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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, June 28, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 64

[64th of 100]. Almost everyone who has been an avid reader has been through an Agatha Christie phase -- her whodunits a perfect test of our own incipient brainpower in ascertaining the guilty before all is revealed in the closing chapter. I enjoyed the worldliness of Hercule Poirot, as well as the more insular charms of Miss Marple. Years later, I would learn the intricate aesthetics of the murder mystery as a literary device divining a return to balance a world rocked by evil, and some such. But my fascination with Christie was truly rekindled in college when I discovered Agatha [1979], Michael Apted's fictional speculation of the writer's real-life [and famous] 11-day disappearance in 1926. That movie led to me discovering a craze in Agatha Christie adaptations in the 1970s and early 1980s that began with this 1974 film. And then to sequels like Death on the Nile [1978], The Mirror Crack'd [1980], Evil Under the Sun [1982], and Appointment with Death [1988] -- all of which, except the last one, were produced with lavish attention to detail by John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin, and made more remarkable by their insistence of the voodoo of location and the casting of formidable, well-known actors including Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov, Angela Lansbury, Maggie Smith, Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman, Elizabeth Taylor, Vanessa Redgrave, Wendy Hiller, Diana Rigg, Mia Farrow, Anthony Perkins, Kim Novak, Rock Hudson, Carrie Fisher, Olivia Hussey, David Niven, Richard Widmark, Tony Curtis, John Gielgud, Jacqueline Bisset, Piper Laurie, George Kennedy, James Mason, Roddy McDowall, Sylvia Miles, Jack Warden, Michael York, Geraldine Chaplin, and Hayley Mills. That kind of gimmicky casting will always be joyful to behold -- especially when we get scenes like Diana Rigg and Maggie Smith camping up a marvelous, unexpected duet of Cole Porter's "You're the Top" in Evil Under the Sun. [Of late, Kenneth Branagh is trying to recapture the old magic of these extravaganzas to curious interest but diminishing powers. That said, I'm holding my breath for his upcoming remake of Death on the Nile.] A lot of these Brabourne and Goodwin production quirks soon became formula in further adaptations of Christie's works -- but the one that started it all, the Oscar-winning film by Sidney Lumet, retains a freshness and energy that have not been surpassed by the films that followed. I keep returning to it, perhaps because it is truly a unique mystery in the whole body of Christie's works: a murder set on a moving luxury train, of a despicable man who deserved what he got, surrounded by a cast of twelve suspects who [spoilers!] all took part in the murder in a kind of jury rendering justice to a past crime, and where the detective decides to solve the case in favour of the criminals. That twist remains the most singular of feats in Agatha Christie's arsenal of singular feats -- and the first time I saw the movie [without having read the book], the conclusion amazed and flummoxed me. But it was an elegant solution that truly earned its execution. I must have seen this film at least thirty times, always marveling at its controlled pace and exquisite unfolding every single time -- the last one being an almost simultaneous screening of it together with Branagh's 2017 remake, which it trounces considerably, even with the new film's attendant lushness and thematic depths. Lumet's film is a fine balance of the grandiose and the down-to-earth, generous with its sense of space and handling of its famous faces, but spare in its plot-making. It reminds me of the muscular dexterity Lumet first demonstrated in 12 Angry Men [1957], which like this Christie adaptation is also about a jury finding justice in a tight murder mystery. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich