4 classic Agatha Christie mysteries from Studiocanal Vintage Classics

4 classic Agatha Christie mysteries from Studiocanal Vintage Classics

Murder on the Orient Express


The ‘Whodunnit?’ type of storytelling is something I have always liked as it always provides a fun distraction that, when done well, almost always guarantees immediate audience involvement as we are always part of the investigation. Agatha Christie is in the top tier of authors in this genre, heck, she practically invented it.

Lumet’s film takes on one of her classic Poirot stories. His hand is immediately present, not only because Sean Connery pops up, but also because it has a rich visual flair, beautifully constructed scenes and crisply edited dialogue that make the distilled version of this elaborate novel not only beautiful to look at, but also quite easy to follow.

This film has an excellent cast, but of course the main focus lies with Finney’s interpretation of Poirot. And I love it. Christie wrote him as a very eccentric man and that is certainly something Finney picked up on. He always talks too loudly, laughs at the wrong moments, is rude and simply goes about everything his own way. For me, Finney nailed it and that includes his ridiculous accent.

This film is an escape, a place to lose yourself in a mystery you are swept along with leading to something you know is going to be fantastic; the big reveal where the investigator explains how he solved everything.

Crime, Mystery | USA, 1974 | PG | Dir.Sidney Lumet | Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman

Special Features
Murder on the Orient Express
* Making Of
* Interview with producer Richard Goodwin
* Behind the scenes stills gallery

Death on the Nile


Another murder tale occurring with famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (this time played by Peter Ustinov) aboard a passenger vessel of some kind, Death on the Nile forces its sleuth to decipher who is the murderer on a riverboat traversing the Nile River. With a very similar set-up to the Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile introduces us to its ensemble cast of characters who all have a reason to kill our murder victim. However, who is guilty and why? Directed by John Guillermin, Death on the Nile may have only read the book on how to make a film, but it follows the recipes therein quite well and the end result is a gripping whodunit that keeps you guessing until the very end.

The mystery itself is compelling. Poirot sets out to find his killers with engaging interrogations that rely on subtleties, small non-verbal cues, and more about how something is said rather than what was said. When he reveals the killers at the end, it is impeccable to see how all of the small details come together. It has a great murder mystery and conspiracy behind it that makes it all the more compelling. As always, the reveal is shocking, but seeing the puzzle pieces click together with Guillermin splicing in moments from the film as Poirot references them, it all becomes clear. While his manner of just coming out and telling you the killer may be a bit too upfront and showy, it is still engaging all the same and fun whodunit materials.

With good acting performances across the board – especially loved Angela Lansbury, Peter Ustinov, and David Niven here – Death on the Nile is a contained whodunit that keeps you guessing and eagerly pulls the rug out from under you whenever it appears that you have it all solved. With a boat full of potential killers, Death on the Nile provides suitable reasons for all to kill and yet, it cannot be all of them. Or can it?

Crime, Mystery |UK, 1978 | PG | Dir.John Guillermin | Peter Ustinov, Mia Farrow, Simon MacCorkindale

Death on the Nile
* Making Of Interview with costume designer Anthony Powell
* Interview with Dame Angela Lansbury
* Interview with producer Richard Goodwin
* Behind the scenes stills gallery
* Costume designs stills gallery

Evil Under the Sun


Set in an idealistic beach setting in a hotel run by Daphne (Maggie Smith), the guests of this hotel’s beach resort are shaken up when a dead body is found on the beach. However, everybody has an alibi. They all claim to be somewhere else and somebody always independently verifies that they saw them there. There seems to be an endless list of suspects with nobody telling the truth entirely. It is up to Poirot to go through these possibilities and come up with his conclusion, which is certainly noticeable in hindsight. However, the film is so well-written, it never really tips its hand too obviously in the course of the film. Rather, it leaves it up to small occurrences that one overlooks or forgets about in the course of the film, while bogging up the viewer’s mind with other possible leads and red herrings throughout.

As with Death on the Nile, Peter Ustinov is perfect as the eccentric and gluttonous Hercule Poirot. With a weird swimming routine and food always in his hand/mouth, Poirot is hardly an intimidating figure due simply to how odd the man really is as a person. Ustinov captures this perfectly, as well as his greatly heightened sense of self-importance with him barely being able to say a few lines without stroking his own ego. Ustinov really anchors this film nicely with this strong performance but is joined by a typically strong turn from Maggie Smith and a shifty James Mason who is almost impossible not to guess as for the murderer due to his typically elusive demeanour.

As with all Agatha Christie films, Evil Under the Sun has an excellent set location with Guy Hamilton making the most of the beautiful locale. With the camera soaking in shots of the surrounding ocean and the gorgeously extravagant hotel, Evil Under the Sun is a fun film to watch visually. Utilizing every inch of the terrain in detailing the events of the day, Evil Under the Sun puts it all together in the end and keeps your eye on a map of the island at all times, to ensure that you too can place exactly where everything happened.

A pretty straight-forward whodunnit, Evil Under the Sun does not rewrite the book on the genre, but with strong acting, good writing, and an engaging mystery, it shows why the genre is so effective. It is a fun watch that leads to some great guessing games along the way before Hercule Poirot reveals every secret of the film as usual. Perhaps not cinematic excellence, but Evil Under the Sun is easy and fun viewing for lovers of whodunnits that has a great central performance from Peter Ustinov, which really makes the film that much better.

Mystery, Drama |UK, 1982 | PG | Dir.Guy Hamilton | Peter Ustinov, James Mason, Maggie Smith

Evil Under the Sun
* Making Of Interview with costume designer Anthony Powell
* Interview with writer Barry Sandler
* Interview with producer Richard Goodwin
* Behind the scenes stills gallery
* Costume designs stills gallery

The Mirror Crack’d


There is nothing glaringly wrong with this low-key, star-studded Agatha Christie adaptation (these kind of movies were very popular back in the 70’s and 80’s). The case is interesting enough, the stars seem sufficiently invested in their roles, the direction is competent. Yet, despite all that one can feel an overall sense of predictability and slight tediousness hanging over the proceedings. Sure, the experience is enjoyable. But it’s also completely ephemeral. I doubt anyone will remember “The Mirror Crack’d” the day after he saw it.

Angela Lansbury as Miss Marple is good but also a big reason why the film is such a lightweight affair. She lacks the scene-stealing intensity and flamboyance of Albert Finney and Peter Ustinov that elevated their Hercule Poirot adventures to something more than pulpy fun. Taylor and Hudson have little chemistry as a couple, despite their well-known friendship. Curtis and Novak seem to have a lot of fun with their over-the-top characters. And Edward Fox is perhaps the best of the lot as Marple’s shrewd nephew.

“The Mirror Crack’d” is perhaps the quintessential innocuous feature. There is hardly anything here to offend anyone’s taste. If you’re a cinephile looking for something to challenge your intellect and/or your emotions then you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re just looking for a way to kill a couple of hours then this is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Crime, Thriller |UK, 1980 | PG | Dir. Guy Hamilton | Angela Lansbury, Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson |

The Mirror Crack’d
* Interview with writer Barry Sandler
* Interview with Dame Angela Lansbury
* Interview with producer Richard Goodwin
* Behind the scenes stills gallery
* Storyboard gallery

All titles are out on Blu-ray 23rd October released by Studiocanal Vintage Classics

Peter Fletcher

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I have a wide range of tastes, ranging from Brit thrillers to Russian dramas. There is no greater feeling to me than to discover new movies.

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