APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH
US, 1988, 108 minutes, Colour.
Peter Ustinov, Lauren Bacall, Carrie Fisher, John Gielgud, Piper Laurie, Jenny Seagrove, David Soul, Hayley Mills.
Directed by Michael Winner.
Appointment With Death is based on an Agatha Christie story. The screenplay was written by Anthony Schaffer (who wrote the screenplays for the other Poirot adventures, Death on the Nile, Evil Under the Sun). Peter Ustinov is Poirot for the third time on the big screen (and also appeared in two telemovies as Poirot: 13 for Dinner, Dead Man's Folly).
Production is by Cannon, which means that the locations and budget are good, but the film does not look as stylish as other presentations. Direction is by slick director Michael Winner (taking some time off from his Death Wish films).
The cast is starry and very good - and most of the big names given something substantial to do. Piper Laurie enjoys herself as the grande dame victim, Lauren Bacall also has some meaty lines. Carrie Fisher and Jenny Seagrove are quite strong leading ladies. John Gielgud and David Soul have lesser appearances.
Settings are England, Italy and Israel - the date is 1937 (with some anachronistic diggings at Qumran). Not as stylish and polished as previous Poirot adventures, but easy entertainment. (The film plays fair with the murderer - who, if the audience keeps their wits about them and remembers The Mirror Crack'd, is not difficult to spot.)
1. Entertaining murder mystery, Agatha Christie's stories, the character of Poirot and his methods, '30s period style, the stars?
2. Locations in the US, England, Italy, Israel? Atmosphere and style? Jaunty score?
3. Agatha Christie's reputation, her mysteries, providing of clues, situations and characters, playing fair - an enjoyable puzzle?
4. Peter Ustinov as Poirot: his presence, vanity, playing with words, interest in everything, interacting with all the characters, enjoying the solving of the mystery, the reconstruction, the final tea party and the revelation of the killer?
5. Emily Boynton: the question of the will, burning the second will, her pressure on Cope, her past as a wardress and marrying the governor of the prison, her manner, her stepchildren and their dislike of her, the voyage, her authoritarianism, her not wanting Cope to arrive, her planning to kill him during the toast, the accident of his not dying? In Jerusalem with her children, the encounter with Dr. King, her comments about never forgetting a face or a name or a gesture? Her plan for blackmail, her death - the hypotheses? A portrait of an ogre
6. The sketch of her children, the reading of the will, their being left out, the going on the trip, the dominance by Mrs. Boynton, their plans, theorising about murdering her? The girls and the plan, their being pressurised by her? Her stepsons, Lennox and his shaky marriage? Raymond and his attraction to Dr. King? Her dashing their hopes? Their planning to tell her the truth and break free?
7. Cope and his reading of the will, Mrs. Boynton's knowledge of his past, burning the second will, the affair with Nadine, the cigarette case gift, turning up on the voyage, almost poisoned, the friendship with
Miss Quinton, his going on an expedition with her, the break with Nadine?
8. Dr. King, her help in Italy, newly graduated, a possible suspect, the interest in Raymond, their encounters,
Mrs Boynton's rejection of her, the close-up words of advice? Her friendship with Poirot, involved in the mystery, chasing the Arab, holding the gun?
9. Nadine, as a nurse, her love for Lennox, the affair with Cope, her wanting the marriage to last, a strong woman?
10. Carberry and his friendship with Poirot, presence in Palestine, the British, the comments about the politics of the period, his participation in the investigation, an audience for Poirot?
11. Lady Westholme, her petulant attitude, grande dame, manners and arrogance, her friendship with Miss Quinton, as companion, on the boat, her comments, taking photos, injudicious at the Wailing Wall, intolerance? The encounter with Mrs. Boynton? The story of her murdering Mrs. Boynton: the Arab dress, the Arab man seeing her, her pretending to be bored at the revelations, the dance with Lord Peel, her final confrontation with Poirot, killing herself? Poirot's sympathy and letting the matter be covered up?
12. The background of Palestine, the abdication of the Duke of Windsor, the question of the State of Israel?
13. The contrivance of Agatha Christie's stories, their being puzzles, fair play and clues, contrived but enjoyable?