Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

“Only by interrogating the other passengers could I hope to see the light.”

Synopsis:
Belgian detective Hercules Poirot (Albert Finney) investigates the murder of a businessman (Richard Widmark) on the Orient Express.

Genres:

Review:
Sidney Lumet’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s celebrated mystery is a nostalgic throw-back to the early days of Hollywood, when all-star casts routinely graced the screen together in ensemble films such as Grand Hotel (1932) and Dinner at Eight (1933). Indeed, film buffs will have a field day watching some of their favorite actors (including Lauren Bacall, Wendy Hiller, Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, Anthony Perkins, and others) in supporting roles. However, it’s Albert Finney who truly runs the show here: as the determined (and occasionally obnoxious) Hercules Poirot, Finney is literally unrecognizable. Unfortunately, Lumet indulges his screenplay a bit: it takes quite a while for all the characters to be introduced, and the final scenes linger far longer than necessary. Nonetheless, Murder on the Orient Express, which inspired two future Christie adaptations — Death on the Nile (1978) and Evil Under the Sun (1982) — remains a well-made detective flick, and should be seen by all film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Albert Finney — nearly unrecognizable as Belgian detective Hercules Poirot
  • Fine performances by a supporting cast of stars
  • Lush, colorful 1930s set designs and costumes
  • A satisfying and unexpected solution to the mystery

Must See?
Yes. While over-long, this Academy Award-nominated murder mystery is a rare return to the all-star format of earlier Hollywood dramas.

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One Response to “Murder on the Orient Express (1974)”

  1. A must. Solid commercial filmmaking.

    As the classy score by Richard Rodney Bennett never fails to delightfully remind us: this is, as noted, a classy throwback to the type of film that assembled stars to tell its tale.

    As such, that explains why the film’s opening introduction is lengthy: each star gets his or her ENTRANCE. Would stars want it any other way? Would their fans? Not only that – the stars each get their own turn to shine when questioned individually. Why wouldn’t they jump at such roles? What actor doesn’t prefer real meat to work with? ~ especially if Lumet is directing.

    Being a cinematic rebel, Lumet is not generally known for working in such obviously commercial waters. (I wonder if he chuckled when given the opportunity…) But he’s no stranger to the emotional/psychological territory of the material and handles it masterfully – aided immeasurably by his ‘partner in crime’, DP Geoffrey Unsworth. The film looks great! (I esp. like the film’s effective opening montage.)

    And, to compliment the cast further – they understand the meaning of ensemble. They have each given over to what’s best for the piece and are all very much of it.

    This is praiseworthy mystery entertainment, plain and simple.

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