Emily Boynton (Piper Laurie) is the matriarch of this family, but it was not always thus, as she married into it and her stepchildren resent her and her haughty ways. She has been more damaging to them than they realise, as when her husband dies she goes to see the lawyer of the clan, Jefferson Cope (David Soul), to find out about the will - but there are two, one written mere months before the old man died. As the second document gives the fortune away to the children, Emily makes sure it is burned by blackmailing Cope - but someone is not happy...
Unhappy enough to turn to murder, perhaps? That said, you did have to wait a long time for the crime to occur in this, the most listless of the Peter Ustinov starring movies to bring Hercule Poirot to the screen. Although it looked as if it was one of the series folllowing on from the other all-star Agatha Christie adaptations, that was merely its guise, for it may have had Ustinov in the lead but actually this was a Cannon film, as producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus took up the series and essentially ensured that nobody would be interested in making any more.
Not for the big screen, at any rate, as the year after this was released David Suchet made his debut as the Belgian detective on television, and anyone else considering the role had his shoes to fill thereafter. While Ustinov had been amusing enough, here he seemed tired, as if this production was a contractual obligation more than a work he had the utmost enthusiasm for, so while he managed to sparkle in a handful of scenes, for the most part he looked to be going through the motions. This may have had Anthony Shaffer co-writing the script, but there was not the same class or acid wit that there had been in his previous ones (this was to be his last).
This being a Cannon movie, the reason for their adopting of the series becomes clear by and by when after a cruise the Boynton family wind up in Jerusalem and its surroundings: Goram and Globus were proud Israelis, and often Appointment with Death appears to be a tourist film about the land, complete with visits to sites of popular interest. While that kind of thing should have been left as the backdrop, it grows to become the most interesting aspect as although this was based on Christie, they managed to make a dud out of it otherwise, with the entire cast wilting in the heat for too much of the time.
Among that cast were such stars as Carrie Fisher as Emily's daughter-in-law, John Gielgud as a British official and Lauren Bacall and Hayley Mills as an Anglo-American M.P. accompanied by her archaeologist assistant, all famous enough, but by 1988 not exactly the kind of names to bring the punters stampeding to the cinemas. It's no wonder that Christie's work was finding television as the ideal medium for its translation, because with Michael Winner directing this did have the look of a Sunday night TV special, not helped by the way that the details of the mystery once the murder occurs were allowed to get away from the audience. Once we find out whodunnit at the end, the solution comes from out of blue, so that you're left baffled as to why the culprit would have gone to all that bother in the first place as their connection to the whole thing was tenuous at best. Average was the nicest you could say about it. Music by Pino Donaggio.