Tuesday, 7 June 2011



The fifth and probably the least impressive of the cinematic mini-wave of six Agatha Christie adaptations that were made in the 70s and 80s. Beginning with the A-list Murder On The Orient Express and Death On The Nile, then getting more camp with The Mirror Cracked and Evil Under The Sun, they boasted astonishing star casts and lush locations - even in the tail-ender Appointment With Death (in which Michael Winner contrived to make the majesty of Egypt look like Great Yarmouth in November). But there's this more obscure, forgotten entry in the Christie series: a far more drab, dark and downbeat whodunnit which has a far less stellar array of actors and very little parlour-game fun.

In Ordeal By Innocence, paleontologist Donald Sutherland turns up at a Cornish village to return an address book he'd belatedly found in his car by accident, only to discover that the owner was hanged for murdering his mother (Faye Dunaway in black and white flashbacks) - a crime committed while in his presence, making Sutherland the missing alibi. But when he tries to investigate and unmask the real killer, Sutherland finds a wall of silence: the family don't really want to know who actually committed the crime, they don't want the horrors of the past raked up again and they aren't bothered that the wrong man was executed.

And frankly, nor was I. It's really difficult to rack up any interest in who actually did it and why, it's slow and talky and while there are several familiar faces (Ian McShane, Christopher Plummer, Annette Crosbie) they're not on the level of the star turns from other Christies - Bette Davis, Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg, Tony Curtis, Elizabeth Taylor, Ingrid Bergman or Sean Connery. It feels more like a TV movie than a cinema outing, it's set in damp Cornwall rather than the sunny Mediterranean or the Valley Of The Kings.

But the worst thing about the movie, and the only thing of genuine note, is its music score by Dave Brubeck, probably the most misjudged and inappropriate soundtrack of all time. If they'd plastered Status Quo and Kylie all over the film it couldn't have been more grating, distracting and out of place and out of character. The particularly annoying thing is that this improvised cacophany replaced a perfectly decent, atmospheric and typically beautiful orchestral score by Pino Donaggio, which was rejected by the makers in a genuine moment of utter insanity. Whatever Brubeck's merits in the jazz world (and I have no opinion one way or the other), he's not a film composer and his contributions severely damage the film when frankly it needed all the help it could possibly get.


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