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Belgian Upstart Solves Murder: Death on the Nile

November 23, 2008

DEATH ON THE NILE (1978)
d. John Guillermin

A very amusing mystery from Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile features Herecule Poirot, the Belgian detective, and a cast of characters all revolving around a rich woman, Lynnette (Lois Chiles), her sister Jacqueline (Mia Farrow), and Simon, who is stolen from Jacqueline to become Lynnette’s husband.

The action takes place mainly on a steamer as it chugs its way down the NIle, and in classic Christie fashion, we are introduced to a bevy of characters who all have a reason for hating Lynnette, and when she turns up dead, all have a motive for killing her. It’s up to Herecule Poirot, ably assisted by David Niven’s character, to solve the crime before more killings take place.

When I was younger and first saw this film, I confess to not being impressed by it; seeing it now, I cannot help but be dazzled by the assemblage of star power. It seems as if there were a lot of movies done back in the 70s that had all-star casts (The Towering Inferno, the Airport series, et al), and here we get a great collection: Bette Davis, Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, Jane Birkin, George Kennedy, Olivia Hussey, Jon Finch. Each character has their peculiarity (Bette Davis covets pearls, Angela Lansbury is an over-sexed Romance author, Jon Finch is a Communist) and all get a chance to shine.

And while it’s fairly easy to figure whodunnit, most of the pleasure is seeing how theydunnit when Poirot gathers everyone together to reconstruct the crime. I was surprised at the high body-count and took pleasure in seeing all these actors share scenes, though George Kennedy all but disappears toward the end.

The music is very grand, like the Nile, and once I found out that Nino Rota was responsible, it made sense.

So overall a very effective mystery — even if the solution is transparent early on — that is made interesting by the excellent cast and the memorable humane and humourous performance by Peter Ustinov.

*** stars.

I meant to see Albert Finney in Murder on the Orient Express, but the disc I received was cracked. So while I await a replacement, I should have Lady in the Water next.

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