Murder on the Orient Express (1974 film)
|Murder on the Orient Express|
Original British quad format film poster
|Directed by||Sidney Lumet|
|Produced by||John Brabourne|
|Screenplay by||Paul Dehn|
|Based on||Murder on the Orient Express|
by Agatha Christie
|Music by||Richard Rodney Bennett|
|Edited by||Anne V. Coates|
G.W. Films Limited
|Distributed by||Anglo-EMI Film Distributors (UK)|
Paramount Pictures (USA)
|Budget||£554,100 ($1.4 million)|
|Box office||$35.7 million|
The film features the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney), who is asked to investigate the murder of an American business tycoon aboard the Orient Express train. The suspects are portrayed by an all-star cast, including Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York, Jacqueline Bisset, Anthony Perkins and Wendy Hiller. The screenplay is by Paul Dehn.
The film was a commercial and critical success. It received six nominations at the 47th Academy Awards: Best Actor (Finney), Best Supporting Actress (Bergman), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design. Of these nominations, Bergman was the only winner.
In December 1935, Hercule Poirot, having solved a case for a British Army garrison in Jordan, is due to travel to London on the Orient Express from Istanbul and encounters his old friend Signor Bianchi, a director of the company which owns the line. Other passengers travelling in the coach are American widow Harriet Hubbard; American businessman Samuel Ratchett, with his English butler Edward Beddoes and secretary/translator Hector McQueen; elderly Russian Princess Natalia Dragomiroff and her German maid Hildegarde Schmidt; Hungarian diplomat Count Rudolf Andrenyi and his wife Elena; British Indian Army officer Colonel John Arbuthnot; Mary Debenham, an English teacher; Greta Ohlsson, a Swedish missionary; Italian-American car salesman Antonio Foscarelli; and Cyrus Hardman, an American theatrical agent.
The morning after the train departs, Ratchett tries to secure Poirot's services as a bodyguard for $15,000 (equivalent to $286,679 in 2019), as he has received death threats. Poirot declines his offer but curiously questions the motives of Ratchett's enemies, angering Ratchett. That night, Bianchi gives Poirot his compartment as he transfers to another coach. The train is stopped by a snowdrift between Vincovci and Brod in Yugoslavia, and Poirot is awoken from sleep several times, once by a scream from Ratchett's cabin. The next morning, Ratchett is found stabbed to death, and Bianchi asks Poirot to solve the case. Poirot enlists help from Stavros Constantine, a Greek medical doctor who's not a suspect as he slept in the same coach as Bianchi. The doctor ascertains that Ratchett was stabbed 12 times in a distorted pattern and with seemingly varying accuracy and lethality.
Found at the crime scene is a fragment of a letter, revealing that Ratchett was Lanfranco Cassetti, a gangster, who five years earlier, planned the kidnapping and murder of Daisy Armstrong, infant daughter of wealthy British Army Colonel Hamish Armstrong and his American wife, Sonia. Cassetti had hired a man to kidnap and kill Daisy, but then betrayed him and fled the country with the ransom money and was only revealed on the eve of his subordinate's execution. Overcome with grief, the pregnant Mrs. Armstrong had given premature birth to a stillborn baby and died in the process. Colonel Armstrong, consumed by grief from the loss of his family, committed suicide. A French maidservant named Paulette, wrongly suspected of complicity in the kidnapping, had also committed suicide to avoid being arrested, only to be found innocent afterwards. Further clues are discovered, including a pipe cleaner, a napkin, a broken watch, and a conductor's suit. Poirot's timeline of passenger activities the night before indicates that Cassetti was murdered at about 1:15 a.m., the time of the smashed watch and the scream. As the coach was isolated through the night, the murderer must be one of the passengers or its French conductor, Pierre Michel. Mrs. Hubbard reports that she detected a man in her room, later finding the bloodied knife discarded in her compartment. Foscarelli dramatically hints the murder was most likely part of a Mafia feud.
Poirot interviews the passengers and Pierre. He learns McQueen was the son of the Armstrong case's District Attorney and was very fond of Mrs. Armstrong; Beddoes had been a British Army batman; Countess Andrenyi is of German descent, and her maiden name is Grünwald (German for "Greenwood", Mrs. Armstrong's maiden name); Greta Ohlsson has limited knowledge of English and has been to America; Pierre Michel's daughter died five years earlier of scarlet fever; Colonel Arbuthnot, who displays knowledge of Armstrong's military decorations, reveals his plans to marry Ms. Debenham (which Poirot, suspicious, overheard) once his divorce from his philandering wife is finalized. When Poirot questions Princess Dragomiroff, he discovers she was a friend of Linda Arden, retired actress and Mrs. Armstrong's mother; the Princess was Sonia's godmother. He learns that the Armstrongs had a butler, a secretary, a cook, a chauffeur, and a nursemaid. Poirot flatters Schmidt by saying he knows a good cook. Foscarelli denies having been a chauffeur. Hardman reveals he is, in fact, a Pinkerton detective hired as a bodygaurd by Cassetti. When Poirot shows him the photo of Paulette, he is visibly moved.
Poirot gathers the suspects and describes two solutions to the murder. The first suggests Cassetti's murder was simply the result of a Mafia feud, with an undetected assailant escaping from the train through the snow. The second, more complex one links all the suspects on the coach to the Armstrong case. In addition to self-incriminating revelations by Hardman, McQueen, Schmidt, and the Princess, Poirot has deduced Countess Elena is actually Mrs Armstrong's sister. The Princess claimed the Armstrong's secretary's name as "Miss Freebody"; this is in fact Mary Debenham (freely associated from the well-known British department store (at that time known as 'Debenhams and Freebody'). Beddoes was the family butler; Miss Ohlsson was Daisy's nursemaid; Colonel Arbuthnot was a close army friend of Armstrong's; Foscarelli was the family's chauffeur; Pierre was Paulette's father; Hardman was a policeman in love with Paulette and Mrs. Hubbard is in fact Linda Arden, Mrs.Armstrong's mother. McQueen had drugged Cassetti, rendering him unconscious and allowing the conspirators to murder him jointly, the Andrenyis stabbing together, totaling 12 wounds - the typical number of an Anglo-Saxon jury - of differing damage. The scream and broken watch were provided by McQueen to persuade Poirot the murder had occurred earlier, when the other suspects were in the clear. In fact, the coach joined together to commit the murder once Poirot had returned to sleep, after two o'clock.
Poirot asks Bianchi to choose one solution before the train is freed from the snowdrift, but admits that the Yugoslavian police will much prefer the simple one. Bianchi, in sympathy with the suspects, and having nothing but contempt for Cassetti, who deserved to die for his actions, proposes the simple solution, and Poirot agrees, although he will struggle with his conscience. The relieved passengers and Pierre toast each other as the train is freed from the snowdrift and resumes its journey.
- Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot
- Lauren Bacall as Mrs. Hubbard
- Martin Balsam as Bianchi
- Ingrid Bergman as Greta Ohlsson
- Jacqueline Bisset as Countess Helena Andrenyi
- Jean-Pierre Cassel as Pierre Paul Michel
- Sean Connery as Colonel Arbuthnot
- John Gielgud as Edward Beddoes
- Wendy Hiller as Princess Natalia Dragomiroff
- Anthony Perkins as Hector McQueen
- Vanessa Redgrave as Mary Debenham
- Rachel Roberts as Hildegarde Schmidt
- Richard Widmark as Ratchett
- Michael York as Count Rudolf Andrenyi
- Colin Blakely as Cyrus B. Hardman
- George Coulouris as Dr. Constantine
- Denis Quilley as Antonio Foscarelli
- Vernon Dobtcheff as Concierge
- Jeremy Lloyd as A.D.C.
- John Moffatt as Chief Attendant
Dame Agatha Christie had been quite displeased with some film adaptations of her works made in the 1960s, and accordingly was unwilling to sell any more film rights. When Nat Cohen, chairman of EMI Films, and producer John Brabourne attempted to get her approval for this film, they felt it necessary to have Lord Mountbatten of Burma (of the British royal family and also Brabourne's father-in-law) help them broach the subject. In the end, according to Christie's husband Max Mallowan, "Agatha herself has always been allergic to the adaptation of her books by the cinema, but was persuaded to give a rather grudging appreciation to this one."
Christie's biographer Gwen Robyns quoted her as saying, "It was well made except for one mistake. It was Albert Finney, as my detective Hercule Poirot. I wrote that he had the finest moustache in England—and he didn't in the film. I thought that a pity—why shouldn't he?"
Cast members eagerly accepted upon first being approached. Lumet went to Sean Connery first, who admitted that he had been "stupidly flattered" by Lumet saying that if you get the biggest star, the rest will come along. Bergman was initially offered the role of Princess Dragomiroff, but instead requested to play Greta Ohlsson. Lumet said:
She had chosen a small part, and I couldn't persuade her to change her mind. She was sweetly stubborn. But stubborn she was ... Since her part was so small, I decided to film her one big scene, where she talks for almost five minutes, straight, all in one long take. A lot of actresses would have hesitated over that. She loved the idea and made the most of it. She ran the gamut of emotions. I've never seen anything like it.:246–247
Bergman eventually won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the portrayal, the last one of her illustrious career.
The entire budget was provided by EMI. The cost of the cast came to £554,100.
Unsworth shot the film with Panavision cameras. Interiors were filmed at Elstree Studios. Exterior shooting was mostly done in France in 1973, with a railroad workshop near Paris standing in for Istanbul station. The scenes of the train proceeding through Central Europe were filmed in the Jura Mountains on the then-recently closed railway line from Pontarlier to Gilley, with the scenes of the train stuck in snow being filmed in a cutting near Montbenoît. There were concerns about a lack of snow in the weeks preceding the scheduled shooting of the snowbound train, and plans were made to truck in large quantities of snow at considerable expense. However, heavy snowfall the night before the shooting made the extra snow unnecessary—just as well, as the snow-laden backup trucks had themselves become stuck in the snow.
The luxurious dining coach, where scenes were filmed, is now in the OSE museum of Thessaloniki, Greece. The local authorities plan to refit the train to make it available for tourist use around the Balkans in the near future.
Richard Rodney Bennett's Orient Express theme has been reworked into an orchestral suite and performed and recorded several times. It was performed on the original soundtrack album by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden under Marcus Dods. The piano soloist was the composer himself.
Murder on the Orient Express was released theatrically in the UK on 24 November 1974. The film was a success at the box office, given its tight budget of $1.4 million, earning $36 million in North America, making it the 11th highest-grossing film of 1974. Nat Cohen claimed it was the first film completely financed by a British company to make the top of the weekly US box office charts in Variety.
The film received positive reviews and currently holds a "Certified Fresh" 90% rating on the website Rotten Tomatoes from 39 reviews with an average rating of 7.71/10. The critical consensus reads: "Murder, intrigue, and a star-studded cast make this stylish production of Murder on the Orient Express one of the best Agatha Christie adaptations to see the silver screen." Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four, writing that the film "provides a good time, high style, a loving salute to an earlier period of filmmaking". The New York Times's chief critic of the era, Vincent Canby, wrote:
[...] had Dame Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express been made into a movie 40 years ago (when it was published here as Murder on the Calais Coach), it would have been photographed in black-and-white on a back lot in Burbank or Culver City, with one or two stars and a dozen character actors and studio contract players. Its running time would have been around 67 minutes and it could have been a very respectable B-picture. Murder on the Orient Express wasn't made into a movie 40 years ago, and after you see the Sidney Lumet production that opened yesterday at the Coronet, you may be both surprised and glad it wasn't. An earlier adaptation could have interfered with plans to produce this terrifically entertaining super-valentine to a kind of whodunit that may well be one of the last fixed points in our inflationary universe.
Awards and nominations
- "Murder on the Orient Express" (2010) episode of Agatha Christie's Poirot
- Murder on the Orient Express (2017 film), directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh
- AFI Murder on the Orient Express Retrieved 2020-04-27
- Can film-makers Carry On? Bell, Brian. The Observer 11 August 1974: 11.
- Boost for studios The Guardian 9 July 1975: 5.
- Mills, Nancy. The case of the vanishing mystery writer: Christie liked only two of the 19 movies made from her books. Chicago Tribune 30 October 1977: h44.
- Sanders, Dennis and Len Lovallo. The Agatha Christie Companion: The Complete Guide to Agatha Christie's Life and Work, (1984), pgs. 438–441. Subscription required ISBN 978-0425118450
- Chandler, Charlotte (20 February 2007). Ingrid: Ingrid Bergman, A Personal Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 19, 21, 294. ISBN 978-1416539148.
- Trains Oubliés Vol.2: Le PLM by José Banaudo, p. 54 (French). Editions du Cabri, Menton, France
- DVD documentary "Making Murder on the Orient Express: The Ride"
- Alexander Walker, National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties, Harrap, 1985 p. 130
- "Murder on the Orient Express, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 5 January 2012.
- "Murder on the Orient Express' tops US charts". The Times. London. 11 February 1975. p. 7.
- Movie Reviews for Murder on the Orient Express. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 13 November 2017.
- Roger Ebert reviews Murder on the Orient Express. Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
- Canby, Vincent (25 November 1974). "Crack 'Orient Express' Clicks as Film". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 June 2016.
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