Murder on the Orient Express
- Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot
- Lauren Bacall as Mrs. Hubbard
- Martin Balsam as Bianchi
- Ingrid Bergman as Greta Ohlsson
- Jacqueline Bisset as Countess Andrenyi
- Michael York as Count Andrenyi
- Jean-Pierre Cassel as Pierre Michel
- Sean Connery as Colonel Arbuthnott
- John Gielgud as Beddoes
- Wendy Hiller as Princess Dragomiroff
- Anthony Perkins as Hector McQueen
- Vanessa Redgrave as Mary Debenham
- Rachel Roberts as Hildegarde Schmidt
- Richard Widmark as Ratchett
- Denis Quilley as Antonio Foscarelli
- Colin Blakely as Hardman
Surely one of the best adaptations of an Agatha Christie novel, Murder on the Orient Express is a splendid, stylish and sensational murder mystery boasting what has to be one of the most star-studded casts ever assembled on film. Elegantly directed by Sidney Lumet and with a sumptuous recreation of the elite of the 30’s in costume and decor, Murder on the Orient Express is not to be missed for fans of movies that are often referred to as ‘films they just don’t just make like this anymore’.
Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective is travelling aboard the eponymous train from Istanbul to Paris, then he will travel to England to attend important business. The train is unusually crowded but the eccentric Poirot has managed to find a cabin by way of his friend Bianchi, who is also travelling on the same journey. Poirot is approached by a secretive businessman named Ratchett, who offers him a large sum of money if he can find out who has been sending him threatening letters. The detective has no interest in the case and turns it down. The next morning, Ratchett is found dead, stabbed a dozen times in his bed. It is then up to Poirot to investigate the case as the train has been caught in a snow drift somewhere in the Balkan Regions on the night of the murder. He is surrounded by a rich array of suspects including; the loquacious and obnoxious Mrs. Hubbard, the simple-minded Swedish missionary Greta Ohlsson, the icy and glamorous Count and Countess Andrenyi, the quiet conductor on the train Pierre Michel, Colonel Arbuthnott, an officer in the British Indian Army, the buttoned up valet of the deceased, Beddoes, the ageing Russian royal Princess Dragomiroff, Hildegarde Schmidt, her personal maid, Hector McQueen, the secretary to the deceased, Mary Debenham, a teacher and paramour of Colonel Arbuthnott, Foscarelli, an Italian-American car salesman and Hardman, a secretive agent for a detective service. As he investigates, Poirot deduces that Ratchett was really a gangster, who played his part in the notorious kidnapping and murder of Daisy Armstrong, a prominent aviator’s daughter, many years before. Through interrogation and the exercise of his ‘little grey cells’ Poirot tries to figure out this bizarre case filled with secrecy and enshrouded with shocks and red herrings. So sit back and enjoy as the detective makes his way through the case in which nothing is as it seems.
Sidney Lumet keeps the atmosphere of the time and gradual deducing of the crime through employing a brisk pace to the film and making exceptional use of the camera. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Poirot’s excellent denouement in which he paces up and down the carriage and recounts his findings. The way the camera captures the faces of the guests, filled with anxiety, astonishment and shock as they silently listen, is quite masterful as the complex case is laid bare in front of them. The opening sequence in which the history of the Armstrong Case is shown whilst intercut with newspapers clippings, is another highlight of lighting and atmosphere, getting the film off to a suspenseful and haunting start. The magnificent score exudes suspense and glamour and is a great attribute to the film.
The star-studded cast is almost certainly the biggest draw in the film, even if some actors are underused in the process. Albert Finney is particularly eccentric and witty as Poirot, stealing the show as he delves into one of the most complex cases in his illustrious career. Lauren Bacall is acerbically funny as the chatty Mrs. Hubbard, her fussy outbursts masking her quiet intelligence. Martin Balsam has some great scenes with Albert Finney as the panicking Bianchi, who is the one who entrusts the case with Poirot. In a small but well-played part that won her an Oscar, Ingrid Bergman is luminous and touching as the missionary with poor command of English. Jacqueline Bisset and Michael York are icily impressive as the wealthy count and his beautiful bride. Jean-Pierre Cassel exudes a quiet intensity and shyness as the conductor Pierre, who is still a suspect despite helping out in the case. John Gielgud relishes the witty lines as the buttoned-up and knowledgable butler Beddoes. Wendy Hiller shines as the evasive member Russian royalty, along with Rachel Roberts as the terse German maid. Vanessa Redgrave glows in her role of the English teacher who doesn’t take kindly to Poirot’s questioning about her relationship with the colonel. In the brief but important role of Ratchett, Richard Widmark is sly and disagreeable even though he knows it’s only a matter of time before something happens to him. On the underused side, unfortunately is Sean Connery who has nothing much to do in the film except vehemently disagree with Poirot. Anthony Perkins could have been used better, instead of him turning in another variation on Norman Bates. Denis Quilley and Colin Blakely are also not used to any real effect.
Despite the wasting of certain actors talents and the pace lulling at various points, Murder on the Orient is none the less a distinguished and thrilling adaptation of Agatha Christie’s murder mystery, presided over by the excellent direction of Sidney Lumet.