Death on the Nile (John Guillermin, 1978, UK)

Death on the Nile is the first major feature adaptation of Agatha Christie's 1937 novel. The film was directed by John Guillermin, the French-British director behind such studio mega-films as The Towering Inferno (1974) and King Kong (1976). The Nile is no less a mega-studio film, although this time the budget is in front of the camera, with an all-star cast including Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, Jane Birken, and David Niven. While Albert Finney played the famous detective Hercule Poirot in the prior Christie adaptation Murder on the Orient Express, here the detective is played by Peter Ustinov. Ustinov would reprise the role several more times throughout his career, and he is now one of the actors most associated with the role.

This 1978 adaptation is more faithful to Christie's original novel than the 2022 adaptation directed by Kenneth Branagh. While Branagh tends to psychologize the character of Poirot, Ustinov plays him more as the sly detective he is. We can believe from Ustinov's performance that Poirot would cause the suspects on the ship to let their guard down and reveal secrets to him. Mia Farrow's performance as the jealous lover Jacqueline de Bellfort is played much less coldly than in the remake, giving us a better sense of ambiguity about whether she was responsible for the murder.

Death on the Nile '78 lives up to its big-budget ambitions, with a sumptuous production design, and music by the great Nino Rota. Veteran cinematographer Jack Cardiff also does his best capturing the Nile. While Death on the Nile is perhaps not as iconic as the prior 1970s Christie adaptation (Murder on the Orient Express), it is certainly one of the better and more lively adaptations of her work and worth revisiting - not only for fans of Christie.



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