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UK 1974
Directed by
Sidney Lumet
128 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Murder On The Orient Express (1974)

Murder on the Orient Express works on two levels simultaneously. One is the intra-filmic level of the intricate who-dunnit plot. The other is the extra-filmic level of watching an ensemble of well-known thesps perform the various roles.

Taking the infamous Lindbergh kidnapping as it catalyst, Agatha Christie tells the story of what happened on board The Orient Express en route from Istanbul to Calais when a wealthy businessman (Richard Widmark) is found murdered.  One of the directors of the railway company (Martin Balsalm) happens to be on train along with the famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) and he asks the latter to take on the case. Poirot agrees but in order to avoid international scandal must do so while the train is trapped by a snowslide in the Yugoslavian countryside.

The solving of the murder is fun but what is even more fun is Finney’s marvellous performance as Poirot as he conducts a series of interviews with the dozen suspects played by a raft of A-list actors of the day including Lauren Bacall, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, Wendy Hiller, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave and Ingrid Bergman.  Achieving a remarkable physical transformation into a rotund little man with a waxed moustache and hair plastered down with pomade, Finney plays Poirot with a sputtering intensity that that borders on the comedic but never becomes ridiculous. In support, the rest of the cast are all fine (with the possible exception of Bergman who, ironically, won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar) and rightly keep their performances reigned in, giving Finney the stage in a performance which should be better known.

Lumet’s direction is judicious as he deals with the technical difficulties of filming almost entirely on board a train whilst the production design carefully reproduces the Art Deco style so popular at the time. Although no-one would claim this to be a great film as old school entertainment it is tops.




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