Tag Archives: Agatha Christie

Death on the Nile (1978, John Guillermin)

I’d forgotten John Guillermin directed Death on the Nile. The opening credits, a static shot of the river, suggest a much different experience then the film delivers–between Guillermin directing, Jack Cardiff shooting it and Anthony Shaffer handling the adaptation. I suppose I should have remembered Shaffer also adapted Christie’s Evil Under the Sun to similar result.

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the wondrous Nino Rota score, which starts as the titles identify Guillermin as the director.

Unfortunately, Guillermin does very little with the direction here. I suppose he presents a fantastic travelogue of Egypt–how could he not with Cardiff photographing it–but, otherwise, the direction is little different than if he’d been shooting for television. In fact, Death on the Nile often reminded me (when inside) of a British television drama from the seventies.

But the point of these Poirot films isn’t necessarily the filmmaking or the writing, it’s the all star cast–it must be the cast, since relatively nothing happens for the first hour. And the cast is decent, but somewhat unspectacular, as the roles don’t give any actor much to do.

Mia Farrow is best, since her role gives her a lot of range, and Maggie Smith and Bette Davis are amusing as they bicker. But young lovers Jon Finch and Olivia Hussey? They’re genial, pointless additions.

Particularly–and sadly–useless is David Niven, who plays sidekick to Peter Ustinov’s tepid Poirot. Ustinov plays him here without flair, which is, like everything else, disappointing.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by John Guillermin; screenplay by Anthony Shaffer, based on the novel by Agatha Christie; director of photography, Jack Cardiff; edited by Malcolm Cooke; music by Nino Rota; production designer, Peter Murton; produced by John Brabourne and Richard B. Goodwin; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Peter Ustinov (Hercule Poirot), Jane Birkin (Louise Bourget), Lois Chiles (Linnet Ridgeway), Bette Davis (Mrs. Van Schuyler), Mia Farrow (Jacqueline De Bellefort), Jon Finch (Mr. Ferguson), Olivia Hussey (Rosalie Otterbourne), I.S. Johar (Manager Of The Karnak), George Kennedy (Andrew Pennington), Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Salome Otterbourne), Simon MacCorkindale (Simon Doyle), David Niven (Colonel Race), Maggie Smith (Miss Bowers), Jack Warden (Dr. Bessner), Harry Andrews (Barnstaple) and Sam Wanamaker (Rockford).


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Murder on the Orient Express (1974, Sidney Lumet)

There are two significant problems with Murder on the Orient Express. Unfortunately, both of them are aspects of the film’s genre. Well, one of them is an aspect of the genre and the other is related to the film’s extremely high quality acting. So, neither of them are “problems” in the traditional sense.

First, the solution. The solution scene in Orient Express is one of Lumet’s fantastic long sequences of filmmaking. However, it’s a narratively unsound scene. How to talk about it without “spoiling.” The solution sequence does not offer the characters anything, the people who are experiencing the film’s events, just the viewer. Yes, it has to be done because it’s a mystery, but it doesn’t make any sense.

Second is less about genre and more about the film itself. Murder on the Orient Express has one of the finest casts ever assembled–and many of them give these sublime, luminescent performances. The standouts are John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave, Colin Blakely, Rachel Roberts, Anthony Perkins and Ingrid Bergman. Albert Finney is great in the lead–I grew up thinking this performance was indicative of the rest of his work–with Lauren Bacall being a great comedic foil.

The best story for the characters these actors create is not, however, the one in the film. There’s a scene where everyone gets a moment together and it’s transcendent. I had tears in my eyes (Richard Rodney Bennett’s music probably helped).

It’s the best film this story could be; it’s technically marvelous.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; screenplay by Paul Dehn, based on the novel by Agatha Christie; director of photography, Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by Anne V. Coates; music by Richard Rodney Bennett; production designer, Tony Walton; produced by John Brabourne; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Albert Finney (Hercule Poirot), Lauren Bacall (Mrs. Hubbard), Martin Balsam (Bianchi), Ingrid Bergman (Greta), Jacqueline Bisset (Countess Andrenyi), Jean-Pierre Cassel (Pierre), Sean Connery (Colonel Arbuthnot), John Gielgud (Beddoes), Wendy Hiller (Princess Dragomiroff), Anthony Perkins (McQueen), Vanessa Redgrave (Mary Debenham), Rachel Roberts (Hildegarde), Richard Widmark (Ratchett), Michael York (Count Andrenyi), Colin Blakely (Hardman) and George Coulouris (Doctor).


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Evil Under the Sun (1982, Guy Hamilton)

As innocuous as Evil Under the Sun can get–and expecting anything else from it seems unintended–the film does have a slightly discomforting feel about it. Perhaps it’s the extraordinary level of benignity, but at times, it really does seem like Peter Ustinov (as Hercule Poirot) is going to be murdered by each and every person in the film. Murder on the Orient Express, not to ruin it for anyone, along with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, makes Agatha Christie suspect. If there’s no good way out, she’ll just push on through… M. Night Shyamalan owes more to her than anyone else, in terms of wasting people’s engagement with a story and characters, anyway.

The difference between an Agatha Christie novel and an Agatha Christie filmic adaptation, as I just got done telling my fiancée, is simple. It’s about the actors, the location, and the running time. Evil Under the Sun runs around two hours and was filmed on a beautiful island in the Mediterranean. Ustinov’s amusing–though not as funny as when Ustinov’s really being funny, Maggie Smith and Denis Quilley have some good scenes, and James Mason has fun. No one’s particularly bad–Diana Rigg’s supposed to be incredibly annoying–though Nicholas Clay’s accent appears and intensifies after a certain point. It’s harmless, even if it isn’t particularly interesting.

Evil Under the Sun has an interesting structure–there’s no murder for the first hour. Then there’s a half hour of questioning, maybe a little less, then there’s a ten minute reveal and the end. While the scenery is pretty and the cast is okay, there’s nothing particularly dynamic about it. The film keeps the audience with the promise of the murder, as I imagine the book does, and offers them little else to do with their time. Guy Hamilton’s direction does very little with interiors–outside it’s pretty, inside it’s boring, but there are two days inside before anything happens and it could use some oomph. After a certain point, deep in the monotony of the supporting cast’s dramatics, I’d forgotten Ustinov was in the movie.

The end payoff, as delivered by Ustinov, makes the experience moderately worthwhile. Certainly nothing to watch again, but not a complete waste. Screenwriter Anthony Shaffer wrote The Wicker Man, so he’s obviously capable of a good twist and a good end, but the adherence to the novel really handicaps him….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Guy Hamilton; screenplay by Anthony Shaffer, based on a novel by Agatha Christie; director of photography, Christopher Challis; edited by Richard Marden; music by Cole Porter; production designer, Elliot Scott; produced by John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Peter Ustinov (Hercule Poirot), Colin Blakely (Sir Horace Blatt), Jane Birkin (Christine Redfern), Nicholas Clay (Patrick Redfern), Maggie Smith (Daphne Castle), Roddy McDowall (Rex Brewster), Sylvia Miles (Myra Gardener), James Mason (Odell Gardener), Denis Quilley (Kenneth Marshall), Diana Rigg (Arlena Marshall) and Emily Hone (Linda Marshall).


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