Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Sparkling Cyanide ( 1983 )

Rosemary Barton takes one sip of champagne at her wedding anniversary dinner party and then suddenly collapses dead. "Cyanide poison", the doctor exclaims. Was it suicide or murder? Rosemary certainly had her fair share of enemies. Her husband George believes it to be murder and so he gathers together the same dinner guests and recreates the party, hoping to add a surprise guest to bring the killer out in the open. Unfortunately, poor George also gets a taste of poisoned champagne and ends up taking a trip to the morgue. It is then left to Rosemary's sister Iris and private investigator Tony Browne to solve the mystery.

Sparkling Cyanide was a made-for-television movie that aired on CBS in November, 1983. It was one of three Agatha Christie television adaptations produced by Stan Margulies between 1981-1983. Like the other two films ( Murder is Easy and A Caribbean Mystery ) it features a cast of popular British and American actors of the time. 

The personable Anthony Andrews stars as our lead sleuth, Tony Browne. Andrews is a Shakespearan actor best known for starring in a number of period miniseries throughout the 1970s and 1980s ( e.g. The Pallisers, David Copperfield ), so it would seem that he would be out of place in a modern-day detective drama, but quite the contrary. He lends a great deal of charm to what could have been a rather dull character. Browne isn't much of an investigator and he spends more time trying to woo Iris then piece together clues to solve the puzzle, but he does manage to hit upon one clue that acts as a glue for all the others and therefore catches the killer singlehandedly. 

Deborah Raffin portrays Iris, a pencil-thin young woman who just arrived in Los Angeles to visit her sister Rosemary. She thinks that Rosemary and her husband George are happily married but soon discovers that she really knows very little about her sister and just what does make her happy. It turns out other men make her happy. She was having an affair with a young political candidate ( David Huffman ) who dropped her like a hot coal when he realized she would interfere with his latest campaign. His wife Sandra ( June Chadwick ) naturally despised did her parents Eric and Viola ( portrayed by two familiar Brits - Barry Ingham and Anne Rogers ). 

Like most Agatha Christie stories, Sparkling Cyanide has a number of good suspects to keep you guessing till the very end who the killer might be, but on the whole, the mystery - and the film itself - is not as engaging as Margulies' other two Agatha Christie adaptations. It plays out like a soap opera and, with its setting in Los Angeles, it doesn't have that lovely English-mystery setting that one comes to expect in a Christie adaptation. The cast is its primary drawing feature and, in that respect, there are good performances to enjoy from all involved, including Harry Morgan ( as a police captain ), Pamela Bellwood, Nancy Marchand, and Josef Sommer.


  1. I agree that it's a pleasant mystery with a likable cast, but I wish the screenwriters hadn't updated it and transported it to L.A. A "cozy mystery" is meant to take place in a small English village!

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