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Literature / Evil Under the Sun

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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 directed by Guy Hamilton and starring Peter Ustinov with an all star cast (that included James Mason, Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg and Jane Birkin) and the music of Cole Porter, and secondly as a 2001 episode in the eighth series of Poirot starring David Suchet. It was also adapted into a 2007 PC video game.

The 1982 film adaptation has its own trope section, while tropes for the 2001 ITV adaptation are listed on the page for the TV series.


The 1941 novel provides examples of:

  • Asshole Victim: Subverted. While Arlena is disruptive in the community and has personality issues, the worst of her actions are staged by the killer and his accomplice to create a narrative that Arlena was a homewrecker tempting the weak-willed Patrick away from poor helpless Christine, while in reality Patrick and Christine are working together to bait Arlena into their scheme to murder her. On her own, she's just annoying, and Poirot has already realized 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.
  • 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.
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  • 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.
  • Detect Evil: The Reverend is certain Arlena is the focus of great evil. Poirot agrees with him, even if the good reverend is shown to be a trifle obesessed with the whore of Babylon, but Arlena isn't the cause of said evil, she's the victim of it.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Christine hates being seen as the weak wife of a philandering man, helpless to prevent her husband from falling into the clutches of a man-eating siren. She's anything but weak, and coldly helps her husband commit murder several times.
  • Driven to Suicide: The killer's accomplice tries to do this to Linda.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Poirot immediately realizes that Christine was lying about having vertigo, when he goes to the cliff she was spotted at and finds there's no way to see anything except stand at the very edge, which would give anyone a fear of heights.
  • Exact Words: Christine Redfern says she was a teacher at a girl's school, which is true. But as Poirot points out, the idea of a fussy, weak Proper Lady is cultivated by that term. In fact she's a sports teacher, and therefore very physically active.
  • 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... On the other hand Patrick and Christine have already pulled off a similar scheme once before without a hitch... at least until Poirot comes along
  • Happily Failed Suicide: Linda attempts to kill herself because she believes that she murdered Arlena, on account of having attempted voodoo on a wax figure of her on the very morning of the murder.
  • 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's sole contribution to any conversation supplied by his wife is "yes, darling".
  • Hidden Depths: Odell Gardner barely says a word beyond "yes, dear" throughout the novel. The one time he does, he reveals himself to be a surprisingly perceptive and intelligent man.
  • Honorable Marriage Proposal: The "incurably chivalrous" Kenneth Marshall made two before the story began: firstly to Linda's future mother who had been falsely accused as a criminal; and after her death to the scandal-ridden Arlena. A variation of the trope in that the infamy suffered by both women was because of something other than loss of virginity. He also quickly fell out of love with Arlena, who was simply a Drama Queen rather than an intelligent woman like his first wife.
  • Informed Flaw: Shrinking Violet Christine claims she has serious vertigo and can't even go down steps without feeling a little dizzy. That contradicts how she could possible wave to Linda in the bay, when doing so would have forced her to stand at the very edge of a cliff a hundred feet high at the very least. It gives Poirot dizziness to replicate it.
  • I Wished You Were Dead: Linda fits this trope very well; however, she not only wishes for Arlena's death, but goes as far as attempting Voodoo to kill her. At the end of the story, Poirot lampshades this trope, assuring her that her attempt at witchcraft had nothing to do with Arlena's demise.
  • Jerkass: Both Redferns turn out to be murdering, cold-hearted douchebags who will strangle people and encourage others to commit suicide to cover their tracks.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Poirot comments that he always reserves his explanations "for the last chapter."
  • Life of the Party: Mr. Blatt is an intolerably cheerful man always striving to be the life and soul of a party, and is always put out that people flee him at the first opportunity. He also cheerfully tells Poirot he has no alibi at all.note 
  • Motor Mouth: Mrs. Gardener.
  • 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: By murdering Arlena, the killer indirectly improves the situation for her widower Kenneth and his daughter Linda, freeing the former from a marriage that he has long regretted but refused to end.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Christine pretends to have vertigo so nobody will suspect she climbed down the ladder. Emily also claims to have it and is telling the truth. Poirot uses a picnic to test both of them.
  • Outlaw Couple: The Redferns.
  • Recycled Premise:
    • 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 type of woman whom men care for easily and of whom they easily tire"), 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.
    • There's also a plot element from the Miss Marple story "The Bloodstained Pavement" a man marries an 'insignificant-type' of young woman without many friends or relatives, takes out a large life insurance policy on her, then murders her with his real wife as his accomplice, focusing on making the wife's death look like it took place at a different time, location, and method than it actually did; this is exactly what Patrick does to Alice Corrigan before the book opens, only the man in this story has done it so many times with the exact same method that the insurance companies catch on and inform the police This isn't a coincidence, either; when Christie thought up a particularly clever or outrageous idea or plot twist, she would often try it out in a short story to make sure it worked before committing a full-length novel to it.
  • Smug Snake: Patrick, when he thinks he's gotten away with murder.
  • Sore Loser: The killer concedes defeat by trying to strangle Poirot.
  • 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.
  • 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, she blames herself and tries to commit suicide.

The 1982 film provides examples of:

  • Adapted Out: Reverend Stephen Lane and Major Barry do not appear.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • A minor one for Christine, who does not try to convince Linda to commit suicide in this version (an act which definitely pushed her over the Moral Event Horizon in the novel.) She's still an active accomplice to multiple murders, though.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: 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.
  • Asshole Victim: Slightly closer to being Played Straight with Arlena, in comparison to the book. However, Poirot still feels sad at the death of "poor, foolish, beautiful, gullible Arlena Marshall."
  • Beneath Suspicion: Addresses this point of the novel by giving all the suspects alibis.
  • Camp: Loads of it, with a Cole Porter soundtrack consisting of instrumentals of all his songs.
  • Camp Gay: Rex Brewster, whose flamboyant mannerisms are reminiscent of Noël Coward. Daphne refers to him as a "fruit" at one point.
    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 realizes he's never actually been seen smoking it. The reason: he's hidden a stolen diamond in the bowl.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Just before Poirot signs the hotel register, the camera pans over the names of previous guests just long enough to read. One of those names is that of Cole Porter, who wrote the film's score.
  • 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.
  • Idiot Ball: Poirot turns his back on Patrick to brag long enough for the latter to land a serious punch on him. When you consider that Patrick was about to go down for two murders, Poirot was rather lucky that all he got was a punch and not a knife through the ribs.
  • 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.
  • Large Ham: Everyone. Every single star of the film exaggerates their famed personalities just for this production, it seems.
  • Lighter and Softer: This film is very light-hearted compared to the original novel, as well as to the previous Ustinov Poirot film, Death on the Nile. Among other things, this version of the story removes the drug-smuggling subplot and Linda's attempted suicide.
  • Louis Cypher: Patrick tells Poirot that as a music teacher, he enjoys telling his students that Guiseppe Verdi'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.
  • Mama Bear: A mild case with Daphne Castle, who doesn't take kindly to Arlena's abuse towards Linda. After Arlena cruelly (and against her father's wishes) banishes Linda from the cocktail party, Daphne retaliates by passive-aggressively sabotaging her song.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Nicholas Clay as Patrick Redfern. Only two or three of the male characters strip down to a bathing suit, despite everyone being guests on an island resort with several beaches. However, while all the other bathing suits seen are period-typical one-pieces (which look like a tank top attached to a pair of short-shorts), Patrick Redfern swaggers around in a pair of tiny (for the day) briefs (which can't entirely cover his ass) and nothing else.
    • This may even be a bit of subtle Foreshadowing: Patrick's casual display of his good looks is a hint that instead of being "that poor, stupid man" falling for the charms of maneater Arlena, it's actually the other way around; he's a lethal Casanova who is an expert at using his good looks to seduce women.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Mrs. Castle is called Daphne in this version.
  • 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.
    Daphne: 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!
    Daphne: Have a sausage, dear. You must be famished, having to wait all that time in your room.
  • 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 "Tyrania" (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.
  • Shrinking Violet: Christine, who expresses her frustration at being cuckolded by Arlena and not able to do anything about it to Poirot. Poirot is entirely sympathetic. Too bad it's all an act.
    Christine: How I wish I could do that, just lie in the sun.
    Poirot: Mais pourquoi, madame? Look at them lying in rows, like corpses at the morgue! They are not men and women. Nothing personal about them. They're just bodies, butcher's meat, steaks grilling in the sun.
  • Sore Loser: The killer punches Poirot to the floor.
  • Title Drop:
    Poirot: The sky is blue, the sun is shining, and yet you forget that everywhere there is evil under the sun.
  • Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: This trope comes into play somewhat as a result of the story being given Lighter and Softer treatment, while the main villain, Patrick Redfern, remains the same cold-blooded serial seducer and killer of naïve women that he was in the novel. For her part, at least Christine's attempts to drive Linda to suicide are omitted.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Arlena. She is insulting and abusive 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.

Alternative Title(s): Evil Under The Sun