Literature / Evil Under the Sun
A novel by Agatha Christie
published in 1941, featuring Hercule Poirot
A quiet holiday at a secluded hotel in Devon is all that Hercule Poirot wants, but amongst his fellow guests is a beautiful and vain woman who, seemingly oblivious to her own husband, revels in the attention of another woman's husband. When she is found strangled by powerful hands, were those hands male?
The story has been adapted twice for the screen, firstly as a 1982 film starring Peter Ustinov with an all star cast (that included James Mason, Maggie Smith
and Diana Rigg
) and the music of Cole Porter
, and secondly as a 2001 episode of the Poirot
series starring David Suchet. It was also adapted into a 2007 PC video game.
Evil Under the Sun contains examples of the following tropes:
- Asshole Victim: Subverted. While Arlena is disruptive in the community and has personality issues, the worst of her actions are being carefully staged by the killer and his accomplice. Poirot has already realised that her addiction to sex/romance/drama makes her vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation, not liable to perform it on others - she's not intelligent enough. The 1982 film brings the trope slightly closer to being Played Straight.
- As the Good Book Says: This title is taken from Ecclesiastes 6:1.
- The Bluebeard: Patrick Redfern.
- Busman's Holiday: Yet another one for Poirot. In the 2001 adaptation, however, this becomes a Diet Episode, as he is reluctant to go to the Sandy Cove Hotel and Health Club, but with numerous reasons.
- Clock Discrepancy: A watch worn by a witness is deliberately altered to give the murderer an alibi and allow him to stage a fake murder so that the victim appears to have been killed before she really was.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The plot of this story is often compared to Death on the Nile: a situation apparently involving an unscrupulous seductress tempting a susceptible man away from his significant other turns out to be the latter two working together to murder the seductress for her money.
- The 1982 film doubles down on this by taking Jane Birkin and Maggie Smith, two of the stars of the 1978 Death on the Nile film, and casting them in this story in different parts.
- There's even more similarity with another Christie short story, "Triangle at Rhodes": the supposed seductress is actually too stupid to be anything more than a victim, the "poor little wife" character was manipulating the entire thing and plotting with her lover to set up the situation, then kill the seductress.
- The story also uses a critical plot element from the Miss Marple short story "A Christmas Tragedy": The killer fakes an alibi by arranging for the "body" to be discovered before the murder has even been committed.
- Driven to Suicide: The killer's accomplice tries to do this to Linda.
- Fingertip Drug Analysis: Japp does this in the 2001 version, identifying heroin.
- Gambit Roulette: The murderer/s not only rely on synchronizing their movements according to a very precise schedule, but also arrange for the body to be "discovered" before the actual murder takes place, while the unsuspecting intended victim is hiding nearby. There are a number of ways that could have gone wrong...
- Gender Flip: In the 2001 version, the victim's teenaged stepdaughter Linda turns into a stepson Lionel.
- Happily Failed Suicide: Linda. This was removed from both screen adaptations.
- Happy Marriage Charade: Inversion. Christine and Patrick are happily married, but pretend for criminal purposes that their marriage is on the rocks.
- Henpecked Husband: Odell Gardner. Played up in the 1982 film.
- Jerkass: Both Redferns turn out to be murdering, cold-hearted douchebags who will strangle people and encourage others to commit suicide.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Linda believes she has killed Arlena with the use of magic, leaving her vulnerable to Christine's manipulation.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: The murder of the adulterous Arlena greatly improves the situation for her widower Kenneth and his daughter Linda.
- Obfuscating Disability: Christine pretends to have vertigo so nobody will suspect she climbed down the ladder. Emily also claims (truthfully) to have it. Poirot uses a picnic to test both of them.
- Outlaw Couple: The Redferns.
- Smug Snake: Redfern, when he thinks he's gotten away with murder.
- Sore Loser: In the original novel and the 2001 episode, the killer concedes defeat by trying to strangle Poirot. In the 1982 film, he punches Poirot to the floor.
- Summation Gathering: How else is Hercule Poirot going to reveal who did it?
- Til Murder Do Us Part: The killer did this prior to the beginning of the story. Averted in the David Suchet adaptation, where the victim was his lover, not his wife.
- Title Drop: "But you forget, Miss Brewster, there is evil everywhere under the sun."
- Triang Relations: Three apparent Type 7s: A = Patrick, B = Arlena, C = Christine; A = Arlena, B = Kenneth, C = Patrick; A = Kenneth, B = Arlena, C = Rosamund (or Daphne in the 1982 film). Patrick doesn't love Arlena; this is just a ruse to kill her for her money. The first triangle therefore becomes Type 4 (A = Arlena, B = Patrick, C = Christine), and the second becomes Type 10 (A = Kenneth, B = Arlena, C = Patrick).
- Voodoo Doll: Linda uses one on Arlena. When Arlena is killed, Linda blames herself.
Tropes unique to the 1982 film:
- Adaptational Heroism: Mrs Castle, originally nothing more than the rather strict hotel owner, is given the name Daphne and combined with the character of Rosamund, becoming Kenneth's love interest and Poirot's main assistant during the investigation. She also helps him trap the killer at the end by taking his signature.
- Sir Horace Blatt is generally more likeable in this version, and is not a dope smuggler but simply a millionaire who had an affair with Arlena.
- Adaptational Villainy: Unlike the original book, Arlena actively bullies and mistreats Linda, insulting her and shoving her out of the way, and her flirtation with Patrick becomes more shameless and disrespectful of her husband.
- Adaptation Name Change: Changes Edward Corrigan's name to Felix Ruber, Latin for "Red Fern", in order to introduce another linguistic clue to the killer's identity.
- Beneath Suspicion: Addresses this point of the novel by giving all the suspects alibis.
- Camp: Loads of it.
- Camp Gay: Rex Brewster. Daphne even refers to him as a "fruit".
Daphne Castle: I was wrong about cherchez la femme. Sorry about that. But it's just got be cherchez le fruit!
- Composite Character: Combines Mrs Castle and Rosamund Darnley into one character, Daphne Castle.
- Deadpan Snarker: Daphne Castle. For example:
Arlena Marshall: (arriving at outdoor buffet luncheon in swimming attire) I'm so sorry, are we late? Patrick insisted upon rowing me right round the island, and it's much bigger than I thought. Poor darling, he's absolutely exhausted.
Daphne Castle: (dryly, knowing what they've actually been up to) I'm not in the least surprised.
- And after Poirot has signed his name in hotel register:
Daphne Castle: Oh, so you're the famous Hercule Poirot, eh?
Hercule Poirot: Ah, you are too amiable, madame.
Daphne: Perhaps. I hope you haven't come here to practice your sleuthing games on my guests; they've all got far too many skeletons in their cupboards to join in with enthusiasm.
- Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Subverted. One of the murder suspects, Patrick Redfern, is seen with a pipe throughout the film, but it's only at the end that Poirot realises he's never actually been seen smoking it. The reason: he's hidden a stolen diamond in the bowl.
- Gender Flip: The spinsterish-but-athletic Emily Brewster becomes the flamboyantly effeminate Rex Brewster.
- Grand Staircase Entrance: Jane Birkin does a stylish one in the climax, as Christine no longer has to pretend to be the meek, mousy housewife.
- Irony: Daphne pegs Patrick and Christine as the murderers, only for Poirot to tell her they have alibis. Turns out they were the murderers.
- Just One Little Mistake: Drawn out. It seems that the killers will get away - complete with a grand exit and a final taunt - when Poirot suddenly reveals that Patrick made several mistakes: paying his hotel bill with a signed cheque, giving linguistic clues to his alter-ego's identity, and conspicuously having his pipe in his mouth without smoking it.
- Lighter and Softer: Compared to both the original novel, and to the previous Ustinov Poirot film, Death on the Nile.
- Louis Cypher: Patrick tells Poirot that as a music teacher, he enjoys telling his students that Guiseppe Verde's name in English is a pedestrian Joe Green. It's a mistake, because Hercule notes that Patrick's last name, Redfern, in Latin is "Felix Ruber," a suspect in a murder case involving Ruber's wife, making him realize Patrick's name is a pseudonym.
- Named by the Adaptation: Mrs Castle is called Daphne.
- No Pronunciation Guide: Horace pronounces Poirot (pwah-ROW) as POY-row. It's easy to imagine this as a jab at people with this issue in real life.
- Passive-Aggressive Kombat: Daphne Castle (Maggie Smith) and Arlena Marshall (Diana Rigg), to hilarious effect.
Daphne Castle: Arlena and I are old sparring partners.
Arlena Marshall: Hello, Daphne.
Daphne: Oh, it's been years.
Arlena: A little time, yes.
Years. Arlena and I were in the chorus of a show together. Not that I could ever compete. Even in those days, she could always throw her legs up in the air higher than any of us. And wider.
Arlena: Kenneth, this is such a surprise! When you told me of an island run by a quaint little landlady, I had no idea it was Daphne Castle.
Kenneth Marshall: (embarrassed) Er, yes, quite. Daphne, I wonder if we could go to our rooms. It's been a long journey.
Daphne: Oh, certainly. (rings the bell, and calls out) Andreas! (no response)
Arlena: If you're short-staffed, Kenneth can easily carry the bags.
Daphne: They'll be brought up in a minute! Do have a good, long, peaceful rest, Arlena.
- Later, during that evening's cocktail gathering:
Arlena: (making a grand entrance) Oh my, I'm the last to arrive!
- Pragmatic Adaptation: Took assorted liberties with the plot, such as giving all the suspects alibis (to cover up the fact that in the original novel, only the murderers had one), beefing up the character of the hotel owner, making the American tourists theater producers (and turning the husband into a Brit played by James Mason), and changing the dowdy spinster into a gay man played by Roddy McDowall.
- Ruritania: Set in the Adriatic kingdom of "Tyrannia" (apparently inspired by Albania). The book was set in Devon.
- Sarcastic Clapping: The killer does this in the climax, believing that Poirot has no physical evidence.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: After Christine gives up the ruse of being hothouse orchid, she's absolutely stunning, with haughtiness to match.
- Wicked Stepmother: Arlena. She is constantly rude and insulting to Linda, takes every opportunity to shove her out of the way so she can have people's attention all to herself, and at one point actually calls her Cinderella. None of this occurs in the original book.