Friday, September 16, 2016

AGATHA CHRISTIE BLOGATHON: Hercule Poirot finds Evil Under the Sun



Little Bits of Classic and Christina Wehner are hosting The Agatha Christie Blogathon running from September 16 - 18. Thank you to these two wonderful bloggers for this great event.

Recaps:  Day 1     Day 2     Day 3

Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles published in 1920 marked the introduction to the world of Hercule Poirot, the fussy and eccentric Belgian with amazing detective skills. Evil Under the Sun published in 1941 marks about the 3/4 mark in Poirot's 35 novel appearances. The sun in the title shines on a resort island separated from England's coast by a causeway which disappears at high tide. The merry-makers on this isolated amalgam of sandy beaches and secretive coves may be searching for an escape from their everyday lives, but will soon have those lives laid open by a murder investigation.



Agatha Christie
(1890 - 1976)

A notorious actress, Arlena Stewart Marshall is on the island with her doting husband Kenneth and his daughter Linda. Arlena's notoriety derives from high profile scandals and her obvious attraction to men other than her husband. This summer Arlena is seen spending too much time with the handsome Patrick Redfern, much to the dismay of his wife Christine. The owner of a fashion house, Rosamund Darnley is visibly perturbed by the marital woes of her old friend and sweetheart Kenneth Marshall.  The company includes a too hearty businessman, a fanatical clergyman, an outdoorsy woman and an American couple. When Arlena's strangled body is discovered on a remote section of the island no one escapes suspicion and no one escapes the keen eye of Hercule Poirot.  

Agatha Christie's stories work not only for their puzzles, but because of her keen eye for characters. Her ability to reveal with precise observations and deceptive dialogue the oh-so-human nature of those who populate her stories is a continual joy to generations of readers. Evil Under the Sun is an engrossing read with an unexpected touch of pity for the foolish Arlena.




The 1982 adaption of Christie's novel by Anthony Shaffer (Death on the Nile, Appointment with Death) moves the time period to the late 30s and the British resort to one in the Adriatic with actual filming on Majorca, the home base of director Guy Hamilton (Goldfinger, Funeral in Berlin).

Some characters from the novel are eliminated and/or combined with others for ease of storytelling. The fashion designer is eliminated, but her connection to Arlena's stoic husband Kenneth Marshall played by Denis Quilley (Murder on the Orient Express, Life at the Top) is rolled over into the innkeeper played by Maggie Smith (Death on the Nile, The VIPs). The hearty businessman is replaced with a bombastic aristocrat, Sir Horace Blatt played by Colin Blakely (Murder on the Orient Express, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes).



Peter Ustinov, Colin Blakely, Jane Birkin, Nichol Clay, Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg
Denis Quilley, Sylvia Miles, James Mason, Emily Hone, Roddy McDowall

The clergyman and rustic female are gone, as are the American tourists. In their stead we have an entertainment chronicler played by Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes, Man Hunt) and Sylvia Miles (Crossing Delancey, Midnight Cowboy) and James Mason (Odd Man Out, A Star is Born) as theatrical producers. Diana Rigg (The Hospital, The Great Muppet Caper) plays the doomed Arlena, Nicholas Clay (Lady Chatterley's Lover, Zulu Dawn) her paramour Redfern and Jane Birkin (Death on the Nile, Blow-Up) his dowdy wife. Emily Hone plays the put upon stepdaughter Linda Marshall.



Hercule Poirot takes in the sun.

Peter Ustinov (Spartacus, Topkapi) stars in his second of three outings as one of fiction's greatest detectives, Hercule Poirot. So vain, so fussy, so overbearing and yet so endearing. It must have something to do with that Ustinov fellow.

One of the many pleasures of Evil Under the Sun is Anthony Powell's costume design. He is an Oscar winner for Travels With My Aunt, Death on the Nile and Tess, and a nominee for Pirates, Hook and 102 Dalmatians. The wealthy on holiday in the 1930s allows for all manner of finery to please the eye. We expect our rich to be slightly over-the-top, do we not? 

The stroke of genius that gives Evil Under the Sun its special oomph is the use of Cole Porter songs for the score. Porter's music immediately evokes sophistication and the popping of champagne corks that gives this film its special effervescence.



Arlena Marshall takes the spotlight.

Arlena's talent is somewhat suspect, but her notoriety is assured and is necessary to box office success. Thus, the producing Gardeners desire her to star in their upcoming play. Also, she owes them since she left a previous show to hook up with Sir Horace, whom Arlena swindled out of an expensive bauble. Apparently, he didn't feel their affair was worth it. Arlena's current husband Kenneth seems to be suspicious of young Redfern. Redfern's wife certainly has no doubts as to the ongoing affair. Rex Brewster has written a tell-all on Arlena, but can't get her release to publish. Innkeeper Daphne goes way back with Arlena and it is not a pretty relationship. Stepdaughter Linda is petulant and we all know teenagers have no boundaries. When Arlena's corpse is discovered on an isolated beach everyone is a suspect and everyone has an alibi. Can Hercule Poirot solve this baffling case?

Lives and the business of the inn are at stake, not to mention the reputation of M. Hercule Poirot. Will this challenge go unmet?  Time to put those little grey cells to work. None of us turn to our Christie to see the great detective vanquished in his endeavours, and the reveal in Evil Under the Sun is an especially satisfying one.










18 comments:

  1. Ooh, this does sound enticing...with that cast, those costumes and especially Cole Porter songs! I'm really curious about Peter Ustinov as Poirot. He does seem like he would be an especially endearing Poirot. So far, I've only seen Albert Finney and David Suchet.

    Thanks so much for joining us for the Agatha Christie Blogathon! Your entry has sent me scrambling to find this movie. :)

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    1. Thanks to you and cohort for this fabulous blogathon. It is my great pleasure to contribute and I look forward to ll the contributions.

      In my mind Suchet is the ultimate Poirot, much as Joan Hickson is the supreme Jane Marple. However, there is something special about Ustinov in his three outings as Hercule Poirot. Anthony Shaffer adapted all three ("Death on the Nile", "Appointment With Death", "Evil Under the Sun") and I suspect he and Ustinov were very sympatico on the character.

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    2. Yes, I think I agree about Suchet and Hickson. I especially see Suchet and hear his voice while reading the books. Though it's nice to have the different interpretations. I'm looking forward to seeing Ustinov's take!

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    3. I am certain you will enjoy them. I find all the films with Ustinov a special treat.

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  2. I was doing a bit of research for my novel months ago that required me to read about Agatha Christie. I had no idea she was so prolific an author. Not that I've read any of her books, but it's still pretty impressive.

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    1. Harder to do with e-books, but one of my favourite pastimes is checking out what folks are reading on transit. While it's true that I see mostly females reading Christie, I have spotted a fellow or two among the throng. Go ahead - be a rebel. You might find her addictive.

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  3. I love the Ustinov versions of Poirot! They may have tampered with the books but they usually keep the basic story, and he's such fun to watch. And what an amazing cast this one has! Diana Rigg and Maggie Smith are both special favourites of mine. Ooh, you've really made me want to watch this again now. Great review!

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    1. Do not deny yourself the pleasure of "Evil Under the Sun" any longer!

      Thanks for reading and commenting. A lot of us will be having a Christie weekend.

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  4. I saw many common points between this movie and Deathon the Nile, from the cast to the overall feeling. And I love the Cole Porter's songs used in the movie! I saw it in a fun livetweet a couple of years ago.
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

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    1. Thanks for stopping by.

      Enjoy your Cole Porter!

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  5. What a wonderful review of the book and the movie! Evil under the Sun has such a great tight plot. Christie's best works take place in situations where the characters are artificially isolated, whether on a train, a country house, a steamer or an island, where the dynamics between them are intensified and the physical constraints of the setting create a baffling mystery. I love the lavish films with Peter Ustinov (I do remember that extraordinary bathing suit now!) It's so interesting to see Maggie Smith play the sophisticated part in this film, and contrast it with her role as Ms Bowers in Death on the Nile. Isn't the book cover design at the top of your post clever (when you think of the plot)? I'm definitely putting the book on my reading list now.

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    1. Thank you.

      It is a well plotted story, isn't it? I'm always amazed/entertained by the depth of emotion Christie can mine from a few characters in close quarters. She always leaves me thinking.

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  6. Love this movie, Pat. Though it doesn't exactly follow the book. What a great cast! AND THE PHOTOGRAPHY AND COLE PORTER MUSIC!!
    A definite Christie must-see. Roddy MacDowall is a hoot. Oh, almost forgot - THE FASHIONS! My favorite being Poirot's bathing suit and fishy robe. :)

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    1. Truly, there is so much to enjoy in the movie. Need a pick-me-up? Nothing like a nifty murder on an exotic isle with terrific music. Really? What more can we ask for?

      Maggie Smith (being helpful to Poirot by pointing out Roddy's character as a suspect): "Forget cherchez la femme, it's cherchez la fruit!" I wish an opportunity would arise where I could say that in real life, especially to one of my gay friends.

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  7. This is my favorite of the Peter Ustinov as Poirot movies. You're right that the fabulous costumes and the CP score add the perfect zing. But it's also one of Agatha's best-plotted mysteries, the cast is perfect, and the setting is breath-taking.

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  8. Just watched this last week. It's fun and has a superb cast! The Cole Porter music is perfect. I can never decide who cracks me up more, Roddy McDowell or Sylvia Miles. Honestly, Ustinov is entertaining, but he's not Poirot for me. Still, I enjoy Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun for the great Christie plots and all star casts.

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    1. The entertainment factor in this movie is through the roof. Everything primed to make murder a bit of effervescent fun. I think Ustinov had a grand time coming up with his version of Poirot, and that's what makes it fun for the rest of us. Even if we prefer our David Suchet on long winter evenings.

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