Thursday, July 9, 2009

Day 161: Death on the Nile (1978) - Rank 4.5/5


Ah, another Hercule Poirot film. Released four years after "Murder on the Orient Express," "Death on the Nile" lacks the lavish-looking sets of its predecessor, as well as the superb score and perfect acting on the part of its cast (particularly that of Albert Finney as Poirot). Nevertheless, this is still a damn good film with an equally engaging script. This occurs thanks to the work of writer Anthony Schaffer, who also adapted "Orient Express" as well as two more Agatha Christie/Poirot mysteries in the following years.

The story is set not on a train, but a steamship cruising down the Nile. This confinement provides a nice excuse for the murderer's inability to escape, leading to the now-cliched climax where all the accused sit about the detective and find out "why you've all been called here..." This time, the victim is a wealthy heiress (Lois Chiles aka Holly Goodhead) and not only does she have plenty of enviable jewels and a sizable bank account, but she's a bitch to boot. So we end up with a corpse and a bevy of possible suspects (Maggie Smith, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, George Kennedy, Jack Warden, etc.). Poirot (Peter Ustinov) finds himself assisted by his friend Colonel Race (David Niven). And as you might guess, while others are scrambling about and throwing countless red herrings in the detective's way, Poirot maintains a cool head and unravels the complex and nefarious plot.

Even though Poirot stories have a predictable pattern of unfolding, that doesn't make them any less engaging. You find it almost damning that Poirot can figure out exactly what transpired when you cannot, despite the fact that you both have the same clues at your disposal. Listening to Poirot explain what happened holds you at the same rapt attention one might experience while listening to a magician unveil his trick. So while Ustinov may not measure up to Finney's Poirot and the art direction may be low key when compared with "Orient Express," "Death on the Nile" is still a fun ride. Especially because you get to see Angela Lansbury shot in the head for the first time since "The Manchurian Candidate" (except this time, in color!).

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