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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Movie: Death on the Nile



Death on the Nile
From a story by Agatha Christie
1978


Come, Bowers, it's time to go, this place is beginning to resemble a mortuary. (Mrs. Van Schuyler)

I must have seen parts of this movie before, as some of it looks familiar, but apparently I never watched the whole thing. Too bad, since I'd rank it right up there with the best mystery flicks I've ever seen.

I'm not real well-read when it comes to Agatha Christie, having only tackled about a dozen titles thus far. I have yet to read Death on the Nile, but in this case I think that not having done so first only served to enhance the experience.

As the novel and movie are rather well-known I won't go very deeply into the plot. It's a pretty good one, as these things go. As the title suggests, most of the story takes place onboard a steamboat traveling down the Nile, with a passenger compliment that consists primarily of a bunch of well-heeled tourists - and Hercule Poirot.

It's all pretty cut and dried, with the first part of the movie demonstrating that nearly everyone on board has a bone to pick - and a reason to kill - the victim. After that killing, things also proceed fairly methodically, with M. Poirot questioning all potential suspects and a few more instances of mayhem breaking out.

Which makes it sound like a pretty mediocre affair, but it's anything but. What brings this one right up to the top of the heap is a number of things, including the execution, with Anthony Shaffer's screenplay and John Guillermin's direction coaxing every available drop of drama out of the proceedings. I especially liked the scenes in which the characters play out the hypothetical scenarios Poirot lays out for how each might have committed the crime.

Then there's the truly all-star cast, which includes Peter Ustinov as Poirot and a boatload of other luminaries, including David Niven, Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, Maggie Smith, and many more. And though he's not a name that I recognized, I.S. Johar, as the boat's manager, pretty much manages to steal every scene he's in, with a performance that calls to mind equal parts of Jerry Lewis and Peter Sellers.

Then there is the setting. Which is Egypt - and that's the real Egypt, mind you, not some cut-rate studio backlot. Which may not have been a treat for the actors, working long days on a riverboat in intense heat, but it's an extra-special treat for the viewers. About the only thing I regret is that I wasn't watching this movie in a movie theater, on a big screen. But maybe someday.

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