Murder on the Orient Express

Ring a Ding Ding

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

I love Agatha Christie mysteries. They are so convoluted and complex and rely on that oft-used plot ending during which the detective explains to us what happened –because there was no way we pieced it together ourselves. Murder on the Orient Express was finally made into a movie in 1974 with Christie being unwilling to allow a film version while the Production Code threatened to wipe out many essential plot elements.

Murder on the Orient Express enthralls us with a large, all-star cast, which is an approach repeated with Christie’s Death on the Nile that starred Bette Davis and Mia Farrow, to name a few. An almost unrecognizable Albert Finney plays our Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot who happens to board a train, the Orient Express, where a murder will take place with far too many suspects to deduce a simple solution.

Our victim is one Mr. Ratchett (Richard Widmark) who approaches Detective Poirot seeking protection hours before his death. The man, who is mysterious about his line of work, has been receiving threatening notes. He is killed in his bed in the cabin beside Poirot’s; although, no struggle is heard.

What Poirot soon deduces is that Ratchett was the man behind the kidnapping and killing of the daughter of a famous aviatrix. The abduction did not just result in one fatality, however. A maid was falsely accused of involvement in the crime and commited suicide. The distressed mother died in childbirth, during which the infant also passed. The father killed himself from grief.

On board the train car where the murder occurred are many seemingly unconnected passengers including: a meek missionary Greta (Ingrid Bergman); the obnoxiously talkative Mrs. Hubbard (Lauren Bacall); an elderly Russian Princess Draganoff (Wendy Hiller) and her companion Hildegarde (Rachel Roberts); Ratchett’s secretary McQueen (Anthony Perkins); Countess Andrenyi (Jaqueline Bisset) and her husband (Michael York); Colonel Arbuthnott (Sean Connery); the mysteriously sad Mary Debenham (Vanessa Redgrave); a Chicago car salesman Fiscarelli (Denis Quilley); conductor Pierre Michel (Jean-Pierre Cassel); Ratchett’s bodyguard Hardman (Colin Blakely); and Ratchett’s valet Beddoes (John Gielgud).

All passengers are ultimately discovered to have motive for the crime as their individual identities are revealed. In the end, however, Poirot will tell authorities that the mafia was involved in killing Ratchett and that the culprit departed the train during its lengthy stop awaiting the clearance of a snow drift, but that’s no spoiler.

The story of Murder on the Orient Express does a great job of supplying us with tidbits of information and a variety of clues, but not all of the evidence is actually related to the crime, making it impossible for us to form our own conclusion. The advantage movies have over books –and one not always employed in these types of mysteries– is that the flick can show us via flashback what actually happened rather than relying on us to make sense of a rambling written or spoken explanation. Murder on the Orient Express takes advantage of this to great dramatic end.

The flick is not without its laughs as Finney brings a good deal of humor to the silly detective who sleeps with hair nets on his oily black locks and stylized mustache. Bacall also stands out as the loud and flamboyant actress, and Bergman is surprising in such a plain, timid part. Hiller as the Russian Princess is frankly quite terrifying with her powdery white skin and her rolling, biting accent. Her manly maid played by Roberts is also intimidating.

7 Responses

  1. Rachel, it never occurred to me that Dame Agatha Christie’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS would have needed to be pretty much bowdlerized if filmmakers had tried to film it back in the day, but of course it makes perfect sense! What a great cast, and what a great adaptation Sidney Lumet and screenwriter Paul Dehn crafted! It’s one of my favorites in both its novel and movie forms, and your review really does it justice. You said it yourself: Ring-A-Ding-Ding! :-)

  2. Great post! This is one of my favorite movies. I wrote a post about it on my blog a couple weeks ago, and I would love your feedback:

    http://thegreatkh.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/murder-on-orient-express-1974-lauren.html

  3. Love the cast in this movie, and Albert Finney in particular. This movie never gets old for me.

  4. I first saw “Murder on the Orient Express” when it was in release and was struck by its clever reveal of each suspects connection to the child murder and its aftermath (based on the Lindbergh kidnapping). As Poirot questioned the various passengers I became convinced, one after the other, that THIS was the murderer. Beautifully conceived and constructed – and the period detail was meticulous. Not to mention the dazzling array of star turns by a stellar cast (my favorite is Wendy Hiller as Princess Dragomiroff). This is one of the great classics of the ’70s.

  5. I do enjoy this Poirot adaptation, but I have a soft spot for the later ones with Peter Ustinov, especially EVIL UNDER THE SUN.

  6. what time did ratchett get murdered?

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