Murder on the Orient Express (1974): Stylish Agatha Christie

Marking a point of departure for vet director Sidney Lumet, “Murder on the Orient Express” is a glitzy, elegant, but shallow all-star production of Agatha Christie’s whodunit, set in the 1930s within the confines of the famous (and notorious) train.

Albert Finney is almost unrecognizable as super-sleuth Hercule Poirot. Donning a wig and speaking in a heavy Belgian accent, Finney received a Best Actor nomination for his manners and eccentricities rather than acting.

Finney’s Poirot is asked to resolve the murder of a nasty businessman (played by Richard Widmark).  The suspects are played by Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Wendy Hiller, Rachel Roberts, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Perkins, John Gielgud, Michael York and Jacqueline Bisset.

A classy colorful entertainment, the film offers some pleasures, prime among which is spotting the stars, all name actors playing small roles.

Sharp viewers may be able to detect the resolution, but they will still have fun taking the ride with the film’s elegant and its varied illustrious performers.

The movie was so popular at the box-office that it launched a cycle of films of many lavish Christie adaptations, though this is clearly the first and the best.

Ingrid Bergman, who used her native Swedish for the role of the neurotic missionary, won her third Oscar, this time in the Supporting Actress category.  Initially Lumet wanted Bergman to play the part of the Russian princess (later cast with Wendy Hiller)

Oscar Nominations: 6

Actor: Albert Finney
Supporting Actress: Ingrid Bergman
Screenplay (Adapted): Paul Dehn
Camera: Geoffrey Unsworth
Score (Dramatic): Richard Rodney Bennett
Costume: Tony Walton

Oscar Awards: 1

Supporting Actress

Oscar Context:

The winners of the Adapted screenplay were Coppola and Mario Puzo for The Godfather, Part Ii, which also won the Dramatic Score Oscar for Carmine Coppola and Nino Rotta.

The Cinematography Oscar went to Fred Koenekamp and Joseph Biroc for The Towering Inferno. Theoni V. Aldredge won costume design for the period drama, The Great Gatsby.

Running time: 128 Minutes

Cast

Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney)
Mrs. Hubbard (Lauren Bacall)
Bianchi (Martin Balsam)
Greta Ohlsson (Ingrid Bergman)
Countess Andrenyi (Jacqueline Bisset)
Pierre Paul Michel (Jean-Piere Cassel)
Col. Arbuthnot (Sean Connery)
Beddoes (John Gielgud)
Princess Dragomiroff (Wendy Hiller)
Hector McQueen (Anthony Perkins)

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