Vintage Classics’ re-releases of Agatha Christie adaptations, handily timed to release alongside Kenneth Branagh’s new take on Murder on the Orient Express, continue with this lavish 1978 production of Death on the Nile. Coming hot on the heels of another Orient Express adaptation – the 1974 Albert Finney-starrer – this follow-up Poirot tale replaces Finney with Peter Ustinov, while retaining the all-star glamour.
Holidaying in Egypt, Hercule Poirot witnesses a wealthy heiress and her new husband being stalked by the guy’s ditched ex-fiancée. Not long after, the legendary detective happens to be sharing the same boat as the newlyweds, and learns that the heiress has a lot of enemies. Knowing the title of the film, any amateur detective should be able to work out what happens next.
The way the investigation plays out is more dynamic than that in Orient Express, with less of a focus on interrogation only and more twists and turns to come, and the ending is very satisfying – as in the best whodunits, all the pieces cleverly come together, meaning you could have worked it out yourself, but probably didn’t. However, director John Guillermin and writer Anthony Shaffer’s handle on the material isn’t quite as firm as that of Sidney Lumet and Paul Dehn in the 1974 movie; some elements of the story drag on too long, while sub-plots about peripheral crimes – a first, failed murder attempt and a jewel robbery – feel poorly resolved. The location shooting in Egypt does make it a pleasure to look at throughout, though – it’s a real case of tourism via murder mystery.
Ustinov’s performance as Poirot, the first of six times he would play the Belgian detective, is amiable and entertaining, though Christie hardcores tend to find him too ramshackle compared to the quick-witted Poirot of the books and a poor fit for the character physically. The supporting cast list is stunning, from David Niven as Poirot’s military sidekick to Lois Chiles as the beautiful and doomed heiress, alongside Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury and Maggie Smith among the suspects. There’s particular fun to be had with Lansbury’s drunken novelist and Poirot’s attempts to deflect her attentions.
This is another excellent package from Vintage Classics, with stylish cover and menu art and a range of extras, foremost being three brand new interviews: Angela Lansbury, costume designer Anthony Powell, and producer Richard Goodwin. The movie won an Oscar for costume design, so Powell’s interview is particularly interesting for followers of film fashion. Rounding off the set are some making-of featurettes and stills galleries, though these have been seen before.
DEATH ON THE NILE (1978) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: JOHN GUILLERMIN / SCREENPLAY: ANTHONY SCHAFFER / STARRING: PETER USTINOV, MIA FARROW, LOIS CHILES, DAVID NIVEN / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 23RD