After putting Agatha Christie back on the cinematic A-list with their well-appointed MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS/’74, producers John Brabourne & Richard Goodwin double-dipped on a second All-Star whodunit with a whole new team. And while there’s a distinct drop in glamor (as in EXPRESS headline lovers Sean Connery & Vanessa Redgrave downsized here to Simon MacCorkindale & Lois Chiles), the results are more swings & roundabouts then losses. Our lead, Christie’s famously fatuous empty-vessel of a Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, flips from stiff, padded, stunt-cast Albert Finney to the more naturally appropriate Peter Ustinov, making small work of the task at hand without missing a trick or a self-reflexive laugh. Elsewhere, with the exception of bickering travelers Bette Davis & distressed paid-companion Maggie Smith, along with soused novelist Angela Lansbury (all three in high comic heaven), the other suspects (you can hardly call them characters) have neither the wit nor wattage so prodigally wasted in EXPRESS. (The surfeit in talent part & parcel of its enduring louche charm.) Yet isn’t NILE the better structured, better plotted murder mystery? (Hat tip to scripter Anthony Shaffer.) What fun director John Guillermin has gruesomely murdering our main victim over & over again as Ustinov proposes the next likely solution. (Surely the only murder mystery ever solved by recognizing the use of ‘conditional tense.’) And if Mia Farrow, as the jilted & vengeful fiancée, looks even thinner & paler than she did during her ROSEMARY’S BABY pregnancy, there’s still an unusual amount of blood spilled for the typically bloodless Ms. Christie.
DOUBLE-BILL: The producers eventually tapped the Christie well too often with a lousy Miss Marple for Ms. Lansbury in THE MIRROR CRACK’D/’80 and a diminished Poirot finding EVIL UNDER THE SUN/’82..
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Normally, it’s the ladies’ hair styling that goes wrong in period pieces. But here, the men look too contemporarily coiffed. Bring in the shears!