Murder on the Orient Express (1974 film)

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Murder on the Orient Express
Original British quad format film poster
Directed bySidney Lumet
Screenplay byPaul Dehn
Based onMurder on the Orient Express
1934 novel
by Agatha Christie
Produced byJohn Brabourne
Richard Goodwin
CinematographyGeoffrey Unsworth
Edited byAnne V. Coates
Music byRichard Rodney Bennett
G.W. Films Limited
EMI Films
Distributed byAnglo-EMI Film Distributors
Release date
  • 21 November 1974 (1974-11-21) (UK)
Running time
128 minutes[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom[2]
Budget£554,100 ($1.4 million)[3]
Box office$35.7 million[4]

Murder on the Orient Express is a 1974 British mystery film directed by Sidney Lumet, produced by John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin, and based on the 1934 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie.

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, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York, Rachel Roberts, Jacqueline Bisset, Anthony Perkins, Richard Widmark and Wendy Hiller. The screenplay is by Paul Dehn.

The film was a commercial and critical success. Bergman won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, and the film received five other nominations at the 47th Academy Awards: Best Actor (Finney), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, and Best Costume Design.


The opening of the film shows news clippings of the 1930 kidnapping of Daisy Armstrong, who is later found murdered.

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 that owns the line who offers him a compartment. The other passengers are American widow Harriet Belinda Hubbard; English governess Mary Debenham; Swedish missionary Greta Ohlsson; American businessman Samuel Ratchett, with his secretary/translator Hector McQueen and English valet Edward Beddoes; Italian-American car salesman Antonio ("Gino") Foscarelli; elderly Russian Princess Natalia Dragomiroff and her German maid Hildegarde Schmidt; Hungarian Count Rudolf Andrenyi and his wife Elena; British Indian Army Colonel John Arbuthnott; and American theatrical agent Cyrus Hardman.

The morning after the train departs, Ratchett tries to secure Poirot's services as a bodyguard for $15,000 as he has received death threats. Poirot declines Ratchett's offer, telling him, " interest in your case is... dwindling." That night, Bianchi gives Poirot his compartment and shares a coach with Stavros Constantine, a Greek doctor. The train is stopped by a snowdrift between Vinkovci 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 Dr. Constantine, who 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 actually 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 a Mafia colleague help him kidnap and kill Daisy, but then betrayed him and fled the country with the ransom money; he was only revealed on the eve of his partner's execution. Overcome with grief, the pregnant Mrs. Armstrong gave 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, but was found innocent afterwards. Further clues are discovered, including a pipe cleaner, a handkerchief with the initial "H", Cassetti's 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 its passengers or the train's 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; Greta Ohlsson appears to have limited knowledge of English but has been to America; Countess Andrenyi is of German descent, and her maiden name is Grünwald (German for "Greenwood", Mrs. Armstrong's maiden name); Pierre Michel's daughter died five years earlier of scarlet fever; Colonel Arbuthnott, who displays knowledge of Armstrong's military decorations, reveals his plans to marry Miss Debenham once his divorce from his philandering wife is finalized, which he claims was what the cryptic discussion Poirot overheard in Istanbul was about. When Poirot questions Princess Dragomiroff, he discovers she was a friend of Linda Arden, retired American 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 the Princess's maid, Schmidt, by noting how fine a cook she is, throwing her off. Foscarelli denies having been a chauffeur. Hardman reveals he is, in fact, a Pinkerton detective hired as a bodyguard 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. He advises them not to automatically dismiss either. The first suggests Cassetti's murder was a Mafia feud killing - an unknown man disguised himself as conductor, stabbed Ratchett/Cassetti, and discarded the uniform coat, with the undetected assailant escaping from the train through the snow. This is rejected by Bianchi and Dr. Constantine as absurd but Poirot tells them they may reconsider that opinion.

The second, more complex and far-reaching solution links all the suspects in the coach to the Armstrong case. In addition to self-incriminating revelations Poirot had managed to extract from Hardman, McQueen, Schmidt, and the Princess, the detective has deduced Countess Elena is actually Mrs. Armstrong's younger sister, Helena. The Princess claimed the Armstrongs' secretary's was a "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 Armstrong household's butler; Ohlsson was Daisy's nursemaid; Colonel Arbuthnott was a close army friend of Armstrong; 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 - and arguably the brains behind this whole plan. McQueen had drugged Cassetti, rendering him unconscious and allowing the conspirators to murder him jointly (the Andrenyis stabbing together), totaling 12 – the complement of a typical jury – wounds of differing damage. The scream and broken watch were provided by McQueen to persuade Poirot that the murder had occurred earlier, when the other suspects were in the clear. In fact, the suspects joined to commit the murder once Poirot had returned to sleep, after two o'clock. The only passengers not involved in the murder are Signor Bianchi and Dr. Constantine.

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 after learning how evil Cassetti was, proposes the first solution, and Dr. Constantine and Poirot agree, although he will struggle with his conscience. The train then, somewhat symbolically, is freed from the snowdrift and resumes its journey.




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, Sir 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." According to one report, Christie gave approval because she liked the previous films of the producers, Romeo and Juliet and Tales of Beatrix Potter.[5]


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?"[6]

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.[7]: 246–247 

Bergman won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the portrayal. The entire budget was provided by EMI. The cost of the cast came to £554,100.[3]


Unsworth shot the film with Panavision cameras. Interiors were filmed at Elstree Studios. Exterior shooting was mostly done in France in 1973, with a railway 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.[8] 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.[9]


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.


Box office[edit]

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,[10] earning $36 million in North America,[10][11] 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.[12]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 90% based on 41 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8/10. The website's critics 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."[13] On Metacritic it has a weighted average score of 63 out of 100, based on 8 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[14]

Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four, writing that it "provides a good time, high style, a loving salute to an earlier period of filmmaking".[15] 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.[16]

Agatha Christie[edit]

Christie, who died fourteen months after the release of the film, stated this and Witness for the Prosecution were the only movie adaptations of her books which she liked although she expressed disappointment with Poirot (Finney)'s moustache, which was far from the fabulous hirsute creation she had detailed in her mysteries.[5]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award ceremony Category Nominee Result
2005 Satellite Awards Best Classic DVD Murder on the Orient Express Nominated
1976 Grammy Awards Album of Best Original Score
Written for a Motion Picture or a Television Special
Richard Rodney Bennett Nominated
1975 Academy Awards Best Actor Albert Finney Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Ingrid Bergman Won
Best Adapted Screenplay Paul Dehn Nominated
Best Cinematography Geoffrey Unsworth Nominated
Best Costume Design Tony Walton Nominated
Best Original Score Richard Rodney Bennett Nominated
BAFTA Awards Best Film John Brabourne, Richard Goodwin Nominated
Best Actor Albert Finney Nominated
Best Direction Sidney Lumet Nominated
Best Supporting Actor John Gielgud Won
Best Supporting Actress Ingrid Bergman Won
Best Cinematography Geoffrey Unsworth Nominated
Best Editing Anne V. Coates Nominated
Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music Richard Rodney Bennett Won
Best Production Design Tony Walton Nominated
Best Costume Design Tony Walton Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Sidney Lumet Nominated
Edgar Award Best Motion Picture Screenplay Paul Dehn Nominated
Evening Standard British Film Awards Best Film Sidney Lumet Won
Best Actor Albert Finney Won
Best Actress Wendy Hiller Won
Writers' Guild of Great Britain Awards Best British Screenplay Paul Dehn Won
1974 National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films Murder on the Orient Express Won

See also[edit]


  1. ^ AFI Murder on the Orient Express Archived 29 November 2020 at the Wayback Machine; retrieved 27 April 2020.
  2. ^ "LUMIERE : Film #61364 : Murder on the Orient Express". Archived from the original on 24 October 2019. Retrieved 18 November 2019.
  3. ^ a b Bell, Brian, "Can film-makers Carry On?", The Observer, 11 August 1974: 11.
  4. ^ "Boost for studios", The Guardian, 9 July 1975: 5.
  5. ^ a b 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.
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ Chandler, Charlotte (20 February 2007). Ingrid: Ingrid Bergman, A Personal Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 19, 21, 294. ISBN 978-1416539148.
  8. ^ Trains Oubliés Vol.2: Le PLM by José Banaudo, p. 54 (French). Editions du Cabri, Menton, France
  9. ^ DVD documentary "Making Murder on the Orient Express: The Ride"
  10. ^ a b Alexander Walker, National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties, Harrap, 1985 p. 130
  11. ^ "Murder on the Orient Express, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Archived from the original on 13 April 2012. Retrieved 5 January 2012.
  12. ^ "Murder on the Orient Express' tops US charts". The Times. London. 11 February 1975. p. 7.
  13. ^ Movie Reviews for Murder on the Orient Express Archived 15 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 13 November 2017.
  14. ^ "Murder on the Orient Express". Metacritic.
  15. ^ Roger Ebert reviews Murder on the Orient Express. Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
  16. ^ Canby, Vincent (25 November 1974). "Crack 'Orient Express' Clicks as Film". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 1 July 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2016.

External links[edit]