Category Archives: Agatha Christie

The Mirror Crack’d-1980

The Mirror Crack’d-1980

Director Guy Hamilton

Starring Angela Lansbury, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson

Scott’s Review #1,371

Reviewed June 22, 2023

Grade: B+

I’m a sucker for any sort of whodunit especially based on an Agatha Christie novel. Some of her treasures like Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile have made for quality filmmaking in the crime thriller genre.

With The Mirror Crack’d (1980) director Guy Hamilton (he directed four James Bond films) collects some of Hollywood’s finest stars and creates an adaption with British authenticity and a knock-it-out-of-the-park finale twist that I didn’t see coming.

Any fans of the long-running CBS sleuth series Murder, She Wrote from the 1980s are treated to gleeful clues that the film influenced the series. Both star the iconic Angela Lansbury.

The main character and murder solver in The Mirror Crack’d is a kindly old woman named Miss Marple played by Lansbury. The actress is aged via makeup to look much older than she was at the time. Lansbury does a good job with the speech and mannerisms of one of her character’s age.

Jane Marple (Lansbury) is tickled pink when two glamorous Hollywood actresses, Marina Rudd (Elizabeth Taylor), and Lola Brewster (Kim Novak), arrive in her quaint English village to shoot a movie.

Drama is sprinkled in when it’s revealed that the two actresses despise each other.

At a welcome reception related to the film, Marina engages in conversation with a longtime fan named Heather Babcock and is momentarily distracted. Soon afterward, the fan collapses and dies, poisoned by a drink intended for Marina.

Pleasure is had by the incorporation of so many stars some way past their prime. My favorite is the dynamic duo of Taylor and Hudson as a married couple. Fans will recall that Hudson’s sad death due to A.I.D.S. in 1985 led to Taylor championing a crusade for research with which the government then refused to be associated.

Her efforts and star power led to tremendous progress to be made as the disease ravaged the world’s LGBTQ+ community.

So, any scene centered on Taylor and Hudson is heartfelt and a pure treat.

Otherwise, the cast of characters is positioned in a familiar pattern to reveal almost everyone would have a reason to kill the glamorous star. Could it be her sexy blonde rival? Or the cranky producer of the film played by Tony Curtis? Or even her hubby Jason?

Geraldine Chapman appears as Ella Zielensky who is secretly in love with Jason and has a good reason to want Marina out of the way. Especially suspicious are her trips to a phone booth to call an unknown person accusing them of murder.

The setting adds value as the small English village is cute and picturesque. Marple’s cottage is perfectly dressed with colors and patterns well suited for her character.

The Mirror Crack’d has a couple of misfires and sometimes has a television movie feel. The comparisons to Murder, She Wrote while nice are also detractors since it makes the film seem like a small screen effort.

The time is supposed to be 1953 and the characters are dressed appropriately but it doesn’t feel authentic. The real year 1980 feels more believable despite the costumes.

While it doesn’t drag a bit it also isn’t quite as good as the aforementioned Murder on the Orient Express (1974) or Death on the Nile (1978).

For a good old-fashioned detective story based on a storied author, one could do worse than watching The Mirror Crack’d (1980). Sure there are other better-produced efforts but the film is a solid, entertaining watch with glamorous stars incorporated.

Death on the Nile-2022

Death on the Nile-2022

Director-Kenneth Branagh

Starring Armie Hammer, Tom Bateman, Gal Gadot

Scott’s Review #1,245

Reviewed April 15, 2022

Grade: B+

Death on the Nile (2022) is a modern remake of the 1978 thriller of the same name which in turn is based on the famous 1937 novel by Agatha Christie, one of many stories the author wrote. I love a good whodunit and the fact that I already knew the outcome from seeing the original film did not lessen the entertainment and suspense that befell me.

It only made me salivate with anticipation about how the new incarnation would handle the inevitable big reveal during the final chapter of the film.

As the suspects are locked in a boat bar one character boldly announces that the murderer is in this room and will be unmasked.

Death on the Nile is a meat and potatoes offering peppered with glamour.

Similar to the remake of Murder on the Orient Express (2017) Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is once again enshrouded by mysterious folks with money to burn and secrets to hide. One of them has murdered a wealthy young heiress with her own set of secrets and Poirot must quiz and entrap the perpetrators aboard a sailing vessel.

Or could there be more than one murderer?

The setting of mystical Egypt and the luminous Nile river in northern Africa puts the players amid gorgeous locales. This only enhances the juiciness and the appetite for a good, solid murder mystery.

Our hero’s lush Egyptian vacation aboard a glamorous river steamboat turns into a deadly search for a murderer when a picture-perfect couple’s idyllic honeymoon is cut short by killing one of them.

It turns out that almost everyone aboard has a reason to want her dead. Naturally.

Set against an epic landscape of sweeping desert vistas and the majestic Giza pyramids, Poirot peels back the onion of the lives of his fellow vacationers. He discovers jealousy and deceit as he gets to know the wealthy cosmopolitan travelers.

The trip includes the honeymooners, Simon and Linnet, played by Armie Hammer and Gal Gadot, Bouc (Tom Bateman), a long-time friend of Poirot’s, Euphemia (Anette Bening), a renowned painter and Bouc’s mother, Salome (Sophie Okonedo), a black jazz singer, and her niece Rosie (Letitia Wright), Linnet’s maid, Linnet’s godmother, and her companion, and a doctor who used to date Linnet.

It would seem as if all roads lead to Linnet, which it does since she is the character who suffers her fateful demise. What is key is that every character has a connection to her making the puzzle all the more intriguing and interesting to figure out.

Branagh, coming directly from his Oscar-winning film Belfast (2022) deserves the most credit because he not only stars in but directs the film as he did with Murder on the Orient Express. The screenplay is once again created by Michael Green. The consistency is very important and satisfying to the overall product and the two films can be watched back to back with ease.

There is trust that the anticipated enjoyment will be fulfilled and for me it was.

Death on the Nile is not high art but merely slick entertainment done quite well. There is much manipulation for the audience to endure and the setup of the potential suspects and the victim’s background are thrown directly into the viewer’s face.

This was welcomed.

I didn’t mind the implausibility of every character having reason to kill the heiress, nor did I mind a mystery character racing around the ship causing mayhem then changing into formal evening wear in less than thirty seconds flat.

The numerous plot devices are to be expected from a film like Death on the Nile and I happily and willingly fell for them hook, line, and sinker. The wealth of most of the characters is splendid intrigue and only adds to the enjoyment.

Considering the time is the 1930s a same-sex relationship and a brewing romance between the caucasian Poirot and the black Salome are fabulous additions.

Rumor has it, there will be another production of an Agatha Christie novel adaptation directed by and starring Branagh and I can’t wait for this. He has dusted off the old whodunit storyline and updated it with a spectacle about crimes of passion that feels fresh.

The result is a modernized Death on the Nile (2022) brimming with fun and pleasure while never taking itself too seriously.

Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun-1982

Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun-1982

Director Guy Hamilton

Starring Peter Ustinov, Diana Rigg, Maggie Smith

Scott’s Review #1,065

Reviewed September 29, 2020

Grade: B+

Following the success of Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Death on the Nile (1978), Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun (1982) is of a similar formula and is an entertaining yarn.

The experience is like savoring a favorite meal- we know what we will get, and we dive in with pleasure.

Director Guy Hamilton, famous for directing four James Bond films, takes the director’s chair and keeps the action moving quickly crafting an enjoyable effort with a bit more humor than Christie’s novel in which it is based. Nearly on par with the two films save more predictability, this one nonetheless is a fine and joyous offering.

The setup remains the same, only the setting changed, as the affluent characters flock to a swanky resort area for fun and frolicking amid the Adriatic island with a saucer full of secrets and enough intrigue to last a lifetime.

Peter Ustinov returns as Detective Poirot in a very good effort. The man sleuths his way to a final revelation common in these films as the whodunit culminates in unmasking the murderer or murderers and bringing them to justice.

Spoiler alert- there are two killers. The juicy reveal takes place as all suspects are gathered and nervously fret possible accusations.

I found it easy to figure out the culprits since they are written as the most secretive, but it’s fun watching the unraveling and the explanation of their motivations. Also enjoyable is how each character has a specific ax to grind with the victim.

Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun is a solid, classic, whodunit done very well, and the characters are rather well-written and the acting stellar.

The action starts mysteriously in the North York Moors when a hiker finds a strangled, female victim. Quickly, Hercule Poirot is asked to examine a diamond belonging to rich industrialist, Sir Horace Blatt (Colin Blakely).

The diamond is deemed a fake, and Blatt’s mistress, famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall (Diana Rigg) has suspicion cast upon her. Events then switch to the resort island as we are left to ponder what the dead woman at the beginning has to do with anything. In good time the audience finds out and this is ultimately satisfying.

As usual, a large principal cast is introduced along with well-known stars.

Daphne Castle (Maggie Smith) owns the lavish hotel and caters to Arlena’s put-upon husband, Kenneth (Denis Quilley), and stepdaughter, Linda (Emily Hone), while Arlena openly flirts with the yummy Patrick (Nicholas Clay), who has fun prancing and preening wearing next to nothing.

Other characters are the husband and wife producers Odell and Myra Gardener (James Mason and Sylvia Miles), gay writer Rex Brewster (Roddy McDowell), and Patrick’s ailing wife, Christine (Jane Birkin).

Each has an issue with Arlena, who is the intended murder victim.

Like Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, the setting is the character itself. Though not a train or a boat, the sunny and sandy island is the perfect locale. The water, a noon cannon, suntan lotion, and a watch are the items most important in the whodunit but wait there’s more!

A tennis match, the cliffs, and a by-the-minute timeline are of utmost importance to figure out the mystery. The point of a film like this, as with the treasured Agatha Christie books, is deducing the why’s and how’s of the murder.

Delicious are the scenes featuring Daphne and Arlena going toe-to-toe and there are just not enough of them. Bitch versus bitch, as they trade barbs and snickering insults with glee, Smith and Rigg enjoy their roles, and the audience is treated as such.

Rigg is great as the bad girl, relishing in offending nearly everyone she encounters, and Smith speaks volumes with her eyes.

As for the male characters, Nicholas Clay gets my vote for the sexiest man of the year. With his lean, toned, bronzed chest and white shorts which he confidently pulls up to reveal his bare butt cheeks as he struts near the pool, he can have any girl he wants (and possibly guys) and adds layers to the film.

The biggest riddle is what he has in common with his wife, Christine, who is saddled with health issues, and simply not fun.

Staying largely true to the novel, Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun (1982) will satisfy its intended audience.

A herculean author penning characters like Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, everyman, and everywoman sleuths, this film was the last to be a big-screen affair. Made for television movies would soon follow.

A lavish landscape, bitchy characters, scheming characters, murder, and mayhem, are the recipe of the day for a good time.

Murder on the Orient Express-1974

Murder on the Orient Express-1974

Director Sidney Lumet

Starring Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman

Scott’s Review #928

Reviewed August 7, 2019

Grade: A-

Based on the 1934 novel of the same name written by famous author Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express (1974) brings the story to the big screen with a robust and eccentric cast of characters all drizzling with suspicion.

The classic whodunit of all whodunits, the film adds a Hollywood flair with rich costumes and an authentic feel to a budget-blasting extravaganza that keeps the audience guessing as to who the killer or killers may be.

The film was recognized with a slew of Oscar nominations that year.

The hero of the film is Hercules Poirot (Albert Finney), a well-respected yet bumbling Belgian detective, who is solicited to solve the mysterious death of a business tycoon aboard the famous and luxurious Orient Express train.

On his way to the train’s destination, he encounters such delicious characters as the glamorous Mrs. Hubbard (Lauren Bacall), the nervous Greta Ohlsson (Ingrid Bergman), and his friend Bianchi (Martin Balsam), the director of the company who owns the enormous vessel.

Many other characters are introduced to the layered story.

As the complicated plot is unraveled, most of the characters have something to hide or a connection to another character or characters.

The fun for the viewer is to live vicariously through Poirot and await the big final reveal after the film that, unless already viewed the film or read the novel, one will not see coming.

With a film of this type, a detective thriller, the audience can be assured of a resolution, like a big murder mystery dinner theater production brought to the big screen.

Formulaic, the film never drags nor feels dull.

Amid the first few minutes of Murder on the Orient Express, the intrigue is unleashed at full-throttle speed leaving one bedazzled and hooked.

The sequence is brilliantly done and thrusts the audience into a compelling back story of plot and the wonderment of what these events have to do with a train pulling out of the Orient.

Quickly edited film clippings of a news story explain the mysterious Long Island, New York abduction and murder of the infant daughter of a famed pilot.

It is suggested that the Orient Express trip embarks from Istanbul, Turkey, and is destined for London. This means that several countries will be included in the trek, creating possibilities for both geographical accompaniments and new cultural experiences which director Sidney Lumet offers generous amounts of.

Moments following the murder, the train has the unfortunate fate of colliding with an avalanche, leaving the passengers in double peril, with a killer on the loose and cabin fever to contend with.

To the compelled viewer this is snug comfort as the atmospheric locales are gorgeous and the thought of a dozen strangers trapped together with so much to hide brings the story to a frenzy.

Who did what to the murder victim is slowly revealed as several red herrings (or are they?) are revealed. Who is the mysterious woman strutting down the corridor shortly before the murder, spotted by Poirot? Is she a staged pawn or merely an innocent victim? Could she be the murderer?

The wonderful part of Murder on the Orient Express is the number of entangled possibilities.

The conclusion of the film turns the thriller into a moralistic story, to its credit. The fact that the murder victim was hateful and diabolical is a key part of the story and makes the viewer wonder if the killer or killers are justified in their actions.

Does the fact that Ratchett was stabbed a dozen times with varying degrees of severity play into the motivation?

A very compelling, and unrecognizable Finney does a fantastic job of carrying the film among such a troupe of good actors.

Murder on the Orient Express (1974) sets out to entertain and succeeds on every level, bringing the book to the silver screen with a fresh interpretation that still honors the intent that Christie had.

Stylistic and thought-provoking, the film has gorgeous costumes, a good story, and fine acting. The knowledge of who the killer is does little to take away any enjoyment that a repeated viewing will provide.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Actor-Albert Finney, Best Supporting Actress-Ingrid Bergman (won), Best Screenplay Adapted from Other Material, Best Original Dramatic Score, Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography

Death On The Nile-1978

Death On The Nile-1978

Director John Guillermen

Starring Peter Ustinov, Mia Farrow, Bette Davis

Scott’s Review #714

Reviewed January 14, 2018

Grade: B+

Death On The Nile is a 1978 British thriller that follows up the successful 1974 offering, Murder On The Orient Express- both films based on the fabulous Agatha Christie novels of the 1930s.

This time around, Belgian detective Hercules Poirot (Peter Ustinov) investigates a string of deaths aboard a luxurious steamer carrying the lavishly wealthy and their servants.

The film is a good, old-fashioned whodunit, perhaps not on the level of storytelling as its predecessor-the murder mystery contains not the oomph expected- but features exquisite Egyptian historical locales- worth its weight in gold.

Featuring a who’s who of famous stars and tremendous actors of the day, Death On The Nile carves a neat story right off the bat in such a way that the murder victim is fairly obvious right away- most of the characters have reason to celebrate her demise.

Rich and reviled heiress, Linnet Ridgeway (Lois Chiles), has stolen best friend Jacqueline’s (Mia Farrow) beau, Simon, sparking a bitter feud between the women. While honeymooning in Egypt, the newlyweds are continually taunted by angry Jacqueline.

Once the cruise ship departs with all on board, Jackie is the prime suspect when Linnet is murdered.

Poirot must find the killer as numerous other suspects all with grudges against Linnet, begin to emerge.

Death On The Nile serves up a stellar cast including legendary Bette Davis in the role of Marie Van Schuyler- an eccentric American socialite with an eye for Linnet’s necklace. The casting of Davis is reason enough to watch the film, though the character is not center stage but rather a supporting role.

The lead female honor is held for Farrow, who has the meatiest and most complex role in the film.

Jackie’s unstable actions make her the most likely to commit the deed, but the fun is to figure out the “whys” and the “hows” of the murder. Is there more than one killer? Are they working in cahoots or independently? As the body count increases these questions begin to resonate more and more.

The costumes and sets are gorgeous and it is no wonder the film won the Oscar for Best Costume Design. At a ball, the women are dripping with jewels and gorgeous gowns.

Along with Davis, boozy author Salome Otterbourne, hilariously played by Angela Lansbury, is granted the prize of wearing the most luxurious and interesting of all the costumes. She drips with jewels and, with a cocktail always in hand, is the film’s comic relief.

Director John Guillermin makes the film an overall light and fun experience and, despite the murderous drama, does not take matters too seriously.

Offering humorous moments, this balances nicely with the inevitable murders.

The fun for the audience is deducing whodunit- most of the characters have the motive and the cast of characters is hefty.

I had memories of the famous board game Clue- Was it Jackie in the ballroom with the revolver? You get the idea. The film makes for a good, solid game of mystery.

Comparisons to 1974’s Murder On The Orient Express cannot help but be drawn, especially in the lead casting of Hercules Poirot.

Truth be told, Albert Finney’s portrayal in “Murder” is superior to Peter Ustinov’s Poirot in “Death” and I am not sure what purpose Colonel Race (David Niven) as Poirot’s friend offers other than to be a loyal sidekick and present a character that Poirot can explain events to- think what Watson was to Sherlock Holmes.

Regardless, Finney is the superior Poirot as he musters more strength and charisma than Ustinov does.

How lovely and historic to witness the wonderful Egyptian locales- the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids are featured amid an attempt on the life of the romantic pair by way of falling rocks- this sets the tone for the perilous cruise about to be embarked upon.

Perhaps a perfect film for a Saturday stay-at-home evening with friends, complete with a serving of quality wine and cheese, Death On The Nile is a sophisticated, yet fun, British mystery film, fantastic to watch in a party setting where the audience can be kept guessing until the nice conclusion and the big reveal of who killed whom and why.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Costume Design (won)

Murder on the Orient Express-2017

Murder On The Orient Express-2017

Director-Kenneth Branagh

Starring-Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer

Scott’s Review #698

Reviewed November 25, 2017

Grade: B+

Kenneth Branagh leads an all-star cast as well as directs them in a 2017 remake of the 1974 thriller, Murder On The Orient Express.

The film was, of course, based on the famous 1934 Agatha Christie novel of the same name. With a ritzy cast including Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, and Willem Defoe, top-notch acting is assured.

The cinematography is tremendous as the film looks gorgeous from start to finish and the story is an effective, good, old-fashioned whodunit that will satisfy audiences.

We meet our hero, Hercule Poirot (Branagh), in Jerusalem as he has recently solved a murder mystery and is anticipating a good rest. Poirot is invited by a friend to travel back to his homeland of London via the lavish Orient Express.

Amid a group of thirteen strangers, all inhabiting the luxurious first-class accommodations, one of them is savagely murdered in the middle of the night, as a blustery blizzard and subsequent avalanche, derails the train atop mountainous terrain. The strangers are trapped together with a murderer on the loose. Poirot must deduce who has committed the crime and why.

Murder On The Orient Express has all the trimmings for a good, solid murder mystery, and director Branagh sets all of these elements in motion with a good flow.

Paced quite nicely, each of the principal characters is introduced intriguingly, so much so that each contains a measure of juicy intrigue. The film gives a brief background of each character as he or she boards the grandiose train.

Judi Dench broods as rich and powerful Princess Dragomiroff oozing with jewels and a chip on her shoulder. Corrupt American businessman, Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp), is suave and shady as he seems destined to cause trouble. Finally, Penelope Cruz gives her character of repressed Pilar Estravados enough shame and guilt that we cannot think something may be off with her motivations.

The details of the characters are rich and compelling.

With actors such as Dench and Depp, the acting playing field is set very high, and all of the actors play their parts with gusto.

Wonderful to experience with Murder On The Orient Express is the true nature of an ensemble casteach character is relevant in his or her way, regardless of screen time, and the casting works well.

Evident is how the cast must have enjoyed working together on this nice project. Each character is written in a way that the individual actor can sink his or her teeth into the role and the wonderful reveal at the end of the film allows for each a chance to shine so that equal weight is given to each part.

After the actual murder is committed the story takes off as each character is interviewed by Poirot and given a glance of suspicion.

The first half of the film is just the buildup and, at times, the story slightly lags, but this is fixed when the film kicks into high gear midway through. Sometimes a climactic conclusion makes up for any slight lag time suffered in the first portion of the film and Murder On The Orient Express is a great example of this.

The standouts for me are Branagh himself as Poirot and Pfeiffer as the sexy Caroline Hubbard, an American man-crazed older woman.  How wonderful to see Pfeiffer back in the game in 2017- with wonderful roles in both Murder On The Orient Express and Mother!

She has the acting chops to pull off sex appeal, vulnerability, and toughness.  In the case of Branagh, the actor never disappoints in any film he appears in, but seeing him in a leading role is fantastic and he can carry a film with such a dynamic cast.

Branagh’s Poirot is classy, intelligent, and charismatic.

I adored the conclusion of the film and found the explanation and the reasoning of the murderer or murderers quite effective and believable. Through the use of black and white flashback scenes, the action aboard the grandiose, yet slightly claustrophobic train scenes, are a perfect balance.

Furthermore, the explanation and the motivations of the killer or killers make perfect sense and much sympathy is evoked. In this way, the story is moralistic and certainly not a black and white subject matter.

Murder On The Orient Express succeeds as a wonderfully shot and star-studded affair. The filming is grandiose and the production values are high as a caper film with a mystique and class.

The film may not be a true masterpiece or necessarily remembered ten years from now, but what it does it does well.

The original film from 1974 is a tad bit better, but as remakes go, the 2017 offering is quite good.

A rumored sequel, Death on the Nile, is planned.

And Then There Were None-1945

And Then There Were None-1945

Director Rene Clair

Starring Barry Fitzgerald, Judith Anderson

Scott’s Review #66

255772

Reviewed June 24, 2014

Grade: C+

And Then There Were None (1945) is adapted from a famous Agatha Christie novel of the same name from the 1930s, the first of 3 film adaptations over the years.

A group of 10 individuals from all walks of life is summoned for a weekend of merriment at a secluded mansion on a lonely island.

The premise is perfectly set up for a fascinating whodunit as the characters are knocked off one by one in sometimes bizarre fashion- the bee sting death is great.

There is a wide range of characters- the rich movie star, the spinster, the doctor, the house servant, and his wife). For starters, I was very disappointed with the DVD quality (no Blu-Ray is available for this film).

The picture and sound are abhorrent. The quality is quite grainy and faded and making watching an unpleasant experience. However, a great film might withstand those issues.

The film has some appeal that the novel had- an interesting whodunit. The character histories are similar to the ones in the book and, to be fair, the film is well-acted, and the wonderful Judith Anderson (Rebecca) is always a treat to watch.

But the most disappointing aspect is the blatantly changed and completely upbeat, romantic comedy ending, which is vastly different from the dark novel ending and lost major points with me for the adjustment.