Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Murder On The Orient Express (1974)

Sidney Lumet (SERPICO) directed this lavishly cast and produced mystery based on Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. It was an enormous hit in both the United States and Great Britain and earned six Academy Award nominations, winning for Ingrid Bergman’s turn as the devout Scandinavian Greta Ohlsson (her third Oscar after GASLIGHT and ANASTASIA). Albert Finney (SHOOT THE MOON) has the plum role of Christie’s famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, first seen in print in 1920.

One of several passengers traveling about the Orient Express from Istanbul to London, Poirot takes charge when one of them, a retired American businessman named Ratchett (Richard Widmark), is murdered in his bed. A classic locked room mystery — Ratchett’s door is chained from the inside — Poirot sets about solving it through interviews with the suspects, who include young couple Michael York (THE THREE MUSKETEERS) and Jacqueline Bisset (THE DEEP), military man Sean Connery (DR. NO), Ratchett’s mother-obsessed male secretary Anthony Perkins (PSYCHO) and butler John Gielgud (ARTHUR), loud American Lauren Bacall (KEY LARGO), and teacher Vanessa Redgrave (JULIA), among others.

To say more about the story would be criminal, though many of the passengers have a remarkable connection to a horrible crime committed five years earlier, when a little girl was kidnapped from her Long Island home and later murdered. The Oscar-nominated screenplay by Paul Dehn (THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD) plays fair with the clues, though the movie’s pleasures come as much from the juicy performances as the plot. The actors play to the rafters, as fitting the heightened storyline, with Finney’s flashy Oscar-nominated Poirot a total joy. Other nominations went to Tony Walton’s costumes, Geoffrey Unsworth’s photography, and Richard Rodney Bennett’s original score.

Christie saw the film and liked it, which was not often the case with adaptations of her work. CBS did a television version with Alfred Molina (BOOGIE NIGHTS) as Poirot in 2001, and Kenneth Branagh (HENRY V) directed and starred in a big-budget theatrical remake in 2017.

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