Friday 20 August 2021

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)


Off-List: Murder on the Orient Express

Are there any whodunnits more iconic than Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express”? Not that I can think of.

For this kind of story, it is a curse to be famous because you do not want to spoil the guessing game and yet I had happily forgotten the resolution of this murder mystery. Incredible but true. I am probably getting old. In any case, I had a great time watching the mystery getting unraveled with Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) tying all the little pieces of information together.

What I had even more fun with, was watching the greatest assembly of acting credentials ever to perform in a single movie. A bold claim, but one that may actually be true. It may be easier to mention who was not in this movie.

Hercule Poirot, the famous (in Agatha Christie’s novels) detective, is returning from the Middle East and boards a train, the famous Orient Express, in Istanbul, heading for France and England. The first-class section is fully booked by 12 other passengers (sounds like a small train…) and they only just manage to squeeze in Poirot.

Shortly into the ride, the American businessman Ratchett (Richard Widmark) offers Poirot a small fortune to protect him from an unknown danger. Ratchett has been receiving threatening letters, but Poirot refuses and the morning after Ratchett is dead. Mr. Bianchi, director of the train line, implores Poirot to solve the mystery and a sudden snowdrift may just offer enough time to do so.

So, who did it? Was it,

The loud and obnoxious Mrs. Hubbard (Lauren Bacall)?

The pious Ms. Ohlsson (Ingrid Bergman)?

The charming Countess Helena Andrenyi (Jacqueline Bisset) or the just as charming Count Rudolf Andrenyi (Michael York)?

The stout Colonel Arbuthnot (Sean Connery) or his girlfriend Mary Debenham (Vanessa Redgrave)?

Maybe the butler did it (John Gielgud) or Ratchett’s secretary (Anthony Perkins)?  

Or the elderly, slightly infirm and very aristocratic Princess Dragomiroff (Wendy Hiller) or her maid Hildegarde Schmidt (Rachel Roberts)?

One cannot rule out the bodyguard (Colin Blakely) or the car salesman (Denis Quilley), surely?

And that train attendant, Pierre (Pierre Paul Michel) was just a little too close to all the action, no?

This list, of course, is mostly an excuse to write up the amazing list of actors and actresses participating in this spectacle, for a spectacle it is. This may be a murder case, but it is played for nostalgic reminiscence of a nobler time long gone, when train rides were spectacular and the high and mighty would be sharing a train car. The music, the décor, the costumes, this all has a lighter and easier air than is normally due a crime scene and Poirot solving the case is more the unraveling of a riddle than the apprehension of a dangerous criminal. All very gentleman-like.

I did feel a bit odd with Albert Finney as Poirot, but I guess that is simply because I am so used to David Suchet’s rendition of the famous detective in the TV-series. Cannot really blame Finney for that.

“Murder on the Orient Express” is the first of my off-List movies for 1974 and, honestly, I find it odd that this one was left out. It was nominated for six Academy Awards and won one (Ingrid Bergman). It is a fluffy piece, but an incredibly taste one. I would have added it to the List.



  1. I like Agatha Christie because her murder victims are always someone so despicable we don't really mind that they are dead. And ten or more people have a good reason to want them dead! I liked Albert Finney. I don't know if I would have guessed it was him if I hadn't known. That big strapping Tom Jones is nothing like the little Belgian detective. Finney made a great Scrooge as well.

    1. That Ratchett character certainly had it coming.
      I have not seen Tom Jones, but I should. I only read the book and that was great.

  2. Love this film and to see how special it is all you have to do is watch the muddy, dreary and flat update that Kenneth Branagh churned out. It's missing everything that makes this so great.

    That cast list is marvelous, Lumet got all his first choices except for Marlene Dietrich as the Princess-the studio felt that she would be too exaggerated. Wendy Hiller is terrific but it's a missed opportunity. Along with the players the production, both set and costume, is just so gorgeous and lush. Jacqueline Bisset never looks less than ravishing and I love that Vanessa Redgrave got to play a sassy average girl-at this point she was usually in period clothing. She was great at that but her talent is so vast it was nice to see her get to do something a little different.

    The entire film is just a joy from start to finish.

    1. I shared that joy.
      I did not know Dietrich was considered as the Princess. That would have been interesting, though I cannot put a finger on Hiller's performance.

  3. I like this film a lot less than Joel does. For me, there's a murder and then there's just...a series of interviews. It's pretty to look at, but it's really just an elaborate conversation with a dozen or so people.

    For me, it's not really worth a second watch.

    1. I can understand that, but I think I am more in line with Joel here. Maybe on repeated views I would get tired of it, but the splendor of it all goes a long way to compensate any flaws.