Peter Ustinov takes over from Albert Finney as pernickety Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot in this solid, star-studded dramatisation of Agatha Christie’s paddle-steamer mystery, as he investigates the murder during a Nile cruise of beautiful but spoilt American heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Lois Chiles).
The guests on the steamer Karnak include Poirot’s distinguished friend Colonel Race (David Niven), an imperious dowager (Bette Davis) and her mannish nurse (Maggie Smith); a dipsomaniacal romance novelist and her soft-spoken daughter (Angela Lansbury and Olivia Hussey); a pompous Austrian physician (Jack Warden); a peevish Socialist (Jon Finch); a calculating American lawyer (George Kennedy); a rancorous French maid (Jane Birkin); and a too-rich, too-beautiful, too-happy couple on their honeymoon, (Chiles and Simon MacCorkindale). Oh, and there’s also a vengeful scorned woman (Mia Farrow), MacCorkindale’s former fiance.
The plot is suitably tricky (everyone on board has a motive), the Egyptian locations dazzling and all the actors seem to be having a terrific time – especially Angela Lansbury as the drunken writer and Maggie Smith as the acid-tongued nurse.
It’s only in comparison with Murder on the Orient Express (1974) that the film inevitably suffers.
The solution isn’t quite as jaw-dropping, and some of the whys and wherefores overtax credibility but a humorous Ustinov keeps the whole thing afloat with his ability to add a twinkle to even the most earnest lines of dialogue.
Mrs Van Schuyler
Jacqueline de Bellefort
Mrs Salome Otterbourne
Manager of the Karnak
I S Johar