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Death On The Nile

Death On The Nile

By Patrick Samuel • January 28th, 2014
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Mersham Productions

Original release: September 29th, 1978
Running time: 140 minutes

Director: John Guillermin
Writers: Agatha Christie, Anthony Shaffer

Cast: Peter Ustinov, Simon MacCorkindale, Mia Farrow, Bette Davis, George Kennedy, Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, David Niven

Death On The Nile

During her lifetime, Agatha Christie wrote 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, as well as six romances under the name Mary Westmacott. As one of the world’s bestselling novelists, she’s responsible for giving us Miss Jane Marple and the world’s longest-running play, The Mousetrap, but it’s the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot I’ve always admired her for. His method of solving cases, as well as always being coincidentally in the vicinity of such crimes, are perhaps the best two clue as to what’s made him such an endearing character, appearing in 33 novels, one play and more than 50 short stories published between 1920 and 1975.

With his short, round figure, this impeccably dressed and ever punctual detective follows the clues and relies on logic to reach his conclusions. The 1978 screen adaptation of Death On The Nile, directed by John Guillermin, is where we see this in action. Together with the sumptuous cinematography that gives us some of the best views of ancient Egyptian monuments, such as the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Temple of Amun and The Sphinx, ever committed to celluloid, and a magnificent score by Nino Rota, the film is on par with Murder on the Orient Express (1974), my other favourite Poirot outing.

In Death On The Nile, the detective is played by Peter Ustinov who’s travelling on a Nile paddle steamer, the S.S. Karnak, along with his friend Colonel Johnny Race (David Niven). They encounter wealthy heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Lois Chiles), and her new husband Simon Doyle (Simon MacCorkindale). The pair are on their honeymoon. There’s also the elderly Mrs. van Schuyler (Bette Davis) and her companion Bowers (Maggie Smith), Linnet’s maid Louise Bourget (Jane Birkin), Communist James Ferguson (Jon Finch), eccentric novelist Salome Otterbourne (Angela Lansbury), her daughter Rosalie (Olivia Hussey), lawyer Andrew Pennington (George Kennedy) and Dr. Ludwig Bessner (Jack Warden).

Death On The Nile

What makes Death On The Nile so interesting, like many of Agatha Christie’s stories (onscreen or in print), is how the murder is investigated, starting with the line-up of all possible suspects. But first there has to be a murder, and its set up is nicely orchestrated here. During an on-shore visit to a temple, Simon and Linnet are almost killed when a large stone narrowly misses crushing them after being pushed off a ledge. Simon’s jealous ex, Jacqueline de Bellefort, seems to fit the bill perfectly as the one guilty of committing such an act, and she even reveals to Poirot later on that she’s carrying a small pistol.

When Simon’s shot in the leg after a confrontation with Jacqueline, she becomes hysterical and has to be carried away while his wound is seen to, but by morning we learn Linnet was shot in the head, so now we have a murder to solve. Death On The Nile The obvious suspect is Jacqueline, but if we look closer there are many others on board the S.S. Karnak who might’ve wanted the wealthy heiress dead. The task of eliminating these suspects to find the real culprit is what makes Death On The Nile such a fun film to experience with all the classic twists and turns of a riveting murder mystery.

Bette Davis, Maggie Smith and Angela Lansbury lend great support and have some of the best lines in the script. Their characters add a level of extravagance, eccentricity and sophistication that such a film really needs to keep us guessing as Poirot begins his process of elimination. Veteran Cinematographer Jack Cardiff makes the most out of a Egypt as a backdrop and the 1930s setting perfectly matches. There’s an opulence to the surroundings that suits the time period and these characters in a very natural way.

As film that keeps us guessing until the end when Poirot reveals not only who the murderer is, but how the murder was committed down to its finest detail, Death On The Nile is an entertaining yarn that manages to cleverly fool us along the way.

Death On The Nile

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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