Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Review: Albert Finney and a Star-Studded Cast Power 1974 "Murder on the Orient Express"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 5 of 2022 (No. 1817) by Leroy Douresseaux

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
Running time:  128 minutes (2 hours, 8 minutes)
DIRECTOR: Sidney Lumet
WRITER: Paul Dehn
PRODUCERS:  John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Geoffrey Unsworth
EDITOR:  Anne V. Coates
COMPOSER:  Richard Rodney Bennett
Academy Award winner


Starring:  Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Martin Balsam, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Cassel, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Rachel Roberts, Richard Widmark, Michael York, Colin Blakely, George Coulouris, and Denis Quilley

Murder on the Orient Express is a 1974 British mystery film directed by Sidney Lumet.  It is based on the 1934 novel, Murder on the Orient Express, written by Agatha Christie (1890-1976).  Murder on the Orient Express focuses on a revered detective who tries to solve a murder on a snow bound train, while dealing with a multitude of suspects.

Murder on the Orient Express finds acclaimed detective, Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney), ready to board the transcontinental luxury train, “the Orient Express,” in December 1935.  Having solved a case for a British Army garrison in Jordan, he is due to travel to London on the Orient Express from Istanbul.  There, he encounters his old friend, Signor Bianchi (Martin Balsam), a director of the company which owns the line.

There are other notable passengers traveling in the same coach as Poirot and Bianchi.  There is the assertive and talkative American widow, Harriet Belinda Hubbard (Lauren Bacall).  The quiet English governess, Mary Debenham (Vanessa Redgrave), and Colonel John Arbuthnott (Sean Connery) of the British Indian Army have apparently struck up a relationship.  Swedish missionary, Greta Ohlsson (Ingrid Bergman), is on a trip to raise charity funds so that she can continue to take care of “little brown babies.”  American businessman Samuel Ratchett (Richard Widmark), is on a business trip with with his secretary/translator, Hector McQueen (Anthony Perkins), and his English valet, Edward Beddoes (John Gielgud).

There is an Italian-American car salesman, Antonio Foscarelli (Denis Quilley).  Elderly Russian Princess Natalia Dragomiroff (Wendy Hiller) travels with her stout German maid, Hildegarde Schmidt (Rachel Roberts).  Hungarian Count Rudolf Andrenyi (Michael York) and his wife, Elena (Jacqueline Bisset), are always together.  American theatrical agent, Cyrus Hardman (Colin Blakely), is always in the background.  The train's French conductor, Pierre Michel (Jean-Pierre Cassel), attends to the passengers' numerous needs.

On the second morning of the journey, Samuel Ratchett is found dead.  Signor Bianchi asks the esteemed Monsieur Poirot if he can discover the identity of the murder before the train arrives in Brod, where the Yugoslavian police will take over the investigation.  With the assistance of Bianchi and the Greek physician, Dr. Constantine (George Coulouris), Poirot discovers that the victim was stabbed 12 times.  Now, he must investigate 13 suspects.  Who has committed this murder?  Who is lying?  Where is the truth?  And what is the real story behind the mysterious American who is the victim?  Poirot must discover the answers before the murderer strikes again aboard a train that becomes snowbound.

Agatha Christie died about 14 months after the release of Murder on the Orient Express.  Apparently, this film and Witness for the Prosecution were the only movie adaptations of her books that she liked.  She was also apparently pleased with Albert Finney's performance as Hercule Poirot.

The primary treat of Murder on the Orient Express is its star-studded cast, led by Albert Finney, who earned a “Best Actor” Oscar nomination for his performance.  Ingrid Bergman won the “Best Supporting Actress” Oscar for her role as Greta Ohlsson, a performance that is so immersed in technical detail that it seems more fitting for some high-minded, serious dramatic film.  In general, the women here give strong performances in character roles.  Wendy Hiller is a delight as Princess Natalia Dragomiroff, and Lauren Bacall chews up the scenery as the assertive and talkative Mrs. Hubbard.

The cast of this film is comprised of the some of the biggest movie stars of the middle twentieth century.  Some were not known for playing character roles, but in Murder on the Orient Express, they flexed their character acting chops.  The result of these star performances is a hugely entertaining whodunit with a shocking murder and plenty of terrific intrigue.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and although I was initially put off by Albert Finney as Poirot, I soon found myself unable to stop watching him.  Yes, 1974 Murder on the Orient Express shows its age, but fans of whodunits, of Agatha Christie, of murder mystery films will want to see this film.

7 out of 10

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

1975 Academy Awards, USA:  1 win:  “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Ingrid Bergman); 5 nominations: “Best Actor in a Leading Role” (Albert Finney), “Best Writing, Screenplay Adapted From Other Material” (Paul Dehn), “Best Cinematography” (Geoffrey Unsworth), “Best Costume Design” (Tony Walton), and “Best Music, Original Dramatic Score” (Richard Rodney Bennett)

1975 BAFTA Awards:  3 wins:  “Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music” (Richard Rodney Bennett), “Best Supporting Actor” (John Gielgud), and “Best Supporting Actress” (Ingrid Bergman); 7 nominations:  “Best Actor” (Albert Finney), “Best Art Direction” (Tony Walton), “Best Cinematography” (Geoffrey Unsworth – also for “Zardoz”), “Best Costume Design” (Tony Walton), “Best Direction” (Sidney Lumet – also for “Serpico”), “Best Film,” and “Best Film Editing” (Anne V. Coates)

The text is copyright © 2022 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site or blog for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


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