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Death on the Nile

Agatha Christie mysteries were always a lot of fun.

Throw a bunch of suspects with motives in a confined place and one of them turns up murdered. The first film to really do her hero Hercule Poirot justice was 1974’s “Murder On The Orient Express” starring Albert Finney as the Belgian sleuth.

As good as Finney was, the fun quotient was definitely raised when Peter Ustinov took over the role in 1978’s DEATH ON THE NILE.

Poirot finds himself on a river barge down the Nile with a who’s who of Hollywood stars, who conveniently all have a grudge against wealthy socialite Linnet Ridgeway, played by Lois Chiles (Moonraker).

There’s her Uncle lawyer Andrew (George Kennedy) who wants to make sure his control over her fortune doesn’t waver now that Linnet has married Simon (Simon MacCorkindale, who could have used Poirot around when his Hollywood career was murdered by “Jaws 3”).

Meanwhile, Simon’s former fiancé and Linnet’s former best friend Jackie (Mia Farrow) follows the couple to ruin their Honeymoon, bitter that Linnet stole her man.

Bette Davis is a rich woman with a penchant for jewelry, Jane Birkin is a loyal maid with a grudge, Olivia Hussey is Rosalie, the loyal daughter of eccentric author Salome Otterbourne (Angela Lansbury) whose latest book is threatened by a lawsuit from Linnet.

David Niven is Colonel Race, an ally of Poirot’s who joins the detective in his quest to find a murderer when Linnet turns up shot in the head in her cabin. Niven and Ustinov are obviously having a hell of a good time together and it’s catching for the audience.

Maggie Smith and Jack Warden round out the cast, providing even more suspects to be considered along the journey.

Smith and Davis are in fine, nasty old woman form skewering each other with one-liners a plenty served up by Anthony Shaffer’s (Frenzy, Sleuth) script. Shaffer would come back to write the 1982 sequel “Evil Under The Sun” also starring Ustinov as Poirot.

Director John Guillermin (The Towering Inferno, The Blue Max) gets the whole cast off the boat into some stunning locations including the pyramids and keeps everything moving nicely toward a satisfying resolution to our mystery.

Academy Award winner for best costumes and BAFTA nominated for Ustinov’s, Lansbury’s and Smith’s performances.

Ustinov is that rare combination of very smart and witty that makes him someone you’d love to hear telling stories for hours on end. He’s flawless, making every word count.

A lot of fun for Christie fans and non-fans alike, DEATH ON THE NILE gets a B.

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