An All Star Cast in another Agatha Christie adaptation…
Has Lauren Bacall joined this whodunnit film as a character with murder on her mind…?
Appointment with Death – Trailer and photos © Cannon Film Distributors
For me, the all-star casting of detective movies based on Agatha Christie films kind is kinda reminiscent of ensemble disaster movies. In disaster movies, the more famous you are your chance of dying decreases in the face of film danger.
In murder mystery films, I believe the chance of you being cast as a murderer equates with the length of your filmography on IMDb. The more films you have to your credit, the bigger the chance (with more points added if you’ve a plethora of Oscars and other acting awards). Or maybe I’m getting old and sceptical.
As I watched the murder mystery Appointment with Death (1988), I concentrated on the more famous acting names characters and their motives. This film – directed by Michael Winner – based on the Agatha Christie novel of the same name. The cast of this film production easily falling into this criteria with two subcategories, with a wide spectrum of less well known to more famous names as characters with motives to kill the domineering Emily Boynton.
The lesser well-known ones played the murder victim’s stepchildren and they all hated her for a number of reasons. The stepkids were Lennox (Nicholas Guest), Carol (Valerie Richards), Raymond (John Terlesky) – with Amber Bezer as the victim’s only daughter Ginevra Boynton. Emily’s stepsons had more plot lines (and lengthier IMDb credits) but of primarily the romantic kind. The actresses playing the Boynton kids were pretty interchangeable, could have been morphed into one character and I wouldn’t have noticed.
More attention, close-ups and storylines were given to those all-stars that I (and probably you) recognised from this cast list. These all-stars weren’t short of motives either for dispatching Piper Laurie’s stepmother from hell. With David Soul, Carrie Fisher, Jenny Seagrove, Hayley Mills and a film stealing Lauren Bacall falling into the better-known category. But whodunnit and why?
The story begins in 1937 in New Jersey, where after a crash of thunder, Piper Laurie hams it up in a darkened room as a domineering and sadistic step-matriarch, Emily Boynton. Laurie channelling her role as the evil mother from Carrie (1976) movie. In both these roles, she seems a force of nature and one to be reckoned with.
Emily is meeting with the family lawyer, Jefferson Cope (Soul). He reads from the will that her recently deceased husband left the interest of his estate to her, and this estate will be divided between the children on her death. Emily’s put upon husband had recently rewritten his will just two days before his death,. He dividing the spoils between the kids and his wife giving them 200 thousand dollars each.
But like Highlander (1986) there can be only one, with the letter will disposed of in the fireplace. This burning of the will happening after a wee bit of bribery. The villainous Emily threatening Cope as she knows about his past dirty deeds, which could land him in jail. This information she gleaned from his one-time partner, who Emily met during her 14 years as a female prison warder.
The Boynton “children” called through (surprisingly not by whistle). They are all aged 20 and over and still all live in the family home. The only actor or actress from these five young things that I recognised was Carrie Fisher. Fisher playing Emily’s daughter in law and one time nurse, Nadine. Cue mutterings and groaning all round as the will’s contents revealed.
Emily shares with them the good news, that she is taking them on a nice wee holiday to Europe and beyond. Cue their holiday sightseeing montage over the opening credits. This accompanied by some cool Art Deco font and chirpy music. The montage also shows as Nadine gives her stepmother in law, her heart medication (which is poisonous in overdose) in a glass of water.
It’s revealed the stepkids and her daughter all dislike Emily’s dominating presence. Carol (or was it Ginevra?) and her brother Raymond plot to get rid of her. Poirot (Peter Ustinov) has since joined the storyline, just in time to overhear this conversation (as he always does). On a cruise, things come to ahead.
Cope joins the Boyntons on holiday, and this irking Emily and Lennox. Nadine is married to Lennox and she is more than very flirty with Cope. Nadine is revealed to be having a not so secret affair with this lawyer. Ginevra (or Carol) has been sent to bed by her mother despite the fact she’s 22.
Emily confronts the lawyer, and mid-rant, she stopped then went all nicey-nicey with him. Then back to nasty as she tries to poison him by adding her heart medicine in his drink. Cope and Lennox have a brawl, spilling the lawyer’s poisoned drink before he can drink it. Meanwhile, Raymond has been on-off flirting with a Dr Price (Jenny Seagrove) – a medical doctor he met as she saved his stepmother from falling – much to his stepmother’s annoyance.
By the time the boat has arrived in the Holy Land, Lauren Bacall has appeared and stolen the show as Lady Westholme. She’s an abrasive, bossy American, and (oddly) self-proclaimed now British MP. In her role, we see Bacall rolling her eyes in exasperation, at the rest of the cast and extras in every one of her appearances. She’s sadly, in her initial appearance almost like a comic afterthought here. Her character doesn’t even interact that much with the main protagonists and vice versa.
Bacall swans in and out of scenes making sure her presence and scripted caustic comments noted by all unsundry. She’s delightfully catty, and I adored her for this. She was definitely worth the wait, I only wished she’d appeared earlier. Oh, and there’s Hayley Mills as Dr Quinton, her archaeologist friend who doesn’t really do that much, but chew the scenery (and this actress really was underused).
Meanwhile, those darn Boynton kids have discovered was another will favouring them. Lennox tells them all their father told him that he’d had rewritten his will, and they get even more annoyed with Emily. But then Lennox is more distracted and concerned about losing Nadine to Cope’s charms.
Nadine herself appears a wee bit dithery – with her confusing me (and the flashbacks) – on which man she really, really wants. So she’s snogging and making doe eyes – as only Carrie Fisher can – with both men. Nadine is worried about Cope running off with Dr Quinton, especially after the pair disappear after the cruise, only to return the day after.
Quinton breathlessly telling the search party, they spent the night in the desert. Raymond has fallen in love with Doctor Price (Jenny Seagrove), and friend of Poirot. John Gielgud has appeared and disappeared just as quickly. He stars as a Colonel who also knows Dr Price and Poirot. It’s a small world in Agatha Christie films.
The formidable and terrifying Emily continues to annoy and frustrate her family with her constant nagging and disapproval of their romantic relationships. (I can see her point they were taking over most of the entire movie up to here). Mysteriously when Dr Price tells her how badly she’s treating her stepkids, Emily cryptically tells her, “I’ve never forgotten anything – not an action, not a name, not a face.”
Nadine wants to move away from this domineering woman and the Boynton family home. Nadine’s happy to do this with either Cope or Lennox. Price tells Raymond she wants him to act like a man. The potential motives from the stepkids and their women are lining up…
One day, Emily sends the family on a trip to the hills without her. On-screen, she summons Lady Westholme for a chat, with this conversation happening off-screen. After all the family members return from their walk (at various times), it’s noticed by Price that Emily’s dead with two pinpricks on her wrist. Cue dramatic music…
A syringe is also found near the scene, but Ginevra isn’t on the list of suspects as she slept through the murder. Cue Poirot’s little grey cells working overtime as the Colonel tells him he’s two days to solve the case…
The cast was excellent but sadly some of the plot was a bit of a letdown. There seemed too many characters, with the better-known names were given fleshier roles than the less known ones. Lauren Bacall, Jenny Seagrove and Hayley Mills only appeared halfway through the film. Both Bacall and Mills were given little to do for much of their screen time, until the latter part of the film. Bacall did, however, have more screen time and presence than Hayley Mills, who had only a few wee scenes and lines.
Annoyingly more of the storyline seemed to concentrate on the Boynton boys and their romances. These storylines seemingly much more important than giving more screen time, backstories, character development and establishing motives for some of the others.
It’s unknown if others had more to do in the book. In my favourite scene where Poirot reveals all, then the more pertinent backstory was revealed regarding the murderer, this timing was super frustrating. I was dismayed that Poirot did a Columbo (1971-2003) style reveal. I was almost expected Poirot to say… there’s just one more thing…
So as a fan of Agatha Christie as a kid, I felt a wee bit annoyed when the murderer revealed. Usually, it’s all dramatic, tense with close-ups aplenty. Here the cast had dinner and it was more “comic” in nature. Cope was forgiven for burning the will, as the kids all wanted her dead anyway.. and the overbearing Emily is dead! Yay!!. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d all fallen into a family rendition of “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead”.
Lennox reunited with Nadine (who went for money over love), Cope was in love with Quinton (they had to give Mills more to do but really!!??) and Raymond and Dr Price finally got together. Even Ginevra (who had merged with Carol by now) got to stay up late! The murderer was.. well THAT can be seen when watching this film.
This film was beautifully filmed with some sumptuous locations and the actors doing their thing against some glorious shots of London, Italy and Jerusalem. For that reason, it’s definitely a winner of a production, if you want a more scenic look at an Agatha Christie movie…
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦/10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂🙂 🙂 🙂10
Hulk Rating: /10
This was added to In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood’s Third Lauren Bacall Blogathon. Other reviews with this cast include Peter Ustinov in Death on The Nile. Lauren Bacall and John Gielgud star in Murder on the Orient Express. Carrie Fisher in her tribute HERE and When Harry Met Sally. David Soul starred in Star Trek and Murder She Wrote. Hayley Mills starred in Whistle Down The Wind, The Parent Trap, Tiger Bay and Deadly Strangers. Jenny Seagrove starred in Bullseye.