Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Peter Ustinov, Maggie Smith, Roddy McDowall, Jason Mason, Diana Rigg
Extras: Featurette, Theatrical Trailer
In 1982’s ’Evil Under The Sun, ’ arguably the best of the Agatha Christie book-to-film transformations, Peter Ustinov once again dons the handlebar moustache and fussy virtuosity of Belgian super-sleuth Hercule Poirot. At an exclusive island resort, Poirot’s holiday is interrupted by the murder of actress Arlena Marshall (Diana Rigg). Naturally, a host of suspects (the roster this time includes Maggie Smith, James Mason, and Roddy McDowall) are fortuitously thrown together and all have reason for seeing Arlena dead. However, this time around everyone has a ’watertight’ alibi for not being able to commit the crime. Just when the clues seem to go nowhere and all hope of finding the perpetrator appears lost, Poirot and his unerring ’little grey cells’ find a way to unmask this island enigma. For as the man himself says, ’With Hercule Poirot, mysteries don’t last for long!’
Observing the hits and misses from their previous Christie forays, director Guy Hamilton (’The Mirror Crack’d’) and playwright Anthony Shaffer (’Death On The Nile’) learned their lessons well for ’Evil.’ Gone is ’Mirror’s’ sluggish pacing and the sharp verbal repartee that characterized ’Nile’ gets amped up a few notches, elevating the bon mots and caustic verbal darts to an almost musical pitch. The cast is better balanced than in ’Mirror’ and the performances are delightful, especially Rigg’s ultra diva Arlena, Smith’s ’proprietor with a past’ Daphne Castle and of course, Ustinov’s definitive Poirot. Watching Poirot ’swim’ while only up to his ankles in water or spoon dive into a towering dessert, he’s Sherlock Holmes as Benny Hill, brat and epicurean with staggering deductive powers.
Christopher Challis’ lush outdoor cinematography (the island exteriors were filmed in Majorca, Spain) could not be more video friendly. The 1.77:1 anamorphic transfer exhibits vibrant colors with the smallest details (red fingernails, the turquoise sea) transmitting solidly without any bleed. Deep blacks, stable contrast levels and consistent fleshtones all contribute to a thoroughly crisp looking picture. The source material itself looks extremely clean, with only a few blemishes and some edge enhancement apparent. If there were any digital or compression artifacts in the image, they sneaked past my eyes.
The soundtrack makes witty use of Cole Porter’s music with arrangements of such Porter standards as ’Anything Goes,’ ’You’re The Top,’ and ’Begin The Beguine’ keeping the action light and frothy. As decoded through the center channel, the disc’s two-channel mono audio is generally clear with good levels. Dialogue plays bright a couple of times, intermittently peaking but never to distortion.
A theatrical trailer and a behind-the-scenes feature make up the extras. The tongue-in-cheek trailer highlights Ustinov as Poirot talking into the camera to sell the movie. The fifteen-minute, shot-on-film featurette contains interviews with Hamilton, Ustinov, Smith and McDowall. Revelations are few, with most participants either commenting about their characters or giving their praise of Ustinov’s interpretation of Poirot.
Want a getaway from the noise of it all? Pop ’Evil Under The Sun’ into your DVD player and retreat to a sunlit isle complete with tropical drinks, soothing music… and a little night’s murder. Bon voyage.