Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Alternate Best Actor 1978: Peter Ustinov in Death on the Nile

Peter Ustinov did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for Bafta, for portraying Hercule Poirot in Death on the Nile.

Death on The Nile is a far more enjoyable Agatha Christie adaptation than its predecessor, Murder on the Orient Express, by having a far less dour tone and a much better Poirot as its lead. This time the murder concerns a spoiled heiress on a steamer in Egypt. 

Albert Finney played the role of the famous Belgian sleuth in Murder on the Orient Express in a rather unimpressive performance. Finney's performance tries so hard with the hard accent he gives Poirot and his mannerism that makes him seem at least partially constipated. Finney never really gets past just the character creation of Poirot and his interactions with the other characters always have a little too much distance. I like Albert Finney as an actor but Peter Ustinov makes Finney look like a rank amateur with his performance as the great detective who always seems to find himself among a group of people with murder on the mind.

Ustinov takes a rather light accent for the role that he feels rather natural and flows well in the way he speaks as opposed to Finney who gets dangerously close to sounding like Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau. Ustinov's approach works far better in that is not at all off putting which goes even further with his approach as Poirot which is far more welcoming in style then Finney was. Peter Ustinov's Poirot for the portion of the film before the murderer is a man who intakes a great deal of information as well as is told a great deal of information that will be important in the murder case. The way Poirot is able to be such a successful ease dropper is made far more believable because the warmth he brings to his version of Poirot.

Ustinov is rather interesting in that he is almost fatherly at times to one of the murder suspects, but this approach really works for his Poirot. His Poirot is not some distant snooty figure, but rather someone to confide in which makes much more sense for a sleuth of his style. Ustinov is able to insert himself in each situation in the right natural way because his Poirot is a very pleasant man to be around, and even though he is a detective Ustinov makes it convincing that people who ponder a crime would confide in Poirot. Ustinov though as well is very good in being the observer in these early scenes and succeeds in showing the way every little bit of information given is recognized by Poirot. 

Poirot is the smartest man in the room which is a given and Peter Ustinov makes this a given with his performance. Ustinov has the perfect wit in the role of Poirot which he uses both to be very entertaining in the part, but as well as a low key way to suggest the intelligence of Poirot. Ustinov handles every scene where Poirot exchanges words with someone else, especially when he is investigating the murder, a delicate dance where Poirot always outsmarts them, but Ustinov always makes it in such a way that the witness sometimes might not even know it. Ustinov is very effective by keeping a more sardonic sword there, that he unsheathes in just the right way when Poirot needs to offend.

Ustinov's strongest scene of course comes when Poirot does his gathering of suspects in one room scene. Ustinov is like the ring master as a plays every moment with just the right style, giving every revelation the impact it should. Ustinov commands the scene without question and does an excellent job of mixing things up during the course of revealing the murderer. He brings humor with the quick little comments that Poirot makes throughout the course, as well as is imposing in the right way making it clear that Poirot will find his man, but perhaps most importantly he really delivers in the final revelation. It takes a turn to the tragic and Ustinov is quickly and naturally shifts to a dramatic poignancy that gives the end of the story the power it needs.

Ustinov is simply a great guide through the film and makes Death on the Nile a enjoyable murder mystery throughout its course. Ustinov's version of Poirot really lets us in on his investigation and especially the fun from figuring out the murderer. Ustinov's take on Hercule Poirot is a far more reserved approach when it comes to a character as a whole from his slight accent to even the way he looks in the role, this approach works very well for the detective who everyone knows yet no one still seems to notice. Ustinov always remembers the character but also goes about giving just an entertaining performance to follow from the meeting of the other characters, the murder, and the solution. Peter Ustinov is just delightful as Poirot and it is no surprise that he ended up reprising the role for another feature film and several tv movies.


RatedRStar said...

I also think Death On The Nile has a better supporting cast such as Angela Lansbury, it also has a better and more believe twist reveal.

Imagine if they did this kind of film in the 40s with an all star cast, it'd be so cool to see actors like Clark Gable mix with Clifton Webb.

Psifonian said...

I'm glad you rated Ustinov so highly, because everyone shits on his Poirot. Even Agatha Christie's daughter said upon seeing him, "That is not Poirot," to which the puckish Mr. Ustinov replied, "It is now, my dear."

And personally, I found him a charming delight.

mrripley said...

Please say you loved my Best Supporting Actress 78 Angela Lansbury.

Louis Morgan said...

Yes I did, she was great.

Michael Patison said...

Wow, mrripley, I think we've had two recent agreements! That's never happened (nor do I think it will possibly ever again). Lansbury is my winner this year as well.

Michael McCarthy said...

I wonder if there are any modern actors who could play Poirot...