(UK - 1985)
Directed by Desmond Davis. Written by Alexander Stuart. Cast: Donald Sutherland, Faye Dunaway, Sarah Miles, Christopher Plummer, Ian McShane, Diana Quick, Michael Elphick, Annette Crosbie, George Innes, Valerie Whittington, Phoebe Nichols, Michael Maloney, Cassie Stuart, Billy McColl, Ron Pember. (PG-13, 90 mins)
The critical and commercial success of 1974's MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS kickstarted a big-screen Agatha Christie revival that lasted into the early 1980s, with Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot in 1978's DEATH ON THE NILE and 1982's EVIL UNDER THE SUN, as well as Angela Lansbury as Miss Marple in 1980's THE MIRROR CRACK'D. The small screen also proved to be a popular venue, with Ustinov continuing to portray Poirot and Helen Hayes taking a few turns as Miss Marple in a series of TV-movies. It was after Christie mysteries seemed relegated to television that Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus belatedly brought Cannon into the act with a trio of mid-to-late '80s Christie projects that received little theatrical exposure, starting with 1985's ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE, based on the legendary mystery writer's 1958 novel. Like most Christie adaptations, it was a star-studded affair, but the end result is a dreary, ponderous misfire that's arguably the worst movie version of her work. The novel was a bit of a departure for Christie at the time, focusing less on any mystery and more on psychological drama, but it simply doesn't translate well to the screen. Much of this was due to a troubled production that saw director Desmond Davis (CLASH OF THE TITANS) being relieved of his duties after a disastrous rough cut screening at Cannes in 1984. He was replaced by New Zealand-born British exploitation hack Alan Birkinshaw (KILLER'S MOON, INVADERS OF THE LOST GOLD), who shot about 25 minutes worth of new footage and oversaw extensive re-editing into its finished 90-minute state, though Davis remains the sole credited director (this wasn't the first time Birkinshaw stepped in for a fired director; he also took over for Edmund Purdom on 1984's killer Santa movie DON'T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS, juicing it up with numerous splatter scenes and gratuitous T&A). Also jettisoned was a moody, atmospheric score by Pino Donaggio that Cannon and test audiences didn't like and would've had to be significantly reworked after Birkinshaw's new footage and subsequent restructuring. Donaggio had already moved on to another project and was no longer available to tweak the score to anyone's liking, prompting Golan and Globus, in search of a "name" composer, to make the ill-advised decision to sub in newly-recorded versions of existing pieces by Dave Brubeck and his quartet. Brubeck is one of the most important figures in the history of American music, but these compositions simply don't belong in this movie, with dark and somber scenes accompanied by bouncy jazz piano, noodling clarinet solos, and bombastic, pseudo-Buddy Rich drum histrionics that make the entire score sound like a temp track left in as a joke.
APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH (with Ustinov returning as Hercule Poirot, accompanied by legends like Lauren Bacall, Piper Laurie, and John Gielgud), and 1989's South Africa-shot Harry Alan Towers production TEN LITTLE INDIANS, directed by Birkinshaw and starring Frank Stallone, Donald Pleasence, and Herbert Lom. Ordeal by Innocence was retrofitted as a 2007 episode of the ITV/PBS series MARPLE (with Geraldine McEwan in the title role), and was recently turned into an acclaimed three-part miniseries by BBC One and aired on Amazon Prime in 2018 with Luke Treadaway as Calgary and Bill Nighy as Leo Argyll (changed to "Argyle" in the Cannon film). While it was much better-received than the 1985 version, the miniseries encountered some controversy when co-star Ed Westwick (as another Argyll son) was accused of sexual assault by multiple women, prompting BBC execs to pull an ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD and completely reshoot his scenes with replacement Christian Cooke.