Evil Under The Sun (1982): 5 out of 10: Campy adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1941 novel of the same name. The forth of a string of star-studded Agatha Christie adaptations after Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Death On the Nile (1978), and The Mirror Crack’d (1980). Evil Under The Sun failed to capture the imagination of audiences of the day and was a box office disappointment.
The Good: If you want to see Maggie Smith and Diana Rigg go at it with witty dialogue and withering looks do I have the movie for you. What? No, it is this movie Evil Under The Sun, the one I am reviewing. No, I don’t know another movie they were both in together. Anyway, they are well worth the lazy Sunday afternoon watch. The rest of the cast is fine. (Roddy McDowall plays a gossip columnist in such an exaggerated camp manner, I am pretty sure it is now a hate crime in Scotland.)
The film has a breezy feel to it. There is some nice scenery and costumes, and Cole Porter on the soundtrack is always a plus.
The Bad: There are two parts to any drawing room mystery. There is the first part where they all are introduced, say witty things, and have torrid affairs. Then there is the second part when they realise they are trapped in a house, castle, boat, island ect with a killer who just viciously killed and might kill again and that eccentric foreign person turns out to be a world famous detective and he doesn’t like my alibi.
Evil Under the Sun takes its time to get to the murder (Read it takes forever). In the film’s defense, the Agatha Christie source material also takes forever to get to the murder. So we get well over an hour of vicious backstabbing, torrid affairs and character development. Some of this is quite good (Maggie Smith and Diana Rigg above) Some of it is not (Diana Rigg’s recent husband and stepdaughter moping around, for example). The murder happens and nothing.. still the exact same characters acting the exact same way minus one cast member.
Seriously, even over the top murder mystery comedies like Clue get this right. You discover a body (Or in Clue’s case Mr. Boddy) and everyone panics suspecting everyone else there of being the killer. Evil Under the Sun’s cast couldn’t care less that there was a killer on the island. These are the type of idiots who don’t wear a mask while shopping.
Putting vapid lightweight characters under pressure and making them crack is fun. There is none of that here. The beginning of the film is as relaxed and genteel and the end of the film. There is no edge considering the source material. You know what on second thought, maybe the Cole Porter music was an error.
The Ugly: I am going to call this out. This is a badly directed film. The characters are lightweight, the pacing is languid, and the entire thing feels like a TV movie with some guest stars. If you told me that this was the pilot episode for the BBC adaptation of the American TV series Fantasy Island with Maggie Smith as Mr. Roarke, I would believe you. Okay, now I want to live in an alternate reality where the British Fantasy Island with Maggie Smith exists. David Rappaport could play Tattoo. Okay, all I need now is a time machine and some production funds and I will have to reach out to Gene Levitt to get the UK rights. I think I can make this work. We will get Twiggy for the Pilot episode and of course Diane Riggs and maybe Doug McClure.
The Ugly part 2
The Ugly part 2 (Lets try this again): Evil Under The Sun is not a well-directed film. For example, there is a opening scene in the moor where a hiker finds a body. The police are called and well; it turns out the person isn’t dead. I mean, the movie said she was dead, but she is still breathing (quite heavily I might add) in the ten second scene showing the “corpse”. Why wasn’t this scene reshot? It’s ten seconds of film. Or cut out? You just need to show the police above the body there was no reason to show the not quite dead yet body itself. In fact, since the events in this scene are not referenced again till the very end of the movie and then only in passing, why not just start your movie with Poirot in London?
A murder in England of a person neither we nor (at least apparently) any of the movie’s characters know has zero effect on vacationers on an island off the coast of Albania. It seems a way to prevent criticism of the movie not having a murder for over an hour. “what are you talking about” the movie seems to be saying “we killed a perfect stranger six thousand miles away during the opening credits.” A person clearly still breathing… ugh.
In conclusion: If you want a much better version of this story I would highly recommend Poirot Season 8 Episode 1 unsurprising called Evil Under the Sun. I know I seem a bit harsh on the Evil Under The Sun, but it seems like a lazy get together with friends at a resort movie than a real film. The kind of movie Adam Sandler makes with his friends in Hawaii where Kevin James is Thomas Magnum’s illegitimate son and Rob Schneider is the Japanese ambassador.
When asked why he chose the Spanish island location of Mallorca instead of the Devon shoreline where the book takes place director Guy Hamilton explained that Mallorca is where his vacation home is. I am not surprised.