The huge popularity of Agatha Christie books meant that film producers were keen to option them and to date there have been 182 films and TV series based on her whodunnits. So in light of the recent release of the author inspired film ‘See How They Run’ which is centred around the West End play The Mousetrap we’re looking at other Christie based films especially the all-star cast films…….
And Then There Were None (1945)
Arguably the all star cast started back in 1945 with a film who’s title was changed from the book Ten Little Indians. Here the film features seven guests gathered in a manor house on an isolated island by an absent host where they are killed off one by one and the quickly have to figure out who the killer is. Christie had some involvement in the script tweaking the ending and changing the nationality of one of the characters to accommodate the casting of one of the actors. The film didn’t feature any of the authors legendary detective’s and the cast was comprised of actors who are now long forgotten. But the film was enough of a success to get Hollywood turned on to producing more films of the books.
Murder She Said ( 1961)
This saw the inimitable Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple in an immensely enjoyable adaptation of Christie’s 4.50 from Paddington where the home spun amateur sleuth witnesses a murder through the window of a passing train but is dismissed when police cannot find a trace of any crime being committed. A handful of familiar faces appeared including James Robertson Justice and a young Richard Briers but it also featured Joan Hickson who herself would go on to play Miss Marple in a long running TV series with her spin on the character being markedly different from Rutherford’s.
Murder Most Foul (1964)
This adaptation continued with Miss Marple again played by Margaret Rutherford where she tracks down the killer of several members of a theatrical company. This was a distinctly British production with a cast featuring Ron Moody, Megs Jenkins, James Bolam, Francesca Annis, Windsor Davies, Dennis Price and even Terry Scott. The film was well received and was a move towards an all-star cast albeit not A-listers and the same year would see Rutherford reprise the role in Murder Ahoy which would be her last outing in the role as the lead
The Alphabet Murders (1965)
Following on from the success of Miss Marple film makers turned their attention to Christies other great creation Hercule Poirot- although Miss Marple did make an uncredited appearance. With Tony Randall as Poirot where the detective investigates murders where victims are killed according to their initials this was less well received despite a cast that included Robert Morley, Anita Ekberg, Maurice Denham, Julian Glover and Windsor Davies (again). Producers had upped the ante in terms of star cast but were not quite there yet
Murder on the Orient Express (1974 & 2017)
This was the arrival of the all-star cast but with big A-list names. It had gone into production around the same time as that other all-star film The Towering Inferno and audiences were stoked to see so many stars in one film. Poirot would be played by Albert Finney and the A-list cast included (….draws deep breathe) Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Jacqueline Bisset, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins,, Vanessa Redgrave and Michael York helmed by Sidney Lumet who had classy pedigree with ensemble films having directed 12 Angry Men for which he was Oscar nominated. It was a clever bit of casting by producers because it kept audiences wondering which star could be cast as a killer. The film performed well at the box office and 43 years later Hollywood execs, as ever bereft of new ideas, would revisit it with another all-star cast led by an outrageously moustachioed Kenneth Branagh as Poirot with another ….ahem….killer cast earning a respectable $352m worldwide. It’s huge success instigated the current crop of all-star murder mysteries with Knives Out following in 2019 earning $311m and itself generating an about to be released sequel.
Death on the Nile (1978 & 2022)
1976 had seen Agatha Christie pass away but o the huge success of 1974’s Murder on the Orient Express saw producers scrabbling for the next all-star murder mystery setting their sights on Death on the Nile. This time Finney passed on reprising the role as Poirot and instead Peter Ustinov took over This time though the all-star cast, though still known names, was not quite so stellar with Mia Farrow, Jane Birkin, Jon Finch, Olivia Hussey, Simon MacCorkindale, Angela Lansbury and Maggie Smith with only Bette Davis & David Niven adding a bit of old school Hollywood pizzaz. The film did turn a profit and again this would be remade for a pandemic delayed release in 2022 with an all-star cast but film makers saddled found themselves saddled with the problem of Armie Hammer embroiled in a sordid scandal that was to effectively end his career. The remake much like the 1978 version performed less well at the box office earning only $137m
The Mirror Crack’d (1980)
Despite the box office returns for Death on the Nile producers were not put off and two years later The Mirror Crack’d would be released. It was now the turn of Miss Marple to lead the investigations and it would be Angela Lansbury (who had appeared in 1978’s Death on the Nile) who would take the role. Perhaps because of the slightly lesser number of a-list stars and Hollywood legends the producers ramped up the cast with Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson, Geraldine Chaplin, Edward Fox, Charles Gray but the casting coup was Elizabeth Taylor. The films plot appropriately featured a movie star visiting a small English village where a local woman has been poisoned. The film did similar business to Death on the Nile but the law of diminishing returns were beginning to set in.
Evil Under the Sun (1982)
With Miss Marple not being quite the expected box office draw the producers returned to Poirot with Ustinov reprising the role. Whether the sheen was wearing off for A-listers to appear but the cast was thin on really big names with perhaps James Mason being the big name heading up a cast that included Maggie Smith (again), Jane Birkin (again) as well as Sylvia Miles, Roddy McDowell and Diana Rigg. Evil Under the Sun was not about Amanda Holden‘s summer holiday but instead had Poirot at an exclusive island resort trying to discover how a millionaire ended up with a fake diamond ring just as the murders begin. Perhaps audiences disappointed to a lack of old school Hollywood stars stayed away and the film earned roughly a quarter of what orient Express had made eight years earlier. Bringing to an end the all-star Agatha Christie whodunit until 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express revitalized the genre.
Read our review of, ‘See How They Run’ HERE