|Death on the Nile|
UK original theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Guillermin|
|Produced by||John Brabourne|
Richard B. Goodwin
|Screenplay by||Anthony Shaffer|
|Based on||Death on the Nile|
by Agatha Christie
I. S. Johar
|Music by||Nino Rota|
|Edited by||Malcolm Cooke|
|Distributed by||EMI Films (UK)|
Paramount Pictures (US)
|Budget||$7.92 million or $8 million|
|Box office||$14,560,084 (US)|
Death on the Nile is a 1978 British mystery film based on Agatha Christie's 1937 novel of the same name, directed by John Guillermin and adapted by Anthony Shaffer. The film features the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, played by Peter Ustinov for the first time, plus an all-star supporting cast including Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, David Niven, George Kennedy and Jack Warden. The film is a sequel/follow up to the 1974 film Murder On The Orient Express.
It takes place in Egypt in 1937, mostly on a period paddle steamer on the River Nile. Many of the cultural highlights of Egypt are also featured in the film, such as the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx, and temples at Abu Simbel and Karnak, even though the locations are not in sequence. The boat trip starts in Aswan, follows to Karnak and then to Abu Simbel which is upstream from Aswan. Furthermore, it was never possible to go by boat from Aswan to Abu Simbel, even before the Aswan Dam was built because of the cataracts near Aswan.
Jacqueline "Jackie" de Bellefort asks her close friend, wealthy heiress Linnet Ridgeway, to hire her unemployed fiancé, Simon Doyle. Jackie is initially pleased when Linnet agrees, but Linnet and Simon soon start a whirlwind affair and marry. While honeymooning in Egypt, they are continually hounded by the jilted Jackie. In an attempt to get away, the Doyles pretend to go to the Cairo railway station before backtracking to board a Nile paddle steamer, the S.S. Karnak.
During an on-shore excursion to the nearby Temple of Karnak, a large stone is pushed off a pillar and narrowly misses the Doyles. They are shocked when Jackie joins the cruise, ignoring detective Hercule Poirot's warning to stay away. She also reveals that she carries a small automatic pistol in her handbag and is a crack shot. That night, Jackie confronts Simon in a drunken rage and shoots him in the leg. The next morning, Linnet is found dead from a gunshot wound to the head. A "J" written in blood on the wall above her bed implicates Jackie, but she has a solid alibi as Miss Bowers sedated her with morphia and stayed with her all night.
Poirot and his friend, Colonel Race, investigate. They discover that numerous passengers had motives to kill Linnet: Louise Bourget, Linnet's maid, was bitter due to her mistress' refusal to grant her a promised dowry; Andrew Pennington, Linnet's American trustee, was anxious to prevent her from discovering that he embezzled from her; Mrs. van Schuyler, an elderly American socialite suffering from kleptomania, displayed a great interest in Linnet's pearl necklace; van Schuyler's nurse, Miss Bowers, blamed Linnet's father for financially ruining her own father; Salome Otterbourne, a romance novelist, was being sued for libel for a similarity between Linnet and one of her characters; Mrs. Otterbourne's daughter, Rosalie, was anxious to protect her mother from financial ruin; Jim Ferguson, an outspoken Communist, resented Linnet's wealth; and Dr. Ludwig Bessner, a Swiss psychiatrist, faced exposure by Linnet concerning his unorthodox methods affecting Linnet's past friends.
Soon after, the crew pulls a small bundle from the Nile. The missing pistol is wrapped in Mrs. van Schuyler's stole, which has a small bullet hole. There is also a blood-stained handkerchief, and a marble ashtray used as a weight. When Linnet's pearls are missing, Mrs. van Schuyler denies taking them. Soon after, the necklace is found on Linnet's body, so Poirot deduces Mrs van Schuyler has "returned" them.
While Poirot and Race conduct their investigation, Louise Bourget is found dead, her throat cut with one of Dr. Bessner's scalpels, and a fragment of a banknote clutched in her hand. Poirot deduces she saw the murderer coming out of Linnet's cabin and extorted money for her silence. Salome Otterbourne claims to have seen Louise's murderer and is about to tell Poirot and Race when she is shot in the head through an open cabin door with Pennington's revolver, too large to have been used on Linnet.
Poirot gathers everyone in the saloon and reveals that Simon is responsible for Linnet's murder, with Jackie as his accomplice. She pretended to shoot Simon, drawing attention to herself. After running to Linnet's cabin and shooting her in the head, Simon shot himself in the leg, using Mrs. van Schuyler's stole as a silencer, then replaced the empty cartridges with a new one should the gun be found. He then wrapped the gun in the stole, along with a marble ashtray and the supposed blood-stained handkerchief, and threw the items out the open window, into the Nile. Jackie later killed Louise, who was blackmailing Simon because she witnessed him enter Linnet's cabin, then killed Mrs. Otterbourne, who saw Jackie exiting Louise's cabin. The plan was that Simon would marry and then kill Linnet, inherit her money, and at a later date, marry his old love.
When Simon claims Poirot has no proof, Poirot reveals that the police will do a gunshot residue test known as a "moulage" test on both him and Jacqueline. Realizing they are caught, Jackie confesses before embracing Simon. Poirot suddenly realizes she has reclaimed her pistol but cannot prevent her from shooting Simon in the head before killing herself.
The passengers depart at the next port, while Poirot is thoroughly congratulated for his work.
EMI Films had a huge success in 1974 with a film version of Murder on the Orient Express, and wanted a follow up. The movie was made during a period of expansion for EMI Films under Michael Deeley and Barry Spikings, who were increasingly aiming at the international market with films like The Deer Hunter and Convoy. Death on the Nile was a more traditionally British film.
Albert Finney played Hercule Poirot in Orient Express but was unable to reprise his role in the follow up. The producers felt if they could not get Finney they should go in a totally different direction and picked Peter Ustinov. "Poirot is a character part if ever there was one," said producer Goodwin, "and Peter is a top character actor."
As with Orient Express, an all-star cast was used.
This was Jane Birkin's first British movie in a decade.
The film shot seven weeks on location in Egypt in late 1977. Four weeks filming were on the steamer Karnak (the historic ship SS Memnon -> see the ship PS Sudan in service since 1921) and the rest at places such as Aswan, Abu Simbel, Luxor, and Cairo. Most of the time the ship was conveyed by smaller boats and the engines turned off, since they were so loud that they disrupted filming. Desert filming required makeup call at 4 a.m. and shooting at 6 a.m. to accommodate a two-hour delay around noon when temperatures hovered near 54 °C (130 °F). Bette Davis wryly commented, "In the older days, they'd have built the Nile for you. Nowadays, films have become travelogues and actors, stuntmen."
John Guillermin commented that the Egyptian government were supportive of the film because there were so many Agatha Christie fans in the country, and the story "was unpolitical".
During the shoot, troubles arose as no hotel reservations had been made for the crew. They were subsequently shifted from hotel to hotel, sometimes on a daily basis. Director Guillermin was never allowed to see the rushes. By order of the producers, footage was sent directly to them in London. A lighter moment occurred during a love scene between Chiles and MacCorkindale, when a hostile desert fly landed on Chiles's teeth. The actors carried on as best they could, but the crew burst out laughing when Guillermin thankfully called "cut" and ordered another take.
Guillermin found the shoot logistically tricky because of the heat and the boat, which sometimes ran aground. But he enjoyed the cast:
The more experienced people created a very generous atmosphere. They were not impatient at all. I have never worked with Bette Davis before and was told she was professional but not communicative. Well, she was an absolute bastion of support and enthusiasm. During the breaks, the cast would often sit to one side engaged in terrific conversation. There was Ustinov's great wit and Niven's dry humour. Jack Warden is a very funny man and Mia Farrow is a very funny woman. This was a bunch of people who could relax.
"Poirot can be a cold fish, but here we made him more humanistic and warm, interested in young people for instance", said the director. "Peter Ustinov was able to bring that out." Costume designer Anthony Powell won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design, his second. Among his touches were shoes for Chiles that featured diamond studded heels that came from a millionaire's collection and shoes worn by Davis made from the scales of twenty-six pythons.
Cinematographer Jack Cardiff says he and Guillermin decided to give the film "an old fashioned 30s look".
The choreography for the tango scene was provided by British dancer Wayne Sleep.
In early 1978 David Niven's daughter was seriously injured in a car accident. Niven would fly from London to Switzerland on weekends during filming to sit by her bedside.
Although it was a British film, Death on the Nile first premiered in New York, on 29 September 1978, to coincide with the sale of tickets for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's opening on 15 December 1978 of the travelling exhibition The Treasures of Tutankhamun, which had piqued interest in Egyptian artefacts. For the US market, artist Richard Amsel was commissioned to change the original British poster art by including the profile of King Tutankhamun with ceremonial knife (and modern revolver), surrounded by the cast.
The film was expected to be popular with audiences following on the heels of Murder on the Orient Express, the most successful British film up to that point. However, the box office return was $14.5 million in the United States, lower than the $27.6 million high for Orient Express.
The Times' film critic David Robinson had mixed feelings about the film. Although it was entertaining, and followed the formula of the Murder on the Orient Express film four years earlier, he found it a bit too long and not quite as good. He concluded that screenwriter Anthony Shaffer and director John Guillermin were not quite as suitable to handle Agatha Christie's rich material as Paul Dehn and Sidney Lumet had been when they worked on Murder on the Orient Express.
Death on the Nile has received generally positive reviews by contemporary film critics more than 30 years later. The film holds an approval rating of 76% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 17 reviews, with an average rating of 6.62/10.
|Academy Awards||Best Costume Design||Anthony Powell||Won|
|Golden Globe Awards||Best Foreign Film||Death on the Nile||Nominated|
|BAFTA Awards||Best Actor||Peter Ustinov||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actress||Angela Lansbury||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actress||Maggie Smith||Nominated|
|Best Costume Design||Anthony Powell||Won|
|Edgar Award||Best Motion Picture||Anthony Shaffer||Nominated|
|Evening Standard British Film Awards||Best Film||John Guillermin||Won|
|Best Actor||Peter Ustinov||Won|
|National Board of Review Awards||Best Supporting Actress||Angela Lansbury||Won|