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Everyone's a suspect in this star-studded Agatha Christie adaptation. Based on a novel by the same name, Death on the Nile (1978) turns from pleasure cruise to crime scene when a wealthy passenger is murdered. Luckily, famed detective Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) also happens to be on board the ship.
Murder on the Orient Express (1974), a previous film adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel featuring Albert Finney as Poirot and a cast that included Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Perkins, was the surprise hit of its year. Death on the Nile attempted to cash in on the sudden Christie craze, casting high profile names like Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, David Niven and George Kennedy, as well as spotlighting some younger stars like Mia Farrow and Olivia Hussey.
Despite the exotic locale, split between Egypt and London, filming conditions for the movie were less than ideal. Filmed on a little boat called The Carnock, the actors took a speedboat back and forth each day from their hotel in Aswan down river to the shooting location. The Carnock was also apparently too small for all the actors to have their own dressing rooms. One unpleasant incident involved Bette Davis, Olivia Hussey and some Eastern chant records Hussey liked to play early in the morning. After Davis asked Hussey not to play her music, it was reported that the actresses did not speak to each other again while aboard The Carnock. If tensions weren't high enough, the temperature climbed well above 100 degrees everyday and filming often was halted at noon.
On a happier note, Death on the Nile was one of George Kennedy's more offbeat acting assignments. It gave him an opportunity to play against type in a genre that was closer to the PBS Mystery series than Kennedy's usual acting assignments which were more contemporary action dramas like The Human Factor (1975) and Mean Dog Blues (1978). The film was also a great showcase for costume designer Anthony Powell, who won an Oscar® for Best Costume Design for his work. This was actually Powells second Academy Award. He won his first for Travels With My Aunt (1972) and would go on to win another for Tess (1979). The attention to period detail in Death on the Nile still predominates Powell's work which continues in less traditional costume features like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Hook (1991) and the 1996 Disney film 102 Dalmatians.
Director: John Guillermin
Producer: John Brabourne, Richard B. Goodwin
Screenplay: Anthony Shaffer
Cinematography: Jack Cardiff
Art Direction: Terry Ackland-Snow, Brian Ackland-Snow, Peter Murton
Music: Nino Rota
Cast: Peter Ustinov (Hercule Poirot), Jane Birkin (Louise Bourget), Lois Chiles (Linnet Ridgeway), Bette Davis (Mrs. Van Schuyler), Mia Farrow (Jacqueline De Bellefort), George Kennedy (Andrew Pennington), Angela Lansbury (Salome Otterbourne), David Niven (Colonel Race), Maggie Smith (Miss Bowers), Jack Warden (Doctor Bessner), Olivia Hussey (Rosalie Otterbourne), Jon Finch (Jim Ferguson).
by Stephanie Thames