My sister and I have been watching old Hercule Poirot movies lately, as Tom–only completely wrong in his movie opinions about 80% of the time–informed me of their existence. Most recently, we watched Death on the Nile with Peter Ustinov, and while I don’t have too much to say, I thought I’d at least write up a few, quick impressions, if only because I’d like to post something this week, and I’m not done with my next gender-swapped movie essay yet. (Spoilers: it’s about a highly regarded horror film with some seriously problematic elements.)
On to the Baby Review!
1. My God, the cast in this movie. We’re talking Peter Ustinov, Bette Davis, Maggie Smith, Mia Farrow, Olivia Hussey, Angela Lansbury, David Niven, Jane Birkin, George Kennedy, and Jack Warden. That’s a helluva lot of star power in one film, and I approve.
Especially when it comes to a young Maggie Smith in menswear because, uh, I didn’t even realize I needed this in my life until now.
Okay, it’s not exactly menswear because I’m relatively sure she’s wearing a skirt and not pants, but still. Holy shit, this look. AMAZING.
2. Meanwhile, Peter Ustinov is not my favorite Poirot by any means–as Matt Smith is my Doctor and Kevin Conroy is my Batman, David Suchet, I suspect, will always be my Poirot–but he’s okay here. My main problem with Poirot really has less to do with Ustinov’s performance than it does with Hercule’s primary investigative method: the Art of Convenient Eavesdropping.
Look, there are always going to be some shortcuts in fiction, and I don’t mind the occasional bit of Convenient Eavesdropping in a mystery. Hell, Poirot does it all the time; think of Mary Debenham and Arbuthnot in Murder on the Orient Express. Still, Death on the Nile manages to take this particular plot convenience to whole new ridiculous levels. I’m not convinced Poirot does any actual detective work in this movie; he pretty much just sits suspects down one by one and repeats what he overheard them say earlier in the week. And since the audience has also already overhead these motives, the investigation gets repetitive awfully fast.
It doesn’t help that the movie is an unnecessary 2 hours and 20 minutes long, especially if you solved the murder at least an hour ahead of your star detective. Of course, there’s a wonderful satisfaction in correctly guessing the guilty party, but when it happens this far ahead of schedule, waiting for the Big Reveal can be a bit of a slog.
3. On the plus side:
A. There’s a fair amount of bloody murder in this movie, which does help to add a bit of excitement to the proceedings.
B. Other than Maggie Smith, who I adore in basically everything, David Niven is probably my other favorite in this film. He’s pretty much like a more badass version of Hastings (Poirot’s most frequent sidekick), and he’s entirely delightful.
C. I also did enjoy seeing Mia Farrow quite a bit. Her role here is certainly a departure from Rosemary Woodhouse, and I personally found that very satisfying. Distraught and vengeful ex-girlfriends aren’t normally to my taste, but her–admittedly understandable–spitefulness was weirdly engaging. (Also, holy shit, she’s in Supergirl? And so is Peter O’Toole? Jesus, I’ve got to watch that movie again. I know it’s supposed to be terrible, but I suspect it might be the best kind of terrible.)
4. I do have to admit, however, that I actually find Angela Lansbury a bit too over the top for my liking. I mean, I know that’s the character. And obviously there’s a certain charm to seeing Mrs. Potts as a perpetually drunk novelist who obnoxiously flirts with every man in sight, but still . . . she never quite works for me.
I wonder who played her in the David Suchet version of this story . . . ah, I see it was Frances de la Tour, or Madame Maxime from Goblet of Fire. And Emily Blunt plays Linnet? Shit, I may have to check this AND Supergirl out at some point.
5. Finally–and we are verging on some heavily implied SPOILERS here, so do use caution while reading this review of a 40-year-old movie–one of my ongoing criticisms with, well, plenty of fiction, actually, is how it totally doesn’t matter what terrible tragedy befalls any character; so long as they get together with their love interest by the end, it’s basically all okay.
Obviously, there are degrees to this. Bittersweet endings where a protagonist has tragically lost somebody but also managed get through the traumatic experience with someone else they love? That can totally work for me. OTOH, movies where a character survives a deadly pleasure cruise where multiple people (including someone very important to them) are violently murdered, only to skip off like it was some successful vacation because they’re exiting stage left holding hands with That Someone Special?
I’m just saying. This is some bullshit, people.
Miss Bowers: “It’s more than likely. It has been my experience that men are least attracted to women who treat them well.”
Hercule Poirot: “Do not allow evil into your heart. It will make a home there.”
Jacqueline: “If love can’t live there, evil will do just as well.”
Colonel Race: “I wish you’d speak some known language.”
Mrs. Van Schuyler: “Just because you’ve got a grudge against her, or rather her father, no need to be uncivil.”
Miss Bowers: “Melhuish Ridgeway ruined my family!”
Mrs. Van Schuyler: “Well, you should be grateful. If he hadn’t, you would have missed out on the pleasure of working for me.”
Miss Bowers: “I could kill her on that score alone.”
Mrs. Van Schuyler: “This place is beginning to resemble a mortuary.”
Miss Bowers: “Thank God you’ll be in one before long.”
Pennington: “What the hell is going on?”
Hercule Poirot: “We’re going through your private papers, sir, isn’t that obvious?”
It’s an okay film–the all-star cast alone is probably enough reason to check it out–but if you’re going to pick only one old Agatha Christie adaptation to watch, skip this and go straight to Evil Under the Sun, a far superior film that, very importantly, also has Maggie Smith! (It also, fortunately, doesn’t have the Manager of the Karnak, who I forgot to mention earlier in this review. I suspect he’s supposed to be the comic relief? Mostly, however, he just comes across as a racist stereotype.)
Okay, you know I’m going to say Maggie Smith. But David Niven and Mia Farrow were also up for this.
Hm. Keep the drama out of your love life, maybe? I’m not saying it will necessarily lead to murder on a river boat, just, you know. It could totally lead to murder on a river boat.