By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Murder on the river.
Based on the 1937 Agatha Christie novel of the same name the story centers around everyone’s favorite Belgium sleuth Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) as he tries solve a murder that occurs while he is traveling on a steamer going down the famous Nile River.
The on-location shooting in Egypt is the film’s chief asset. The scene where actors Simon MacCorkindale and Lois Chiles climb to the outer top of a pyramid is impressive as in the extended scene inside the Karnak Temple Complex. However, outside of this the visuals are blah and this entry fails to show the same cinematic flair done 4 years earlier of another Christie novel that was brought to the big screen Murder on the Orient Express.
I was also not too impressed with the steamer that was used to cart the characters down the river as it appeared to be too small and not at all luxurious. The fact that the production crew took a real steamer that they had found and then painstakingly recreated it to a minute detail inside the Pinewood studios in London is certainly commendable, but I felt the insides of the cabins were too big and too fancy and not in proportion to the actual boat that we see from the exterior, which looked like nothing more than a cheap, mid-sized thing that could be rented by a small family at a modest price for an afternoon on the lake.
The story itself takes too long to get going and in fact the murder and actual mystery doesn’t occur until 1 hour and 10 minutes in. Mia Farrow gives a provocative performance and it’s interesting seeing how things were before there were anti-stalking laws and people could simply follow around those that they hated, which is what the Farrow character does here, and harass the hell out of them without any fear of breaking any penalty, but the set-up gets too played out. The supporting cardboard characters are dull and put in simply to heighten the mystery with their own motives for wanting to kill the victim, which comes off as formulaic.
The ultimate denouncement isn’t too great either. I never read the book, so I don’t know how closely this follows it, but the explanation for how the killing is done hinged too much on careful split-second timing that I don’t think anyone would’ve been able to actually accomplish nor even want to risk trying. Also, the evidence that Poirot uses to solve the crime is threadbare and circumstantial to the extreme and if the killer’s hadn’t ultimately cracked under pressure I’m not so sure they would’ve been convicted.
The cast of big name stars is wasted and only Angela Lansbury is entertaining as the alcoholic erotic novelist, but even here her drunken condition gets overplayed as we never ever see her sober making it seem almost like she suffers from a degenerative disease like cerebral palsy. Ustinov is no fun as Poirot and Albert Finney was far better as he played the same character in a more lovable and amusingly eccentric way. He was asked to reprise the role, which he played in Murder on the Orient Express, but due to the unpleasant grind of having to wear a lot of makeup for the part he ended up declining.
If you’re a fan of Agatha Christie or enjoy mysteries then you may take to this a bit more. It’s still watchable and even marginally engrossing; however despite the excellent cast and splashy production values the ultimate effect is flat.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: September 29, 1978
Runtime: 2Hours 20Minutes
Director: John Guillermin
Posted in 70's Movies, British Movies, Dry Humor, Foreign Films, Movies Based on Novels, Mystery
Tagged Agatha Christie, angela lansbury, Egypt, Entertainment, Hercule Poirot, Mia Farrow, Movies, Peter Ustinov, Review
By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Don’t idolize older brother.
Berry-Berry (Warren Beatty) is the malcontent son of Annabell and Ralph Willart (Angela Lansbury, Karl Malden) who is unable to hold down a steady job, is in constant brushes with the law, and beats up his girlfriends. Yet women seem attracted to his rugged good looks, his parents continue to dote on him and overlook his flaws and his younger brother Clinton (Brandon De Wilde) idolizes him. All that changes when Echo (Eva Marie Saint) comes to visit. Clinton falls for her, but when she meets Berry-Berry she instead goes for him. When he mistreats her Clinton finally sees his brother for who he is and decides to take matters into his own hands.
Although overall this is a great production one of the biggest problems I had with it is the name for the leading character. Who names their kid Berry-Berry? I have never heard of that name before and it sounds corny and silly even annoying every time it comes out of one of the character’s mouths. I was almost surprised that the actors didn’t crack-up every time they had to say it. I felt there should have been an explanation for it, but none ever comes. In my mind giving a kid that stupid name is probably the whole reason he became so troubled and difficult in his adult life.
As for the character itself I wanted more of a history to see why he became the way he did. There is no backstory and in that regard the film seems weak and even frustrating. Despite being billed as the star Beatty is not really seen all that much especially during the first hour and in some ways the film comes off more like an ensemble drama. Also, having women fall for him after literally just setting their eyes on him seemed exaggerated and overdone.
Beatty has all the necessary leading man qualities, but in this instance I don’t think he was right for the part. His performance is too reserved and aloof. I didn’t see him conveying the deep seated anger that the part demanded. In many ways it is De Wilde who gives a far stronger performance and steals the film. His boyish face and charm makes for a fantastic contrast to Beatty’s.
Lansbury is sensational. She was only in her thirties at the time, but plays a woman in her fifties and does so convincingly as well as putting on a good accent. Two of her best moments come when her husband brings home three homeless men for the holidays and she insists they only want money and not the comfort of human companionship that her husband believes and the way she proves it is amusing. The part near the end where she defends her eldest son despite all his ugly flaws is brief, but strong and one of the film’s defining moments.
Saint is also excellent in support and so is Madame Spivy. She was a bar owner in real life and plays one here. She had a masculine build and a very no-nonsense demeanor, which comes out when she throws the under aged Clinton out of her establishment.
Director John Frankenheimer does well with the material. The on-locations shooting done in Key West, Florida is striking particularly at the beginning. His use of a rain storm makes a particularly strong dramatic sequence even stronger. However, the screenplay was written by William Inge and based on a novel by James Leo Herlihy. Inge was a noted playwright and the script seems more suited for the stage as it is quite talky and lacking in cinematic elements.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: March 28, 1962
Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes
Director: John Frankenheimer
Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video
Posted in 60's Movies, Black & White, Drama, Movies Based on Novels, Movies that take place in Florida
Tagged angela lansbury, Brandon De Wilde, Entertainment, John Frankenheimer, Movies, Review, Warren Beatty