Death on the Nile (1978)

Faces and Places

I recently rewatched this because of the Branagh version. We now have three: this Ustinov version, a later Suchet, and the recent Branagh. I see that my original comment — likely 20 years ago — was one of those deleted from IMDB by a fellow angry about unrelated remarks about proselytising christian filmmakers. So this is a fresh take.

I think in those days I was less tolerant of filmmakers deviating from the Christie model, if it did not add value to the enterprise. For example, just recently I commented on an Indian adaptation of ‘Then They Were None’ that strangely kept some minor staging points — minor things that don’t matter at all and did not convey any value — while losing what the Christie structure brings.

The Branagh version of this mystery does so as well, but tilted toward visual lushness and similar character excess. Against those examples, the formula here seems tame. Christie made intricate plots but cartoon figures.

The trick is in how to keep the plot and use it in service of narrative engagement. The way they chose here is via multiple possible flashbacks; as Poirot speculates on what could have happened, we literally see it. This is more effective than I may have realised earlier, now that I have seen dozens of adaptations of Christie.

Flaws? Use of space. Branagh captured this well, alternating between vastness with deep history, and claustrophobia with days-old, untrusted history. We are in fact in Egypt and on a boat, but we don’t get much contrast at all. There is no sense of supernatural fate.

Another flaw is when actors are used that are so well known, they never let us enter the character they are supposed to play. I just saw the second knives out film, and that suffered under this problem. Mia Farrow works here, partly because her celebrity story supports the dangers of passion. The others are allowed to be silly and do. Christie would have approved, but anything that pulls me out of the story is a negative.

Posted in 2022

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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