A Star-Studded Pair of Murder Mysteries



Blu-ray cover of THE MIRROR CRACK'D (1980)
Blu-ray cover for EVIL UNDER THE SUN (1982)

The stars have aligned…for murder!

That’s not the tagline for either of these films, but it would fit right in with the real ones: “Holidays can be murder!” and “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the murderer among them all?” That’s because movie stars have been coming together since 1928 for Agatha Christie adaptations, and they appeared in droves for Guy Hamilton’s pair in the ‘80s. In one corner: Tony Curtis! Rock Hudson! Angela Lansbury! Kim Novak! Elizabeth Taylor! In the other: Jane Birkin! James Mason! Diana Rigg! Maggie Smith! I’m not sure what it is about murder mysteries that makes superstars so willing to share the limelight, but I’m glad it’s still true for movies like Knives Out and Kenneth Branagh’s recent big screen Agatha Christie revival with 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express and the upcoming Death on the Nile.

Perhaps one reason A-list celebs want in is because Agatha Christie has earned her reputation for twisty plots that let everyone get their moment under in the sun. In both The Mirror Crack’d and Evil Under the Sun, every character feels like a suspect worth considering, even if they have an alibi or another has a stronger motive. Every character gets a moment of doubt, a moment of sympathy, and sometimes even a moment of danger. Every character also gets at least one scene to answer questions and defend themselves from an inquiring detective, which allows for quite a bit of theatrics if that’s your character’s M.O. (And it certainly is if you’re playing an actress—Novak, Rigg, and Taylor make for consummate screen and stage divas.) Even if you’re not dominating the screen, you can still count on your role to be substantial and integral to the story.

In THE MIRROR CRACK'D (1980), Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and Kim Novak as they appear in the Agatha Christie whodunnit 'The Mirror Crack'd'. The two actresses are dressed in the Elizabethan costumes worn for the period film within the film.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The detectives in these films are almost as big as the actors. In The Mirror Crack’d, Miss Marple (Lansbury, doing a trial run for Murder, She Wrote) does the heavy lifting for her Chief Inspector nephew (Edward Fox) investigating a death at a party hosted by a Hollywood film crew in their English village. (Some definite Hot Fuzz vibes for modern moviegoers.) The partygoers include the director (Hudson) and his assistant (Geraldine Chaplin); rival actresses (Novak and Taylor); and the producer (Curtis). In Evil Under the Sun, Christie icon Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) is investigating the disappearance of a diamond and a murder at an island resort. Under suspicion: The man missing the diamond (Colin Blakely); an actress (Rigg) on vacation with her husband (Denis Quilley) and stepdaughter (Emily Hone); a couple with financial problems (Mason and Sylvia Miles); a husband with a wandering eye (Nicholas Clay) and his lonely wife (Birkin); and the hotel’s owner (Smith).

Even though these stories center on murder, they make for a warm blanket of a double feature. Maybe it’s because of the beautiful homes in the scenic locales, or maybe it’s because the accompanying scores are so cheery, with Evil Under the Sun even featuring songs from Cole Porter. Maybe it’s because they move at such a methodical pace they could be mistaken for PBS miniseries, or maybe it’s because in 2020, fictional, old-fashioned murders feel quaint in comparison to our own real-world headlines. While those are all factors, I suspect it’s also because few things in life feel as sure a thing as Agatha Christie.  I can always count on movies based off of her works to keep me guessing, and in both of these cases, her plotting was clever enough I couldn’t guess the solutions to the crimes before they were revealed. I love movies that surprise me, and I love movies that find a satisfying ending—Agatha Christie movies are dependably both with some dependably great stars, and what’s more a warm blanket than that?

Jane Birkin and Peter Ustinov in EVIL UNDER THE SUN (1982).

Both Blu-rays include commentary tracks from film historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson, as well as original advertisements for the films (theatrical trailer, TV spots, and/or radio spots). Evil Under the Sun also includes a “Making of” featurette.

The images in this review are not representative of the actual Blu-ray’s image quality and are included only to represent the film itself.