Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Mystery
Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Ingrid Bergman
In 1935, when his train is stopped by deep snow, detective Hercule Poirot is called on to solve a murder that occurred in his car the night before.
  • Paramount Home Video Company:
  • PG Rated:
  • IMDB link IMDB:
  • 24 Nov 1974 Released:
  • 07 Sep 2004 DVD Release:
  • N/A Box office:
  • Paul Dehn (screenplay) Writer:
  • Sidney Lumet Director:
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Sheer perfection, with a once in a lifetime cast!10/10

Whatever happened to the all star movie? Are they just too expensive now? I know a lot of the great stars are no longer with us, but there are enough to make another gem like this one. I just wish this movie was longer, so I could relish the performances of these brilliant people even more. What a magic moment it is when LAUREN BACALL and INGRID BERGMAN clink champagne classes - you can almost hear "As Time Goes By" playing in the background. Come on Hollywood, give us another all star movie, before we lose even more Hollywood royalty!
A Cast To Die For8/10
That Sidney Lumet knows how to frame an actor within his or her character is a very well known fact - "The Pawnbroker" "Network" "Dog Day Afternoon" and some other spectacular pieces of acting prove that point unquestionably. Here, there is a sort of "divertissment". Agatha Christie given a first class treatment (not that Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple wasn't first class, but the production value here is as impressive as the cast) in the hands of Sidney Lumet who knew how to put a bunch of sensational actors in a confined space - "12 Angry Men" for instance and make it riveting. There a 12 Angry people here too and (almost) each part is cast with relish and delight. Albert Finney, marvelous, manages, not only to survive, under the weight of his characterization but to create something bold, exquisitely structured, great fun to watch and to hear. Ingrid Bergman won her third Oscar for her missionary looking after little brown babies - I thought she was a highlight indeed but in my modest opinion, Valentina Cortese for "Day For Night" deserved it that year, Anthony Perkins plays Norman Bates's twin brother, also with a mother fixation and a compelling facial tic. Wendy Hiller was, clearly, having a ball and that, on the screen, is always contagious. Sean Connery and Vanessa Redgrave make a surprisingly hot pair, Lauren Bacall over does it of course but who cares, Jacqueline Bisset is breathtaking, Rachel Roberts a hoot. John Gielgud is John Gielgud and that in itself is a major plus. Colin Blakely does wonders with his moment and Dennis Quilley plays his Italian as if this was a silent movie. Martin Balsam is always fun to watch, no matter the accent. Richard Widmark is splendid in his villainy and Jean Pierre Cassel very moving indeed. The only weak spot in the cast is Michael York. Totally unbelievable. I suspect that "Murder in The Orient Express" 33 years old already, will continue delighting audiences for years to come.
Excellent Agatha Christie murder mystery9/10

I love murder mysteries. I'm a sucker for them whether it's reading a book or seeing a movie. "Murder on the Orient Express" is one of the best murder mystery movies ever made. Based on the novel by mystery sleuth Agatha Christie, it takes you on a ride by train where we meet an assortment of colorful characters all traveling on the Orient Express. When one of these characters is murdered, the rest become suspects. And it's up to famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot to solve the crime. "Murder on the Orient Express" has an intriguing script, good direction, and a spectacular cast to boot. Albert Finney is picture perfect in his Oscar nominated portrayl of the fussy Poirot. While watching Finney in this movie, I can't believe that this is the same man who played Julia Roberts' boss in "Erin Brockovich" because he's so unrecognizable here. Finney is supported by an all-star cast of mostly familiar faces. Of the actors playing the suspects, Lauren Bacall scores highest as an annoying American woman who talks loud and isn't afraid to say what's on her mind. Also good: the great Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar (her third overall) for her small performance as an African missionary; and Martin Balsam as the director of the line and Mr. Poirot's personal friend. Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Rachel Roberts, Richard Widmark, and Michael York round out the familiar cast. "Murder on the Orient Express" is a classy movie to be sure. Is this the best murder mystery movie ever made? Almost. A few years later came the next Agatha Christie movie "Death on the Nile", which in my opinion topped "Murder on the Orient Express" and ranks as my all-time favorite mystery movie. But "Murder on the Orient Express" places right behind "Death on the Nile" as the second best. There is no question that these two movies would be perfect to show on television as a double feature. Stick 'em on AMC, and your all set.

***1/2 (out of four)
It Oozes Elegance10/10
This whodunit story by Dame Agatha is excellent. She has always been my favorite writer of detective fiction. I keep returning to the film version, however, not because of the story but because of the film's sheer elegance and style. It is awash in elegance ... the majestic cinematography; the glamorous clothes; the delightfully eccentric aristocratic characters; the mysterious yet refined musical score. The film is so theatrically regal I'm surprised that it did not feature a representative of British royalty.

The setting is Europe in the 1930's. The pace is slow and relaxed. And while the dialogue is in English, the film has a deliciously international flavor, with a mix of interesting accents and word pronunciations. Heavy on dialogue, the film never seems overly talky, the result of a clever screenplay and lush visuals. Humor is included in the script usually in the form of tasteful put-downs. Example: an attractive Mrs. Hubbard comments: "Don't you agree the man must have entered my compartment to gain access to Mr. Ratchett?" The aging Princess Dragomiroff responds in a deadpan tone: "I can think of no other reason, madam."

In his portrayal of Hercule Poirot, Albert Finney almost literally disappears into the role, a tribute to convincing makeup and to Finney's adroit acting. His performance is appropriately idiosyncratic, deliciously hammy, and theatrical, every bit as entertaining in this film as Peter Ustinov is in subsequent Christie movies. The rest of the cast has ensemble parts, my favorite being Wendy Hiller whose Princess Dragomiroff comes across as royal, proud, and very eccentric.

With its snowy landscapes, ornate and cozy interiors, and subdued lighting, "Murder On The Orient Express" is an excellent movie to watch on a cold, winter night, snuggled under a blanket or next to a warm fireplace with a cup of cappuccino or a glass of cognac. Just be sure that all knives and daggers in your mansion are out of reach from your staff of servants.
When Agatha Christie Finally Came Into Her Own Cinematically9/10
Agatha Christie lived long enough to enjoy something few of her contemporaries could claim.

Movies based on Christie's novels and stories were being made back to the 1930s. One early one with Charles Laughton as Hercule Poiret so turned her off that she was hesitant about future productions of her work. But they were made - like the two versions of LOVE FROM A STRANGER. There were two high points: Rene Clair's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE and Billy Wilder's WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (oddly enough with Laughton again, but in a better fitting performance). Then came the popular series of Miss Marple films with Margaret Rutherford, which were rewritten to emphasize Rutherford's comic abilities (and to give Miss Marple a companion - Mr. Stringer, played by Rutherford's husband Stringer Davis). Another attempt at Poirot was made, again as a comic film, THE A.B.C.MURDERS (with Tony Randall as Poirot). Christie was not amused. But in 1974 she saw her vision of Hercule Poirot as a character put properly on screen by Albert Finney in MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.

It gave her a satisfaction that few mystery novelists of her age ever had. Dorothy Sayers did live to see Lord Peter Wimsey played by Robert Montgomery in BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON, but while entertaining it was not the Wimsey that she created - she died before she could see Ian Carmichael play the role on a series of television multi-episodes shows based on her novels. While Josephine Tey's novels occasionally were made into films, her Inspector Grant was not turned into a good running series character.

I think that the reason that Agatha Christie was satisfied was the care that Sidney Lumet took with MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. Not only the all star cast involved, but keeping the story in the late 1920s to early 1930s style, with clothing, vehicles, and class snobbery maintained. It actually helped preserve the novel's effectiveness.

The casting is quite good. Poirot is ably played by Finney, who is fussy but also serious and sharp when going over the clues and interrogations. Martin Balsam as his friend, the railroad official, is properly "watsonish", constantly jumping at conclusions as to who the killer is. Interestingly forgotten in the background is the only other passenger we learn of that is not under suspicion, the Greek doctor who assists Poirot (George Coulouris). In the 1940s Coulouris would have been a red herring at least.

The suspects (led by Lauren Bacall and Wendy Hiller) are properly snobbish (especially Sean Connery). They are even snobbish towards each other. But the question of who killed the victim is handled to constantly throw off the viewers. It is one of the most perfectly balanced whodunits.

I only have one minor criticism. The murder centers on a "Lindbergh" kidnap-murder tragedy of the past, and the killer has to be someone after the real brains behind the tragedy. So all the suspects happen to be connected to the victim(s). But as it turns out there was one victim who was overlooked - the patsy killer (based on Hauptmann?) who was frightened into committing the crime and was hanged. It would have been interesting if the family of this criminal also had been represented among the suspects.