Death on the Nile takes the viewer on a genteel cruise aboard the paddle-steamer 'Karnak' as it, along with its motley collection of passengers, wends its way through the stunning scenery of historic Egypt. Unfortunately on this voyage the Nile proves to have disturbing currents, and a wealthy heiress with a propensity for making enemies is shot. Corpulent Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot is on hand, and, as the body-count rises, must tax his legendary 'little grey cells' to the limit in order to expose the assassin in their midst.
The charm of this film is that to most of the audience it will be foreign in both time and place. The Egyptian location provides a visual feast, with visits to the pyramids, the inscrutable sphinx, and the eerie wailing statue of Ramses II at Abu Simbel. Scenery like this makes it somewhat easier to forgive the movie its overlong running time of almost 2 ½ hours. The story (originally penned by Agatha Christie) is set in the 1930s - the golden age of detective fiction - when murder investigations were much less clinical affairs than they are today. In an era before DNA sampling, Poirot uses the narratively more interesting approach of involving suspects in conversation, and reading between the lines.
The cast is certainly star-studded, but unfortunately several of the characters tend towards stereotypes. However, there are some wonderful performances by several of the silver screen's grandes dames - Bette Davis, Maggie Smith, and particularly Angela Lansbury as the inebriated author of appallingly bad romance novels. Although a little slow initially, various techniques (such as dead silence being used as the ultimate suspense music) keep the viewer's interest piqued right through until Christie's trademark denouement.