Friday, November 20, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Death on the Nile (1978) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

DEATH ON THE NILE (1978) is one of a trio of Agatha Christie mysteries recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

Peter Ustinov stars as detective Hercule Poirot in both DEATH ON THE NILE and EVIL UNDER THE SUN (1982), while Angela Lansbury stars as Miss Marple in THE MIRROR CRACK'D (1980).  I'll be reviewing the latter two films here at at future date.

David Niven costars as Colonel Race, who one might describe as Poirot's "Dr. Watson."  The colonel assists Poirot to solve a series of murders as they cruise down the famed Nile River.

Among their fellow passengers are heiress Linnet (Lois Chiles), enjoying a honeymoon with her new husband Simon (Simon MacCorkindale); Jackie (Mia Farrow), Simon's jilted ex-fiancee; flamboyant author Salome Otterbourne (Angela Lansbury), who is being sued by Linnet for libel; Salome's daughter Rosalie (Olivia Hussey); Mrs. Van Schuyler (Bette Davis), who covets Linnet's jewels, and her hapless companion Miss Bowers (Maggie Smith); attorney Andrew Pennington (George Kennedy), who's trying to swindle his client Linnet; and a handful of others.

Bodies begin piling up until Poirot gathers the survivors into a single room, and in classic Christie fashion begins laying out who did what to whom.

This was a pleasant film, sumptuously filmed in Egypt by Jack Cardiff, with a good score by Nino Rota.  John Guillermin directed.

My biggest complaint is that it was a very leisurely 150 minutes; I wasn't bored, but around the two-hour mark I did wonder when it was going to end and was surprised to realize there was still another 20 minutes to go!  I think the editing (by Malcolm Cooke) could have been tighter; even reducing the length of some attractive establishing shots might have cut it down by at least a couple of minutes.

I was also a bit surprised by the level of gore in a 1978 PG film, although it wasn't so over the top as to interfere with my enjoyment; I simply looked away in some later shots where it was clear what would be coming.

Ustinov was fine, although I didn't find him any more interesting as the detective than Kenneth Branagh in the remake of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017), a film some like to criticize but which I quite enjoyed (other than Branagh's absurd mustache!).  The release of the Branagh remake of DEATH ON THE NILE (2020), which had been slated for next month, has been postponed indefinitely, along with most other new films.

Among the large cast of this film I most enjoyed Niven, whose character serves as Poirot's helpful assistant; I wish he had also appeared in EVIL UNDER THE SUN.  Chiles (MOONRAKER) was good as the feisty heiress, and it was fun to see MacCorkindale, familiar to me from TV's THE MANIONS OF AMERICA (1981) and FALCON CREST (1984-86), in a "big screen" film.

The rest of the cast of "names" was fun but no one particularly distinguished themselves; indeed, their characters either seemed to be quite over the top (Davis, Lansbury, Farrow, and Jack Warden) or so pallid they almost melt into the scenery (Hussey and Jane Birkin).  One would think the film's long running time would allow more extensive character development, but that wasn't the case.  While the plotting was intricate, the characters aren't revealed in more than a surface manner.

All in all, though, while I didn't find it especially noteworthy, the intriguing mystery and the cast of stars, served up in a nicely mounted film, did make for a pleasant evening's viewing.  

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks and sounds quite nice.  The disc includes an audio commentary by Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson; a "making of" featurette; interviews with Peter Ustinov and Jane Birkin; a pair of trailers; and trailers for half a dozen additional films available from Kino Lorber.  The case includes a choice of reversible cover art.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

11 Comments:

Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Keeping in mind that it is longer than remembered (!!), it is the perfect lazy Sunday afternoon entertainment. However, my daughter just requested Murder on the Orient Express for this weekend. Hey, I'm easy.

6:00 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

I like the film but did not care at all for Lansbury's performance. Simon was terrific, as was in his limited role, David Niven. An aide: Hated Branagh's work as Poirot and his directorial approach.

10:03 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

That's a good description of DEATH ON THE NILE, lazy Sunday afternoon entertainment.

I still need to see the '74 EXPRESS...it's in my "watch stack"!

Enjoy!!

Best wishes,
Laura

10:24 AM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

To see the ultimate portrayal of Hercule Poirot we really need to seek out David Suchet's wonderful characterisation for the small screen. Suchet made it his mission to film every Poirot story over a period of years. My special favourites are the hour-long films of the short stories where the pacing and the delicious humour between the lead characters make for a delight IMHO.

12:02 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Regarding Jerry's comment. Agreed about David Suchet.

1:13 PM  
Blogger Lee R said...

Yes, I agree here too that Suchet's Poirot series was so much better (& more entertaining) than the theatrical movies. Though Peter Ustinov is the best of the sorry lot of movie Poirot's.

I also totally agree that the hour long Poirot stories were so much more entertaining and fun than the later shows when all of Poirot's "family" suddenly disappeared. Gone were the best elements of the show, his befuddled assistant, his personal secretary and even the police detective friend Poirot had fun with. Without those foils the Poirot series lacked the humor and the entertainment value the early shows had. After they disappeared it became more a Suchet ego trip where only he was now allowed to shine. Was Suchet on a ego trip or was this some sort of money saving move by the producers to fire all the co-stars.

Can anyone tell me WHY all those great co-stars were suddenly fired or quit or somehow disappeared from the series? I only first saw this series the last 2 years when I bought the DVD set, so I don't know about the history of the making of the show. Next to Nero Wolfe (which was cancelled about 10 years too soon) and Jeremy's Sherlock Holmes, Poirot's TV series is my 3rd favorite mystery series.

4:37 PM  
Anonymous Barry Lane said...

Lee, people move on. This show ran literally forever, sometimes it is time to go, but Captain Hasting, Assistant Commissioner Japp, and Miss Lemon do reappear in the final season, played by the original, and quite wonderful stars.

7:39 PM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

I believe I am correct here in saying that the films followed the Christie novels and that Capt. Hastings would appear here and there and Insp. Japp too on occasion, as in the novels. I missed them too but believe it was the right thing to do. David Suchet very much believed in the Poirot series and wanted to present the stories as Mrs. Christie intended.
Nice to hear from you, Lee. I agree about the Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett, which also carefully followed the books and was also superb.

BTW, there isn't a week goes by here when the Poirot series isn't showing on one channel or another. Still so popular.

12:00 AM  
Blogger Lee R said...

I've read every Nero Wolfe book and every Sherlock book both Doyle and all the imitators but have never read a Christie book.

So, in the actual Christie books do Capt. Hasting and his secretary suddenly disappear? I can see possibly not having Japp in every episode but the assistant and secretary should have been. It's like Sherlock without Watson or Nero without Archie. Did Christie have these characters disappear too or was this a move made for the TV series for whatever reason, ego or budget?

11:27 AM  
Blogger Lee R said...

Hello Jerry,
Good to see you pop up here too. Nice to see we both have other interests other than the great old westerns, which I still love. I used to be able to use the Toby's 50 Westerns site as Johnny Guitar and then when the system there went screwy for reasons I could never explain I started posting there as Lee R but now even that doesn't work, so that's why you don't see me on 50 Westerns anymore. Something weird going on with that blogging platform or something, it's not Toby's fault it's that blog place, it won't recognize my name to post anything. Oh well, I still visit there.

I just watched a Laurel & Hardy short I haven't seen in years, called Come Clean. Very funny. My favorite line when Stanley asks for "Mustachio" ice cream and the clerk says "We don't have any Mustachio ice cream either". I laughed out loud with that clerk's reaction. Yes, I have other interests too.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all for the great Christie information and recommendations, with special thanks to Jerry and Barry re the David Suchet recommendation. I believe I remember his name coming up some time ago -- I will have to look for that series.

With thanks and best wishes,
Laura

5:55 PM  

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