Combustible Celluloid
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With: Peter Ustinov, David Niven, Lois Chiles, Jane Birkin, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, Jon Finch, Olivia Hussey, George Kennedy, Angela Lansbury, Simon MacCorkindale, Maggie Smith, Jack Warden, I.S. Johar, Harry Andrews, Sam Wanamaker
Written by: Anthony Shaffer, based on a novel by Agatha Christie
Directed by: John Guillermin
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 140
Date: 09/29/1978

Death on the Nile (1978)

3 Stars (out of 4)

River Runs Red

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A follow-up to Sidney Lumet's Oscar-winning Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Death on the Nile is something slightly less, but still offers a decent, murderous evening's entertainment. Directed by John Guillermin, who was best known for The Towering Inferno and the 1976 remake of King Kong, Death on the Nile is a king-size movie that moves about as gracefully as a tank. It takes a very long time to establish that wealthy heiress Linnet Ridgeway Doyle (beautiful Bond girl Lois Chiles, Moonraker) is a terrible person and has in some way wronged all the other characters in the movie.

Nearly half the movie drags by before the characters even board the boat, and before Doyle is finally murdered. Luckily Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) is there, aided by his old friend Colonel Race (David Niven). Possible suspects include Louise Bourget (Jane Birkin), Mrs. Van Schuyler (Bette Davis), Jacqueline De Bellefort (Mia Farrow), Mr. Ferguson (Jon Finch), Rosalie Otterbourne (Olivia Hussey), Andrew Pennington (George Kennedy), Mrs. Salome Otterbourne (Angela Lansbury), Simon Doyle (Simon MacCorkindale), Miss Bowers (Maggie Smith), and Dr. Ludwig Bessner (Jack Warden).

Anthony Shaffer — writer of Sleuth, Frenzy, and The Wicker Man and brother of Amadeus scribe Peter — wrote the screenplay, complete with plenty of fantasy/flashback sequences to show how certain suspects might have killed the victim. Unfortunately, if you keep track off all the suspects, the ones that don't get their own fantasy/flashback are, by process of elimination, the real killer(s). Nevertheless, since I was watching casually and not taking notes, I was still surprised. Once it gets going, Death on the Nile is bright and leisurely, like a vacation, and the notes of humor — such as the Belgian Poirot forever correcting characters who call him "French" — are enough to keep things from getting too heavy.

Kino Lorber released the movie on Blu-ray in 2020. Extras include a commentary track by film historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson; a vintage making-of featurette, vintage interviews with Ustinov and Birkin, and a batch of trailers for this and other Christie-related movies. Kenneth Branagh is hard at work on a remake.

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