Directed by: Michael Winner
Starring: Peter Ustinov, Lauren Bacall, Carrie Fisher, John Gielgud, Piper Laurie, Hayley Mills
The Hendersonville Film Society's annual Thanksgiving turkey is Appointment With Death (1988) this year, a film that is less a seasonal fowl than a frustrating, interesting, wrongheaded film from a frequently frustrating, interesting, wrongheaded filmmaker, Michael Winner. Winner was one of the more interesting 1960s filmmakers to emerge from the British Invasion, making enjoyable films like You Must Be Joking (1965) and The Jokers (1967), along with one outright masterpiece, I'll Never Forget What's 'Isname (1967). But Winner has never quite maintained a consistent level of quality, though he certainly has maintained a consistency of style -- and that's what makes Appointment With Death both interesting and wrongheaded.
Appointment With Death is an Agatha Christie mystery set in 1937 and made in 1988, but Winner opted to make the entire film in what can only be called 1960s Brit Invasion style -- clever camera movements, wide-angle lenses distorting perspective, weird angles, zoom shots, etc. He even got Pino Donaggio to cook up a retro-sounding score. It feels like a period piece all right -- just not the right period. It's fascinatingly done, but completely unsuited to the material, which perhaps makes it even more fascinating. Posing his star-studded cast against exotic backgrounds at peculiar angles, Winner seems oblivious to much else, while Peter Ustinov (his third outing as sleuth Hercule Poirot) hams it up outrageously. The structure is clunky and rather dull -- Piper Laurie's character spends a full 45 minutes of the film begging for someone to murder her before it actually happens. An intriguing failure.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke