CANNON MONTH 2: Death On the Nile (1978)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Death On the Nile was not produced by Cannon but was sold on videotape by Cannon / Media Home Video.

EMI Films had scored a huge success in 1974 with a film version of Murder on the Orient Express and turned to director John Guillermin (King Kong) and screenwriter Anthony Schaffer (The Wicker ManAbsolution) for the sequel. Albert Finney would not return as Hercule Poirot and this would the first time Peter Ustinov would play the role (he would come back to the Belgian detective five more times).

The movie was sot over seven weeks on location in Egypt and four weeks filming was on the historic ship SS Memnon. It was so hot that the makeup call was at 4 AM and filming started at 6 AM; Bette Davis said, “In the older days, they’d have built the Nile for you.” Davis also brought her own makeup, lights and mirrors to the set.

This was anything but a cushy job for the actors, who didn’t have reserved hotel rooms and had to go to a different place to stay every single night.

However, the crew came together, as Guillermin told the Los Angeles Times: “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.”

Heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Lois Chiles) has hired her friend Jacqueline de Bellefort’s (Mia Farrow) fiancé Simon Doyle (Simon MacCorkindale) to be her estate manager; you can guess what happens: they soon fall for one another and get married. On their honeymoon to Egypt aboard the S.S. Karnak, they’re stalked by Jacqueline.

The couple is nearly killed at the Temple of Karnak; then Simon is shot in the leg by Jacqueline and Linnet is found shot in the head. On the wall next to her, there’s a letter J scrawled in blood, yet Jacqueline was sedated by Miss Bowers (Maggie Smith), who stayed with her all night, giving her a solid alibi.

Poirot and his friend Colonel Race (David Niven) have plenty of other suspects: Linnet’s maid Louise Bourget (Jane Birkin) has been angry with her for some time; Andrew Pennington (George Kennedy), one of Linnet’s employees was taking money from her; Mrs. van Schuyler (Bette Davis) wanted Linnet’s necklace and her nurse Miss Bowers blamed Linnet’s father for destroying her family; Rosalie Otterbourne (Olivia Hussey) wanted to protect her mother Salome (Angela Lansbury) a libel suit by Linnet; Dr. Ludwig Bessner (Jack Warden) was about to be exposed by Linnet while Communist Jim Ferguson (Jon Finch) hated Linnet’s wealth.

I have a major thing for Agatha Christie movies — they’re like clean giallo — and I really enjoyed this movie where others might find it boring. That said, even if you just enjoy the big cast, then you’ll find something to like here.

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