|Murder on the Orient Express|
|Directed by||Sidney Lumet|
|Screenplay by||Paul Dehn|
|Based on||Murder on the Orient Express|
by Agatha Christie
|Produced by||John Brabourne|
|Edited by||Anne V. Coates|
|Music by||Richard Rodney Bennett|
G.W. Films Limited
|Distributed by||Anglo-EMI Film Distributors|
|Budget||£554,100 ($1.4 million)|
|Box office||$35.7 million|
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.
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 same coach as Poirot and Bianchi 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, but curiously questions the motives of his enemies, angering him. That night, Bianchi gives Poirot his compartment as he transfers to another coach. 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 Stavros Constantine, a Greek medical doctor who slept in the same coach as Bianchi. Dr. Constantine 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 and was only revealed on the eve of his partner'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 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 has limited knowledge of English and 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 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 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. 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. This is rejected by Bianchi and Dr. Constantine as absurd. The second, more complex solution links all the suspects in 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, Helena. 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 Armstrong's butler in the Army; Miss Ohlsson was Daisy's nursemaid; Colonel Arbuthnott 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 - -the typical number of a jury - -wounds 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 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 Bianchi and Dr. Constantine, both having slept in the other coach, which was locked.
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 knowing how evil Cassetti was, 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
On Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 90% based on 40 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." On Metacritic it has a weighted average score of 63 out of 100, based on 8 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
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.
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 that she liked.
|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|
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