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Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974)

Starring: Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, John Gielgud

Written By: Paul Dehn, Agatha Christie (novel)

Directed By: Sidney Lumet

The Shot

A glorious cast comes together to adapt one of the world’s greatest mystery novels, and to give a curtain call to classic Hollywood style.  Murder on the Orient Express is simply wonderful cinema that deserves to be seen by all.


The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

ARTISAN CHEDDAR.

Beautifully crafted and delicious.


Pairs Well With...

VEUVE CLIQUOT.

Fine champagne for Hollywood’s finest aboard the grandest of old trains.

“Only by interrogating the other passengers could I hope to see the light, but when I began to question them, the light, as Macbeth would have said, thickened.”


In the early half of the 20th Century, two news items caught the eye of Agatha Christie: the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s baby, and word that the famed Orient Express train was trapped in mid-journey for several days by snow blocking the track.  From these two inspirations, she penned one of her greatest mystery novels – indeed, one of the greatest by anyone – “Murder on the Orient Express.”

When a proposal came decades later to adapt the novel for the silver screen, Christie was exceptionally reluctant.  There had been, of course, many adaptations of other works of hers by then, and she had been unsatisfied with the results overall.  She did not want this story to suffer similar (to her eyes) disgrace.  A friend intervened, however, and so the great author finally agreed to let the crew led by director Sidney Lumet go forth with the project.  Attending the film’s premiere would be one of the last public appearances made by Christie, and, fittingly, she found Murder on the Orient Express to be quite satisfactory, and her favorite of all of the pictures adapted from her works… though her hero’s moustache was a bit off for her taste.

At its most basic, Murder on the Orient Express is that wonderful adaptation of a wonderful novel that earned the rare praise of its author; for that alone, it would deserve to be seen by all.  But there is, in fact, much more to this movie than that, for it is also a curtain call for classic Hollywood.  (Sure, there’d be other “all star casts” after this one, but none of those pictures would combine the classic star power with a truly classic atmosphere like Murder on the Orient Express does.  Sorry, Poseidon Adventure.  It’s just not the same.)

While a modern style picture would try to drive its “hook” in as quickly as possible, director Sidney Lumet takes care and time – lots of time – to set the stage for the play to come.  Every effort is made to present the Orient Express train as the luxurious but intimate grand dame she is, wonderfully juxtaposed against the cosmopolitan chaos of her departure station in Istanbul.  Each member of the ensemble also gets a proper introduction (some beefier than others, of course, but everyone at least gets something substantial enough to be tasted) before the major action starts, with special effort being made to highlight eccentricities that will be essential clues – and misdirections – later on.  Audiences used to the aforementioned “quick hook” may find this approach to be slow, but all of that groundwork pays major dividends in the Second Act, allowing things to move at very rapid pace once the title murder occurs.  Craft behind the camera: it’s a good thing.

And when it comes to craft in front of the camera, one could hardly ask for better than one gets with Murder on the Orient Express.  Lauren Bacall.  Ingrid Bergman.  John Gielgud.  Anthony Perkins.  Sean Connery.  Vanessa Redgrave.  Richard Widmark.  Jacqueline Bisset.  Hell, the young buck of the supporting cast is Michael York.  And that’s before one considers the amazing performance of Albert Finney in the leading role as Christie’s master detective, Hercule Poirot, which is flawless despite the challenges presented by being under mountains of makeup designed to nearly double his age.  Anyone looking for a one-film master class in How Acting Is Done need look no further than here; whether from the perspective of a critic or of a fan, this group is simply a joy to watch.

And then, of course, there’s the jewel in the crown: the much-applauded Third Act, which is taken up primarily by a single scene involving Poirot presenting the results of his investigation and revealing the ultimate culprit before the entire ensemble.  To call this scene “riveting” and Finney’s presentation “outstanding” is to give too little credit to the director and actor involved, for this is truly one of Hollywood’s Great Moments.  It is indeed so great that I will not spoil it for you here, save to say that if you think you’ve already spoiled it for yourself by reading Agatha Christie’s novel (which you should read if you haven’t already), you probably haven’t.  And even if you had, this scene – and the entire movie before it – would still be worth watching. 

So much richness.

And that, really, says it all about Murder on the Orient Express.  This movie is far too rich to spoil with any more details than I’ve already given, so I will simply leave you with this: if you haven’t seen Murder on the Orient Express already, you should, and if you consider yourself any sort of cinephile, it’s definitely worth owning.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, July, 2015


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