Directed by: John Guillermin
Screenplay by: Anthony Shaffer,
based on the novel by Agatha Christie.
Tagline: “Can the killer be found before the ship of clues reaches the end of its murderous journey?”
When newly wed heiress Linnet Ridgeway is murdered aboard a luxury Nile steamer, Hercule Poirot, who is on board, begins to investigate and tries to figure out who among the many suspects actually did the deed and why.
The film begins with a brief history of how heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Lois Chiles) met the penniless Simon Doyle (Simon MacCorkindale). When Linnet comes home to her English mansion estate, she finds that her good friend Jacqueline De Bellefort (Mia Farrow) is waiting inside with exciting news. Jacqueline enthusiastically tells Linnet of her engagement to the love of her life, Simon Doyle. As he is currently flat broke, Jacqueline pleads with Linnet to give Simon a job at her estate. After meeting Simon in person, Linnet agrees with Jacqueline's opinion of Simon, and winds up marrying Simon herself, having no qualms about taking what she wants. Simon readily dumps Jacqueline, crushing her emotionally, filling her with resentment and rage.
The happy couple, Simon and Linnet Doyle soon discover the depths of Jacqueline's feelings, when she turns up at various places in Egypt, emotionally unhinged, where Simon and Linnet visit during their honeymoon, trying to spoil their time together.
The night before the Doyles are to leave on a luxury cruise down the Nile, we find Linnet and Simon dancing in the ball room of a grand Egyptian hotel, being watched by the other people who also are on holiday, and planning to take the same cruise. The famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov), and his old friend, Colonel Johnny Race (David Niven) are among the soon to be steamer vacationers. Poirot, even when he is on holiday, he can't help but hear the comments of the other guests as they talk in the ballroom and on the steamer as well, which gives him and the audience some clues to remember concerning the upcoming murder.
The next day, Simon and Linnet Doyle manage to give Jacqueline the slip, but she rejoins the happy couple when the steamer ship stops at a tourist sight along the Nile, and comes aboard the ship as another passenger, which stirs the pot of emotions but good.
One morning, Linnet is discovered dead in her bed from a gun shot wound to the head. The obvious suspected murderer would be Jacqueline, but she has an air-tight alibi, due to the shenanigans that happened as a result of a verbal confrontation between Simon and herself the night before in the main dining area, where she shot Simon in the leg, incapacitating him as well. From the moment of this shooting, Jacqueline wasn't left alone.
However, Poirot realizes that anyone on board could've killed Linnet. Before the murder, Hercule Poirot had discovered that Linnet Doyle had a habit of making enemies, at a drop of a hat. Her maid, Louise Bourget (Jane Birkin) was upset with Linnet because Linnet refused to give Louise the dowry she promised Louise because Linnet doesn't approve of Louise's fiancee.
The romance novelist, Salome Otterbourne (Angela Lansbury) and her lovely daughter, Rosalie (Olivia Hussey) were facing financial ruin because of the defamation suit that Linnet had brought against Salome for making one of her characters in her newest novel to be too much like Linnet.
Lady Marie Van Schuyler (Bette Davis) coveted Linnet's priceless pearls, and Lady Marie Van Schuyler's nurse, Miss Bowers (Maggie Smith) has a gigantic grudge against Linnet's father who ruined the Bowers family fortune through unfair means, forcing Miss Bowers to have to work as a nurse.
Doctor Ludwig Bessner (Jack Warden) was furious with Linnet for making public statements that his work in his clinics was pure quackery, and he was a giant fake. If he sued her, it would just be more bad publicity for him. Two other guests would have other motives to kill Linnet, that weren't her doing. James Ferguson (Jon Finch) was a young, Marxist fanatic who despises the upper classes, and hated what Linnet represents.
Linnet's uncle, Andrew Pennington (George Kennedy) was her estate lawyer in America who was pilfering funds from Linnet's American business interests. In order to get off the hook when it looked like her English solicitors were on to his stealing, Andrew flew to Egypt to get her to sign papers when she wasn't thinking clearly to get himself off the hook. This effort was foiled by Colonel Johnny Race who had been hired by her English solicitors to keep an eye on Pennington on this voyage down the Nile.
How will Hercule Poirot and his helper, Colonel Johnny Race solve this case of this murder before the end of the cruise?
"Death On The Nile" is a classic murder mystery because of its inspired screenplay, marvelous direction and a terrific cast of talented actors and actresses who brought the story to life with their stellar performances.
This well-written, murder mystery screenplay was the brilliant work of Anthony Shaffer, who got into the screenplay business later in life. Agatha Christie would be well pleased with his efforts to bring her story to the big screen in such an entertaining and effective manner, as he captures the spirit of her book. He also worked on "Murder on the Orient Express," and wrote the screenplays to "Sleuth," "Evil Under the Sun," "Appointment with Death," and "Absolution."
The fine direction was courtesy of the talented John Guillermin, best known for such suspenseful adventure / action classics as "The Day They Robbed the Bank of England," "King Kong (1976)," "The Towering Inferno," "El Condor," and "Skyjacked." Guillermin knows how to keep a story moving, as he has a gift for envisioning the best ways to shoot and direct the well-planned, interesting plot developments, in such ways to effectively build the suspense and involve the audience, hook, line and sinker.
The all star cast did a wonderful job showcasing their talents through their various roles in this intriguing story.
Peter Ustinov gives a convincing and persuasive performance in his portrayal of the brilliant detective Hercule Poirot, a character he is known for and recreates in the films, "Evil Under the Sun" and "Appointment With Death."
Angela Lansbury does a wonderful job portraying the eccentric Salome Otterbourne, with a major drinking problem, and a tendency to be dramatic. She earned an nomination for Best Supporting Actress from the British Academy Awards.
Maggie Smith also earned a British Academy nomination for Best Supporting Actress in her portrayal of Miss Bowers who doesn't like her hard to work for employer much, but does her duties because she needs the job.
Mia Farrow gives a convincing performance as the emotionally unbalanced Jacqueline De Bellefort.
David Niven shines in his supporting role, portraying Colonel Johnny Race, a valuable assistant to Hercule Poirot.
Bette Davis is entertaining in her portrayal of the cantankerous Lady Marie Van Schuyler, who has an obsession for beautiful, valuable jewelry, and delights in aggravating Miss Bowers.
The wonderful cinematography, filmed on location in Egypt, was by the talented Jack Cardiff, who is a lighting expert in his own right, and has been doing his craft since 1935. He uses his gifts well in this film, giving the audience dramatic photography that enhances the storyline, in involving, suspenseful ways, giving the exclamation points to the story as it unfolds. Born in 1914, he is still going strong at the age of 88, winning awards in 2000 and 2001.
This film is rated PG. There is some blood, a shooting or two, which is acceptable in a murder mystery.