Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 15, 2018


Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974). Director: Sidney Lumet.

Famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney of Tom Jones) takes over the investigation after a man using an assumed name is murdered, and there turns out to be a whole train load of suspects. In her novel, Agatha Christie's starting off point was the murder of the Lindbergh baby, and the victim was involved in the kidnapping of the child, herein named Daisy Armstrong. In both book and movie Poirot perhaps doesn't exhibit quite as much incredulity as he might have when he learns at least two people on the train just happen to have had ties to the victim (as well as others whose deaths were a direct result of little Daisy's murder). And then things get even stranger, but there's a method to Christie's madness ... This was the first of the big-budget, all-star adaptations of the works of Christie, and it's entertaining if unspectacular. Oscar winner for Best Actor, Finney is nothing like Poirot, but if this is a "stunt" performance, I must say it's an excellent one, although he isn't as good as David Suchet, who later made the role his own. Wendy Hiller gives a positively weird, and one assumes, intentionally comic performance as the aged Princess Dragomiroff. Ingrid Bergman is fine but her very small role hardly deserved the supporting Oscar she received. Similarly, Sir John Gielgud is wonderful, but he's on-screen for only a few minutes; he won a BAFTA award. (Surely Oscars should be reserved for actors who are very much outside their comfort zone, which Finney definitely was). In a terrible performance, Anthony Perkins literally twitches all over the place as the secretary to the dead man; Sean Connery has one strong scene explaining himself to Poirot; Rachel Roberts scores as the princess' maid; Richard Widmark is fine as the victim; Vanessa Redgrave [Camelot] is perfect and lovely as Connery's paramour; and Martin Balsam is a delight as a representative of the train line and a personal friend of Poirot's. Richard Rodney Bennett provided the pastiche Porter score, which lacks the suspense this type of picture requires. Many of the cast members, especially Lauren Bacall as the loud American lady, seem self-conscious.

In addition to the 2017 remake, there have been other adaptations of the famous story. Alfred Molina played Poirot in a 2001 television version. David Suchet again essayed Poirot in a 2010 TV movie  which added a prologue, with an adulteress being stoned to death, that was not in the novel, and an epilogue wherein Poirot expresses moral outrage over the murder on the train which he does not express in the book; later he softens his attitude due to the murder of that woman at the opening. Suchet is especially excellent in this and it's amusing to see Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey playing a mere valet. Finally, a Japanese mini-series based on the novel appeared in 2015.

Verdict: Take this train ride or not -- it's up to you. **1/2.



angelman66 said...

I still have not seen the new one, Bill, I keep procrastinating, and I think it is because this 1974 film is so unsatisfying to me. Why don't I like Finney's Poirot? The rest of the cast is stellar--I am a huge fan of Bergman, Bacall, the great Rachel Roberts and the rest. But something just doesn't gel...I blame my lack of love for Finney, who I do like in Tom Jones. It's a mystery I need to unravel by seeing this again...and then maybe the remake.

William said...

Just watched the remake last night, which I'll be reviewing next week. I'm curious to see what you think of it. I was surprised to find that I liked the new version better than the old one! The Branagh version has come in for some serious HATE that I don't think it necessarily deserves. The old version is perhaps too artificial.