Year Released: 1981
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Starring: Peter Ustinov, Jane Birkin, James Mason, Diana Rigg, Roddy McDowall
(PG, 116 min.)
"A toast to the cocktail party, Where olives are speared, And friends are stabbed." Anonymous
This 1981 Hercule Poirot classic takes us back to the fabulous forties where we escape to a king’s mansion nestled in rocky crags overlooking a sapphire bay. Sip your favorite cocktail and bask in the warmth, but don’t forget that there is Evil Under the Sun.
Except for the corpse that washes up on shore at the film’s beginning only to be forgotten like last year’s algebra, the real murder is a long time coming in this mystery. It is a tribute to the patience of readers some sixty years ago as well as a mark of our lack of it, that Evil Under the Sun is nearly two-thirds complete before the obligatory dead body appears. But there is so much fun, fabulous high fashion, and witty character assassination over cocktails along the way, that we really don’t mind waiting a few courses for bloody death to make its entrance.
Hercule Poirot is played with a light comic touch by veteran Peter Ustinov, but it is Diana Rigg’s stage icon Arlena Marshall who dominates the screen in such a way to make today’s temperamental divas seem like pussy cats by comparison. And Arlena has a gown to awe for each prima donna meltdown, as well as enough flowing silk caftans and glamorous haberdashery for every grain of sand on the beach.
All the characters who arrive at the ritzy resort setting are merely a backdrop for her histrionics. Arlena is especially good at dismissing those who annoy her, even by their mere presence. She casts a sideways glance at Poirot and wonders, “Who is that absurd little man?” (Obviously a line from the novel, as Ustinov’s form is definitely not svelte.) She advises her long suffering step daughter, Linda, to “Scram,” in a voice like finger nails against a chalk board and later on directs her to go play with the jelly fish.
Roddy McDowall’s Rex Brewster, a swishy journalist who has made the unforgivable error of stating the her birth date in Arlena's biography, pleads with her for a release to publish it. “You’re not going to barbecue me to keep yourself in sailor suits,” she seethes.
No wonder Myra Gardner, who has been left in the lurch when Arlena walked out on a successful play, calls her a “snake-eyed hussy.” The hotel proprietress, played with just the right amount of cat in the cream but with claws none-the-less by always superb Maggie Smith, remembers her days in the chorus line with Arlena: “She could always throw her legs up higher than any of us”…a long pause…”and wider.”
Of course, jousted lover, Sir Horace Blatt is none too pleased, as he has found that the huge diamond Arlena has returned to him at his request is just so much paste. And her present husband suffers her ill treatment of his daughter and then must watch her obvious flirtation with handsome Patrick Redfern, a man burdened with a mouse-like wife who must avoid the sun. He, in turn, avoids his wife and toys shamelessly with the lovely Arlena in plain view of everyone.
When Poirot catches Mrs. Redfern in tears, he assures her that her husband really does love her and not to mind the temporary magnetism of Arlena. “For a woman to count, she must have either goodness or brains,” he counsels. They then look down at the beach, at the sunbathers lying in rows, …”like corpses in the morgue, butcher’s meat grilling in the sun.”
In the mean time, Poirot, who is there to trace the disappearance of sir Horace’s real diamond, contents himself with the simple pleasures of a good valet, a banana syrup tisane, and beeswax for his shoes. He even goes bathing at the beach, if that’s what one would call strolling in knee-deep water and parodying a front crawl with arms flailing the air.
When a body finally makes its appearance, Maggie Smith’s Daphne persuades Poirot to take the case and thus avoid the scandal of a police investigation. He hesitates at first, but she plays his ego like a violin. Would he want the world to know that he was there ahead of the police and failed to solve the crime?
So in typical meticulous fashion, he sets about solving the murder, finding great meaning in a bathing cap, a bath, a bottle, a wristwatch, breath of the sea, a diamond and the height of a cliff. If you have paid close attention and used your little grey cells, perhaps you, too, can solve the crime.
The elegant Mansion she has now turned into a posh guest hotel was a parting present from the about to be married king of Tyrania to his onetime mistress, Daphne Castle (Maggie Smith). She runs the place with smooth efficiency, catering to the whimsical and sometimes tyrannical (pun intended) needs of her affluent clients, even providing Poirot with his sweet tisanes made with banana syrup.
It is because of her valiant efforts to provide exquisite cuisine that she gives both herself and another guest an alibi for the murder. At the time of the strangulation, she was chastising her staff about the merits of Curry de Poulet, which was so hot it blistered the mouth.
Our chicken curry avoids this spicy transgression that earned Daphne’s staff a dressing down and it comes from an exotic island not unlike the fictional Tyrania in Evil Under the Sun. Its description, right down to the British spellings, sounds like an advertisement for Daphne Caslte’s resort:
Mauritius will enchant you, will uplift your soul, making you feel that you belong to the chosen few. Every visitor enjoys personal attention. Every encounter is an opportunity to discover a friendly face. (One is the face of a murderer, however.) Behind each smile lies the promise of a unique holiday. (Certainly true!) The contrast of a multitude of colours and tastes, the island, set in its turquoise sea, is an oasis of peace and tranquility. (with one exception.) Mauritius, a melting pot where past and present are smoothly blended together, offers an essential beauty that will compel to return to its shores time and time again. May your stay with us remain engraved in your memory forever.
“The eating habits of the Mauritians inevitably reflect the ethnic diversity of its people: Creole rougailles, Indian curries, Muslim bryanis, Chinese sweet-and-sour pork, French delicate dishes, English bacon and eggs, ...... you name it, you'll get it there.
The traditional blends of home crushed spices are the sauce base for mouth glowing Indian curries. The delicate blend of spiciness and subtle mix of ingredients constitute the setting for the event-related Muslim cuisine. Local vegetables and fruits abound all year round in a colourful selection of mouth-watering delights.”
Your Different Drummer has altered the chicken curry recipe to conform to Daphne and her guests’ elegant tastes. The canned tomatoes (too common, my dears) and hot water ((disgusting, Arlena would say) have been eliminated. A dry red wine takes their place. (If your pockets are really deep, do as the French and use a wine good enough to drink for this ingredient.)
Chicken Curry: Cari Poule
- 1 chicken
- 1 medium onion finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
- 1 tablespoon crushed ginger
- 1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped coriander leaves
- 4-5 curry leaves (kaffir lime leaves can also be used)
- 3 tablespoons curry powder, hot or mild depending upon your preference
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Hot water
Skin chicken, remove fat and cut into serve pieces. Carefully remove any loose bone pieces. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Finely chop onion.
Put 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a thick bottom saucepan over medium high heat. When oil is hot, add the crushed garlic and ginger, together with the thyme leaves. Stir-fry until the onion pieces are cooked and become transparent. Add one cup of dry red wine.
Stir in 3 tablespoons of curry powder and 1 tablespoon of coarsely chopped coriander leaves. Mix well and simmer for 5-10 minutes or until the curry powder is cooked and well blended with the tomato sauce. Stir constantly to prevent the curry sauce from burning. The sauce should become creamy and come clean off the saucepan when stirred. Add a little hot water (or more wine, depending on your adventuresome spirit) if necessary to maintain sauce in semi liquid state. Mix well.
Add the chicken pieces and mix in well with the curry sauce. Simmer for 2-3 minutes. Stir at intervals to prevent the sauce and chicken from burning. Add 1/2 cup hot water and mix well into sauce. Cover and allow to simmer over low heat for 25-45 minutes or until chicken pieces are cooked. The cooking time will depend upon the chicken meat texture. Check and stir at intervals to prevent curry sauce and chicken pieces from burning. Do not overcook the chicken and stir gently to prevent from crushing the chicken pieces. If you need more sauce add a little hot water. If you want to thicken the sauce remove cover and allow to simmer.
Transfer to a warmed serving dish. Garnish with 1 tablespoon of coarsely chopped coriander (cilantro) leaves.
Recipe Source: Madeline Philippe at Mauritius Australia Connection