Forgotten Classics: Death on the Nile

click to enlarge Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images - © 2012 Getty Images
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images - © 2012 Getty Images

The year 2014 was a great one for movies — a really, really good year. Sure, there were duds and bombs just like any other year, but there were seriously so many good films that it was tough to properly list off my favorites in a satisfying order. One of my favorites of last year was Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. The movie reminded me of two Agatha Christie movies from the 1970s, Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Death on the Nile (1978), the latter of which is my personal favorite of the two.

Based on the mystery novel of the same name, Death on the Nile tells of Christie’s famous Belgium (not French) detective Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) as he investigates the murder of the beautiful newlywed heiress Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle (Jane Birkin) on the Egyptian riverboat S.S. Karnak. The mystery is made all the more difficult considering how everyone on board the ship hated her in one way: from the bitter and begrudged nurse Miss Bowers (Maggie Smith), whose family was ruined by the Ridgeways, to the exotic and eccentric novelist Salome Otterbourne (Angela Lansburg), who was threatened to be sued by Linnet for defamation. With the help of his friend Col. Race (David Niven), Poirot must track down the killer before the ship reaches its final destination.

In the Sidney Lumet-directed Murder on the Orient Express, Poirot was portrayed by Oscar-nominated actor Albert Finney. While Finney certainly did look the part of the famed detective, for me between him and Peter Ustinov, I have to go with the latter. The main reason is because Ustinov seems to fit the persona. Finney, while being a good actor, seemed to talk too fast and rushed through lines, while Ustinov took things slower and seemed much more like the intelligent private investigator who was motivated by morality attempted to keep more unlawful activities from happening. He also sports a splendid mustache, which is very vital to the character.

One reason The Grand Budapest Hotel reminded me of these kind of films was because of the all-star cast. Death on the Nile features Ustinov but also stars the aforementioned Maggie Smith (Prof. McGonagall in the Harry Potter series) and Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) but it also features Hollywood legend Bette Davis (All About Eve), George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke), Olivia Hussey (1968 version of Romeo & Juliet), Mia Farrow (1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby) and one of my favorite character actors, Jack Warden (12 Angry Men). Speaking of Grand Budapest Hotel’s cast: I could totally see Ralph Fiennes portraying Poirot in a movie.

But what about the actual mystery in the movie? It is pretty interesting. Yes, it is a rather standard whodunit sort of scenario where they go through the list of suspects until they come to the final decision. But with the given scenario of everyone having a reason to hate her and the fact that anyone could have gotten to her, it does make you wonder. The result is something that I’m sure a lot of people won’t see coming.

It’s a real treat for anyone who loves a good murder mystery and enjoys the works of Agatha Christie.

One final similarity that this film has with The Grand Budapest Hotel: both won Best Costume Design at the Oscars. 

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