Between 1974 and 1981, Agatha Christie appeared to be everywhere on the big-screen, with no fewer than four movies based on her source material, Murder On The Orient Express (1974), Death On The Nile (1978), The Mirror Crack’d (1980) and Evil Under The Sun (1981), given prestige releases in the UK, not to mention prime-time Christmas TV screenings.
With the imminent Autumn 2017 release of the remake of Murder On The Orient Express from 20th Century Fox (Kenneth Branagh co-produces with Ridley Scott, with Branagh as Poirot - and Daisy Ridley, who head a big-name cast), the Christie film vaults look like they will be raided once again for updated home entertainment releasse.
The Agatha Christie Movie Collection brings together three other adaptations of Christie’s, Witness For The Prosecution (1957), Ten Little Indians (1965) and Appointment With Death (1988).
Witness For The Prosecution showcases the legendary talents of Billy Wilder at the top of his game, thanks to sterling performances from Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton. Power is Leonard Vole, an American businessman accused of murdering a wealthy widow, who is brought to the attention of a barrister, Sir Wilfrid Roberts (Laughton). The film is at turns both noir-ish and witty, thanks overall to the magnificent performance of Laughton and the supporting role of Bride Of Frankenstein’s Elsa Lanchester as his nurse, Miss Plimsoll.
Ten Little Indians has been quoted by Sean Cunningham and John Carpenter as a template for Friday The 13th (1980) and The Thing (1982), in that they both tell of a group of people in isolated spots being killed one by one. A group of people of various professional backgrounds are brought to a remote snowbound mansion by a mysterious host who they never meet in the course of the story. As each become a victim, the mistrust and suspense grow (keep watching for a neat little audience moment towards the end of the film!).
Appointment with Death was the third film adaptation featuring Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot (after Death On the Nile and Evil Under The Sun) and may be of interest to Carrie Fisher fans seeking posthumous appreciation since her sad death late in 2016. Directed by Michael Winner, it features a rather over-emotional Piper Laurie playing a matriarch step-mother who orders her lawyer (David Soul), who has an affair with her daughter (Fisher), to burn a second will, much to the chagrin of her children who are aware that their dead father has requested the money be split between all of them as well as the mother. Poirot conveniently appears whilst on holiday and picks up the scent….
Of the three films, Witness For The Prosecution is the strongest, followed by Ten Little Indians. Appointment With Death suffers slightly in comparison through its Cannon credentials and is a little late in the day for its time (audiences had moved onto high concept ideas rather than all-star vehicles like the first examples mentioned. Still, it provides an entertaining 97 minutes.
If you have been a little turned off by the amount of TV Christie offerings, then The Agatha Christie Movie Collection might be the right tonic to reacquaint yourself with why Christie remains a much - sought after source of origin material for cinema.
THE AGATHA CHRISTIE MOVIE COLLECTION / CERT: TBC / DIRECTORS: BILLY WILDER, GEORGE POLLOCK, MICHAEL WINNER / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: TYRONE POWER, MARLENE DIETRICH, HUGH O’BRIAN, SHIRLEY EATON, PETER USTINOV, CARRIE FISHER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW