James Mason’s Vacation in Evil Under the Sun
James Mason as Odell Gardner, Broadway theatrical producer
A remote Mediterranean island, Summer 1937
Film: Evil Under the Sun
Release Date: March 5, 1982
Director: Guy Hamilton
Costume Designer: Anthony Powell
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
72 years old when the film was made, James Mason was just as effortlessly sophisticated as ever in the 1982 mystery Evil Under the Sun, based on the novel by the same name by Agatha Christie. Mason steals the show among the ensemble cast as Odell Gardner, a Broadway producer with a sling of recent flops and wit sharp enough to match anyone but his wife, played by Sylvia Miles.
The film is a relatively loose adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel about an actress vacationing at a quaint English resort. The stodgy characters of the novel were merged and replaced by the more colorful theater crowd, highlighted by Maggie Smith as the dancer-turned-royal-mistress-turned-resort-owner and, of course, James Mason as the hapless producer. Diana Rigg plays the cuckolding diva whose murder sets the wheels in motion.
Mason’s attire recalls an era where men dressed for warm holidays abroad in light linen suits and caps rather than fanny packs, tube socks, cargo shorts, baseball caps, and Hawaiian shirts. He spends most of the film attired in great-looking suits that are spot-on for the time period.
What’d He Wear?
The base of Odell’s resortwear is a cream suit in soft linen. Award-winning costume designer Anthony Powell, who also worked on films such as the latter two original Indiana Jones installments and 1978’s Death on the Nile, another lavish star-studded adaptation of an Agatha Christie mystery. With Powell at the helm, the costumes for the film paid tribute to the 1930s with just enough ’80s excess to keep everything tongue-in-cheek.
The jacket of Odell’s suit is single-breasted with wide peak lapels and slightly padded shoulders, very evocative of a loud 1930s theatrical producer from New York. It closes in the front with two white buttons on a medium-low stance. The jacket also features 4-button cuffs and a ventless rear, very appropriate for 1937. Additionally, the jacket has straight flapped hip pockets and a breast pocket which Odell always accents with a colorful handkerchief.
On the day of the climactic murder, Odell switches it up, abandoning the cream jacket and opting for a more sinister-looking black double-breasted blazer, also with a ventless rear. We see very little of this coat.
The suit’s trousers match the jacket in the same cream soft linen. They have a traditional rise and, despite their belt loops, Odell almost always wears them with a set of white suspenders/braces with silver hardware. They have wide cuffs on the bottom and four pockets: two straight side pockets and two jetted pockets in the rear.
Despite the heat of the Mediterranean, Odell typically wears a vest under his jacket. Throughout the film, we see a black single-breasted button-down vest, a dark blue sweater vest with pin-point dots, and – in the finale – a white single-breasted vest with blue butcher’s stripes and six white buttons down the front, with the bottom button worn unfastened.
He also wears a white cable knit tennis sweater vest while – appropriately enough – playing a game of tennis. Tennis sweaters, although more commonly worn for any situation calling for sweaters now, were once very popular for the sport. Traditionally, they are a shade of white, either pure white, ivory, or cream with one or more colored bands along the V-neck opening and sometimes on the lower waist. Tennis sweaters with sleeves, unlike Odell’s, often have identical colored bands around the sleeves. Odell’s sleeveless tennis sweaters were the height of sporting fashion around this time after being worn by U.S. Olympic athletes in Los Angeles for the Summer Olympics in 1932.
Odell almost always wears a cream newsboy cap with the suit. However, he chooses instead to wear a traditional straw boater while playing bocce. The boater has a thick black ribbon band.
Odell wears a series of lightweight shirts with the suit, mostly identical button-down long-sleeve shirts with French cuffs. The shirts are white, soft cream, and pale light pink. The white and cream have plain fronts while the pink has a placket. Odell appears to wear the same pair of round gold cuff links with each shirt, however.
The most variety in Odell’s resort wear comes from his neckwear. Throughout the film, he wears three different neckties, one day cravat, and four different handkerchiefs in his breast pocket. They are all very similar, following a white, dark blue, or black pattern whether it’s stripes, polka dots, or a check.
Odell switches between a pair of more formal black & white two-tone cap-toe leather shoes and, for more active pasttimes such as tennis, a pair of plain white canvas loafers, both worn with thin cream socks.
Unlike some other loud producers of the time, Odell minimizes his accessories, choosing only to wear a plain wristwatch on his left wrist.
Let’s Sum It Up
Odell does a lot of mix-and-match over the few days we see him.
The first afternoon, he wears the cream linen suit with a white shirt, dark blue polka dot day cravat, and cream cap. He tops it all off with a dark blue patterned handkerchief in his pocket. The pattern appears to be some sort of ecru diamond-shaped business.
The next afternoon, he wears the same suit with a black vest, cream cap, white shirt, and a white and black checked tie. The pocket handkerchief is also black and white.
Later that day, he and Myra relax down by the water. He wears a cream robe, cream cap, and a black polka dot handkerchief in the robe’s breast pocket.
The next day, Odell goes off to “think” in a dark navy sport coat, matching vest, pink shirt, and cream cap. A black and white handkerchief accents the breast pocket. He still wears the cream trousers from the linen suit. The tie is white and dark blue striped. He also wears his two-tone shoes and cream socks on his feet. These scenes offer the first clear look at some of his accessories, such as the cuff links and white suspenders.
Odell heads over to the tennis court in his white sleeveless tennis vest, cream trousers, cream shirt, dark striped day cravat, cream cap, and white canvas tennis loafers.
After the murder, Odell plays a solo game of bocce in a dark sweater vest, cream trousers, cream shirt, and straw boater. He also wears the same dark blue day cravat he wore during the first afternoon.
When preparing to leave the island with the rest of the vacationers – and as master detective Hercule Poirot reveals the murderer – he wears the cream linen suit with a white shirt, black polka dot tie, and the white and blue striped vest. He also has a solid black handkerchief stuffed in his breast pocket and accessorizes with two-tone shoes and his cream cap.
Go Big or Go Home
Odell Gardner isn’t the traditional BAMF seen on this blog; he doesn’t even seem to have much of a spine. However, he is played by James Mason, and he dresses very sharply throughout the film. However, Odell gets his own moment of redemption when Poirot is questioning the crime suspects. Odell is elated to discover that he has absolutely no alibi at the time of the murder and James Mason plays the moment charmingly, almost making the viewer hope he actually did kill Diana Rigg’s character.
Odell shows a special fondness for whiskey highballs, drinking whiskey and soda while in black tie for the evenings and enjoying slugs of Canadian Club back in his room. He also drinks coupes of champagne, toasting the murderers as they are all ridden back to the mainland. He also enjoys sports on the island and is seen playing both bocce and tennis.
How to Get the Look
Although he switches things up with some color variations, Odell’s base outfit consists of his basic suit, shirt, and an accompanying vest.
- Cream linen single-breasted suit coat with large peak lapels, 2-button front, 4-button cuffs, breast pocket, flapped hip pockets, and a ventless back
- Cream linen pleated trousers with a traditional rise, straight side pockets, jetted and button-fastened rear pockets, and cuffed bottoms
- White lightweight button-down long-sleeve shirt with French cuffs
- Cream newsboy cap
- Black & white two-tone leather spectator shoes
- Thin cream dress socks
- White suspenders with silver hardware
- Plain wristwatch on dark leather strap
The most variation in Odell’s wardrobe is derived from the plentiful neckties and handkerchiefs:
- White and black checked necktie
- White necktie with thin dark blue British-style left-down-to-right stripes
- Black silk necktie with widely-spaced large white polka dots, possibly also worn as a pocket puff
- Dark blue day cravat with small white polka dots
- Plain black handkerchief
- Black & white handkerchief
- Dark blue handkerchief with diamond-shaped patterns in ecru and gray
I recently discovered the difference between ascots and day cravats, thanks to Dress Like A Grownup! Odell wears day cravats here, which are a casual sporting alternative to the much more formal ascot.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the film. Make sure you read the book too!
Also, don’t miss the soundtrack. The highlight of the album is titled “The Dance Sequence” (despite no dancing in the scenes shown?) and features a well-arranged medley of famous Cole Porter songs.
James Mason was always cool and stylish, whether here or in North by Northwest or as Rupert von Hentzau in The Prisoner of Zenda. I love the suit and would like to think that one day I might go on holiday somewhere hot packing a linen or tropical wool suit, but realise I’m highly unlikely to do so.
The formal peak lapel is an unusual touch on what is otherwise an informal holiday suit.