Shame on Producers and Directors!
Patrick W. Crabtree | Lucasville, OH USA | 09/25/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I'm going to quickly cite some of my qualifications for rating these 3 films because it's relevant to what I have to say: I'm a HUGE Christie fan -- I've read every book/play (some 2 or 3 times) that she wrote (over 80 in all), her Mary Westmacott pseudonym stuff, her tome of an autobiography (not a very good or honest work, BTW!), and all the films and TV productions of Christie mysteries that are available to date.
Now, I will begin by noting that, for me, there are essentially 3 facets to evaluating a "Christie film" -- 1. Was it a good book to begin with? -- some are excellent, some are pretty lame, 2. How closely did the screenwriter adhere to the original work?, and, 3. Did the acting come off as "genuine" or was it hokey? (Christie stories, in particular, always manifest the dreaded potential to come off badly in the hands of an unskilled director). For example, to give you a measuring stick, the best Christie film ever is: Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express
A REVISION! Here is yet another brilliant Christie film! (see my review):
Ten Little Indians / Desyat' Negrityat
This set of three DVDs are, in the aggregate, "good films," worth the price -- unfortunately, given that they were obviously high-budget films, they COULD have all been spectacular, but that simply did not happen. I'll take them from best to worst.
"Evil Under the Sun" is the star of the three. Like "Murder on the Orient Express" (which is not in this set), it's chock-full of big names: Peter Ustinov (as Poirot), James Mason, Roddy Macdowall, Colin Blakely, and others. It takes place on a resort island, an actress is murdered on a remote beach, and Poirot has to unmask the murderer at the conclusion -- standard Poirot formula. If Ustinov does not exactly fit the profile of the book Poirot, he certainly makes up for it in a fine performance. All performances are a bit overplayed but it still comes off nicely -- it's in letterbox and the cinematography is spectacular. For me, it just makes the 5-star rating that I gave it. I definitely recommend it to all viewers.
The second film in the set is "Death on the Nile," which was one of Christie's finest mysteries ever; however, this movie has a few problems, the first being that the director clearly depended upon all the big stars to simply "carry" the film. Included are Peter Ustinov (as Poirot), Bette Davis, David Niven, Angela Lansbury, Mia Farrow, George Kennedy, Jack Warden, and others. The film was produced in 1978 and all these actors were pretty much well past their primes. Again, Ustinov pulls off a super performance and I especially liked Mia Farrow too. The great David Niven was okay but the remainder pretty much stunk in their roles. Angela Lansbury, as a drunken has-been writer of fiction, was simply terrible. The story itself revolves around a honeymoon couple's (the bride is RICH!) boat tour (bulging with enemies of the bride) up the Nile River where the bride is ultimately murdered, a bullet to the head. There is also a second murder, I won't say who as that would be a spoiler. Again, Poirot has to expose the culprit at the end. The film is in letterbox format and the cinematography is magnificent. I should also say that this is not a boring film -- the activity and scenery will keep Christie fans interested throughout. Had the movie people cast fewer big names and focused a lot more on telling the story in a serious manner, this would have been an easy 5 -- I reluctantly give it a 4 and definitely recommend it to all Christie fans. Other viewers might only make it halfway through the film.
The third DVD is "The Mirror Crack'd," another pretty good Christie book -- and, again, we are presented with an overage of big names.... and I mean BIG! Angela Lansbury, Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Novak, Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis and Edward Fox, the latter giving a VERY fine performance, maybe even "saving" the film for me in the second half. The story: A frumpy local woman is murdered (poisoned) as she attends a high-end theatrical party with hundreds present... but was she the intended victim? This time, Miss Marple (Christie's top female snooper), of course, reveals all at the conclusion. I must sadly report that Angela Lansbury played Miss Marple, deplorably, and it's equally sad that the screenwriters departed significantly from Chistie's rendering of the favorite lady amateur detective's profile. Lansbury comes off as very assertive, not humble at all, and even puffs away at a non-filtered coffin nail near the end of the flick, an act that would have appalled Christie's Miss Marple. I'm a huge Elizabeth Taylor fan and she conveyed her character quite well, as expected -- unfortunately, this film was shot in 1980 and Liz was a lumbering side of Hereford beef, sporting 2 1/2 chins -- I was much saddened by this has-been appearance. Hudson, who played her husband, was similarly worn-looking with very bad make-up. Throughout the movie, he looked as if he'd been on a week-long bender. At one point, in a sort of love scene, he's lying on the bed, face up, and Taylor launches herself on to him -- you could almost hear the air hiss out of poor guy and old Rock additionally didn't seem to know what to do with his arms and hands as they didn't encircle her all that effectively. Then, the camera angle switches to Taylor's face, scrunched up on Hudson's shoulder, and it takes on a gargoyle-ish essence -- the editors should have caught this but, like the rest of the movie, you get the idea that this one was all about "yielding product," and nothing about creating art. The entire film is like this -- a "has-been actors' struggle" I would call it. Fox plays the Scotland Yard Inspector, (and loyal nephew to Lansbury/Marple), and, again, he saves the film from being a complete fizzle. Poor Tony Curtis looked as if he'd been run through a tree shredder, with very bad, scruffy-looking, (and very little) hair. Christie fans will like this film okay but I can't recommend it to anyone else. Positive aspects include the letterbox format and very nice cinematography. To conclude this one, I give it a 3 on the low end.
So there you have it."
As good as excellent and better than brilliant.
Jacques COULARDEAU | OLLIERGUES France | 05/05/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This only concerns "Death on the Nile".
This blockbusting film adapted from Agatha Christie's novel is the very archetype and acme of her detective stories, at least those using the services of the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot from Brussels. She builds up a closed set of people who are all concerned by the murder that is committed in a closed environment. They all have some personal interest to commit this crime, hence a motive, and none of them have an alibi, at least a real alibi. They can all have done it and Poirot is going to use his Belgian brain to sort out the facts and bring out the truth, as a reconstruction that is intended to trap or trick the culprit. And it works. That's how the mystery is resolved. One shady corner can be found though: the cobra in Poirot's bathroom will remain unexplained. It must have been overlooked at some moment in the making of the film because Agatha Christie would never do such a mistake.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University of Paris Dauphine & University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne"