“ Genre: Crime & Thriller / Theatrical Release: 1974 / Parental Guidance / Director: Sidney Lumet / Actors: Albert Finney, Anthony Perkins, Richard Widmark, Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall ... / DVD released 2008-01-07 at Optimum Home Entertainment / Features of the DVD: PAL „
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A 1974 version of the Agatha Christie novel with an all star cast including - Lauren Bacall, Michael York, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, John Geilgud, Vanessa Redgrave and Albert Finney as Poirot.
The plot is a traditional Christie set up - a limited group of people in a situation - here The Orient Express train - and a murder. Fortuately the famous detective Hercule Poirot is also on board the train. Will he reach a conclusion with the many red herrings that also lurk on board - and will you agree with the conclusion to be put to the local police in the end?
I love this film and can watch it again and again. What do I love - the plot, the acting, the musical score, the costumes, etc. The cast list give an indication of the quality you can expect from this film and I do not think it disappoints.
I enjoy Albert Finney as Poirot in this film, but do not think that he brings the same amount of humour to the role as the Poirot portrayed by Peter Ustinov in later films, this is however a matter of personal taste and does not detract anything from the film for me.
Poirot is returning to England from Istabul on the Orient Express, his journey is a last minute one and other passengers in first class show open dismay at his boarding the train with them. When one of the passengers is stabbed a dozen times and killed on the train Poirot investigates, partly due to guilt as the murder victim asked him for help just before he was killed and partly as a favour to his old friend Signor Bianchi who is also on the journey.
With a carriage full of potential suspects, how on earth will Poirot find out what actually happened and who was responsible?
Murder on the Orient Express was released in 1974 with a story set roughly 40 years before that. The scene is set early on in the film to show what contempt British hold "foreigners" in when a colonel sees Poirot sneezing and says "What a funny little man, must be a frog!" I found this amusing as it really reminded me of the attitude towards Poirot by Englishmen in many of the Agatha Christie books. I have to say that the film was a pretty good adaptation of the book which isn't always the case when Christie novels are made into films.
The film has an all star cast who I've listed at the bottom but I will go through some of the more notable performances here as well as the perhaps not so notable from my point of view...
Albert Finney as Poirot did not impress me as much as I would have hoped. I've seen the film several times now over the years and feel that I much prefer David Suchet's version of Poirot - he comes across as much more amicable. Finney only played Poirot once (in this film) and he was nominated for an Oscar for it. I found him to exaggerate every character trait of Poirot and he didn't come across as at all likeable to me. In the Christie books Poirot does come across as rather pompous and eccentric but Suchet's televised version of him makes him more human. I found Finney's portrayal of the Belgian sleuth to be rather coarse and very over the top. In one scene when he is demanding answers from Vanessa Redgrave's character, Mary Debenham, he is shouting like a madman and waving his arms frenziedly at her to elicit a reaction (which she does not give) but I did not see this in line with the Poirot character that I've read about in dozens and dozens of books and seen in many films. This made it all the more strange for me to find out that Agatha Christie herself gave her seal of approval to the screenplay for the film and attended the film premiere herself and approved of the end product too! It was common knowledge that she was not a big fan of her own creation Poirot so maybe this rather aggressive side of him portrayed in a particular scene would not have offended her.
I have always liked Sean Connery and his acting in this film was no exception. He plays a colonel who served in the Indian army and he is the one who makes the nasty comment at the start of the film about "...must be a frog!" which made me smile. Of course I should have been somewhat offended as it's a fairly racist comment and various other similar comments are made during the film about foreigners but it's very hard to be offended by the delectable Mr Connery! I think he played he part perfectly with just the right amount of pompous attitude that a colonel in the army would have had! He reacts furiously when Poirot is hashly interrogating Mary Debenham but what is the reason for his jumping to her defence so vehemently?
Richard Widmark came across as a typical loud and brash American financier of that era. Had I not read the book I would have been able to easily work out from his annoying behaviour and character that he would be the one who would be bumped off.
Ingrid Bergman plays a Swedish nanny in the film and her acting was superb; she really doesn't have a lot of screen time but she has a great impact on the audience and this was duly rewarded as she got an Oscar for her performance. The scene where she is interrogated by Poirot is fabulous and has to be seen to appreciate how credible she was! A class act!
Lauren Bacall was fabulous as the snooty American Mrs Hubbard. She really got into character and I chuckled at the way she looked at pretty much everyone else on the Orient Express with disdain. But is it for real or just an act? And what is it about her that makes her think she is above everyone else?
Jacqueline Bisset didn't have a lot of on screen time but in the time she did have she portrayed a very delicate and ladylike manner and she looked immaculate at all times, almost regal and totally stunning. Michael York played her husband and he was suitably chivalrous, although he also did not get a lot of screen time. Why would the Count have to be so protective of his dainty wife?
Anthony Perkins was quite funny (for me) in his role as Ratchett's secretary. He plays with role quite camp - I don't know if this was intentional but the character wasn't in the least gay, which made the camp behaviour seem rather out of place. I really can't fault anything else about the way he played his role though.
John Gielgud was simply perfect in his role as manservant (he always carries these roles off well as if he was born to be a butler or gentleman's valet) and Vanessa Redgrave was divine as Mary Debenham. She played the role as cool as a cucumber with a hint of mischief!
As promised here is a cast list:
* Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot
* Lauren Bacall as Mrs Harriet Hubbard
* Sean Connery as Colonel Arbuthnot
* Ingrid Bergman as Greta Ohlsson
* Jacqueline Bisset as Countess Andrenyi
* Richard Widmark as Mr Ratchett
* John Gielgud as Mr Beddoes
* Anthony Perkins as Hector McQueen
* Vanessa Redgrave as Mary Debenham
* Michael York as Count Andrenyi
* Martin Balsam as Signor Bianchi
* Jean-Pierre Cassel as Pierre Paul Michel
* Wendy Hiller as Princess Dragomiroff
* Rachel Roberts as Hindegarde Schmidt
* Colin Blakely as Cyrus Hardman
* Dennis Quilley as Antonio Foscarelli
* George Coulouris as Dr Constantine
One of the funniest scenes in the film was when Bacall was being questioned and I couldn't resist copying these lines from IMDB.COM as they were truly funny:
Bianchi: You mean you saw the man? You can identify the murderer?
Mrs. Hubbard: I mean nothing of the kind. I mean there was a man in my compartment last night. It was pitch dark, of course, and my eyes were closed in terror...
Bianchi: Then how did you know it was a man?
Mrs. Hubbard: Because I've enjoyed very warm relationships with both my husbands.
Bianchi: With your eyes closed.
Mrs. Hubbard: That helped.
I don't want or need to really go into each character's behaviour nor do I want to take away from any of the all star cast what a good job they did with their roles. I would say that if you haven't read the book before you see the film and if you don't know the outcome of Poirot's investigation you truly will be stunned by the revelations at the end of the investigation. Each one of the cast does their character total credit when they realise that Poirot has discovered the truth.
Poirot handles the case exceptionally well and I did agree with the way it was all handled at the end. I have to admit that this is probably the only Agatha Christie book made into a film which has actually made me feel very emotional at the end when the circumstances surrounding Ratchett's murder and reasons for it are explained. Murder is never right but in this film, it's not as black and white as right and wrong. I do believe that anyone watching the whole film will feel as I felt that it was justifiable murder. I won't say anymore about it for fear of spoiling it for those who haven't seen the film or read the book.
It is worth noting that at the time of release this was the most successful British film made to that date. The film was directed by Sidney Lumet with the Christie approved screenplay by Paul Dehn. The producers of the film were John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin.
The film actually won an BAFTA awards for Bergman and Gielgud for their roles with 3 additional awards from the Evening Standard British Film Awards for Finney and Hiller as Best Actors and for Lumet for Best Film as well as a host of other nominations - this film is really a notable one and for fans of thrillers or Agatha Christie or just good film, this is a must see film! All in all, a strong 9.5 out of 10 from me.
Film duration: approx 125 minutes
DVD price: £5.98 (Amazon.co.uk), £5.99 (Play.com)
Filming locations: Turkey, France and UK