, Ustinov said, "I find Poirot a very engaging character, although he's quite awful, really. I should hate to know him. He's very vain, self-contained and finicky. People have asked me why he never married - because he couldn't solve it, of course. An ancillary reason is that he's very much in love with himself. He has probably been quite true to himself. I don't think he's ever cheated on himself."
Composer John Lanchbery, normally a ballet conductor, was hired to arrange the music. To recreate the mood of the 1930s, he chose Cole Porter tunes for the entire soundtrack and assigned a song to each situation and each character. "I felt that the island was a terribly important character in the picture and needed a theme. There was something about the way they photographed Majorca that give it a certain rolling dignity." He created a seven-minute medley called "Porter meet Poirot" which was later performed with the Boston Pops. To stay historically accurate, Lanchbery went to the Cole Porter estate and looked at all of Porter's compositions up until 1938, when the film is set. He copied 100 songs and used 24.
Director Guy Hamilton, who also directed The Mirror Crack'd, is said to have admitted to having told the producers John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin that he didn't like Agatha Christie's "stuffy" writing style. The producers replied, "That's why we think you would be ideal for this picture." This lack of love for the author might have affected his work. While Agatha Christie films were normally popular, the critics were less than kind to Evil Under the Sun. Critic David Denby criticized director Guy Hamilton in particular in his New York Magazine review, writing that Hamilton didn't get much glamour out of the cast, who he called "hideously dressed," and that "the movie reeks of fussiness." Denby suggested that the film was so slow that the audience would be compiling their laundry list in their heads before the mystery thriller was over. Jack Matthews, writing for the Knight News Service, called it "a cross between a smirking parody and a random rerun from Gilligan's Island. Vincent Canby in The New York Times, on the other hand, enjoyed the film, writing that it had "a cast of marvelous actors who communicate mostly through rude remarks [...] In adapting Dame Agatha's not exactly flamboyant novel, Mr. Shaffer seems to have put a paperback edition of it under his pillow for one night and then allowed his imagination to take over. That's all to the good, though, because this is - after all - a conventional whodunit; both he and Guy Hamilton, the director, faithfully observe all of those genteel, drawing room conceits that so charm Christie fans and stupefy the rest of us."
Producers: John Brabourne, Richard Goodwin
Director: Guy Hamilton
Screenplay: Anthony Shaffer (screenplay); Agatha Christie (novel, uncredited); Barry Sandler (uncredited)
Cinematography: Christopher Challis
Art Direction: Alan Cassie
Film Editing: Richard Marden
Cast: Peter Ustinov (Hercule Poirot), Colin Blakely (Sir Horace Blatt), Jane Birkin (Christine Redfern), Nicholas Clay (Patrick Redfern), Maggie Smith (Daphne Castle), Roddy McDowall (Rex Brewster), Sylvia Miles (Myra Gardener), James Mason (Odell Gardener), Denis Quilley (Kenneth Marshall), Diana Rigg (Arlena Marshall).
by Lorraine LoBianco
Bennetts, Leslie. "Ustinov: One-Man Creative Industry." Lakeland Ledger 15 Mar 82
Bunson, Matthew. The Complete Christie: An Agatha Christie Encyclopedia
Canby, Vincent. "Evil Under the Sun: New Christie." New York Times 5 Mar 82
Challis, Christopher. Are They Really So Awful?: A Cameraman's Chronicles
Denby, David. New York Magazine 29 Mar 82
Hurdle, Judith. The Getaway Guide to Agatha Christie's England
Mathews, Jack. "Cuteness Kills 'Evil Under the Sun.'" Lakeland Ledger 15 Mar 82
Sarasota Herald-Tribune "Cole Porter Songs 'Star' in 'Evil Under the Sun'" 3 May 82