Picks and Pans Review: Evil Under the Sun

updated 03/15/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/15/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

Murder on the Orient Express was more surprising, and Death on the Nile was more sumptuous. But Evil Under the Sun—the third of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot stories to reach the screen in recent years—is the most fun. Monsieur Poirot, the Belgian master detective, here in the portly person of Peter Ustinov, is at a plush Adriatic resort in the summer of 1938 when what else but foul play turns up. The murder victim is a showgirl (played by Diana Rigg) whose gold-digging ways have led her to walk out on a hit play and its producers (James Mason and Sylvia Miles) and marry a millionaire (Denis Quilley). All gather at the resort hotel, whose owner (Maggie Smith) hates Rigg almost as much as Mason and Miles do. Other potential suspects include Rigg's stepdaughter (Emily Hone), a Hollywood gossip (Roddy McDowall), a discarded lover (Colin Blakely) and a wronged third party (Jane Birkin), whose gigolo husband (Nicholas Clay) has been dallying with Rigg. It's up to Poirot, of course, to sleuth out the culprit. Whether he is taking his morning swim by standing ankle-deep in water and pantomiming a breaststroke or railing against mispronunciation of his name, Ustinov's Poirot is a delight. The whole cast, under Guy Hamilton's direction, is first-class, but Rigg and Smith steal the show with some expert bitchery, especially in a hilarious duet of You're the Top that turns into an upstaging contest. Another pleasure is the array of Cole Porter tunes, superbly arranged by John Lanchbery, that underscores the action. As one of them has it, Evil Under the Sun is "delightful, delicious and de-lovely." (PG)

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