Six people travel in a railroad sleeping car from Marseilles to Paris. Upon their arrival, a woman is found dead in one of the berths. The police investigate the other five passengers, ...
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Six people travel in a railroad sleeping car from Marseilles to Paris. Upon their arrival, a woman is found dead in one of the berths. The police investigate the other five passengers, suspecting that one of them committed the homicide, but the suspects are killed one by one. The last two must solve the case themselves before they become the next victims. Written by
"The Sleeping Car Murders" is a quintessential and bona fide and prototypic Giallo, and yet at the same time NOT a Giallo at all. Gialli are generally speaking Italian productions from the early 70's with a script written directly for the screen. "The Sleeping Car Murders" is French, released during the mid 60's (when Mario Bava only just kick-started the Giallo concept in Italy) and the script was adapted from a novel by Sébastien Japristot. Surely both Japristot and director Costa-Gavras didn't had a clue what a Giallo in fact was and simply aimed to deliver a good old-fashioned whodunit that would keep the reader/viewer guessing until the very end. Well, the least you could say is they succeeded! "The Sleeping Car Murders" is an engaging, intelligent and convoluted murder-mystery with a tremendous amount of effective red herrings, detailed character drawings and one perplexedly flawless conclusion. I honestly can't fathom why this movie is so little known, especially since it concerns the writer of "A Very Long Engagement" and the director of the political top thriller "Z". If this exact same story were filmed by, say, Alfred Hitchcock, I bet the film would have ranked high in this website's top 250.
Speaking of Hitchcock; several of his film revolved on the potentially perfect murder plot (like "Strangers on a Train", "Dial M for Murder" ) but in my humble opinion this is the film which comes up with the most ideal and waterproof scheme to get away with murder. I've rarely been overwhelmed and impressed as much as when upon witnessing the denouement of "The Sleeping Car Murders". Obviously I can't reveal too much about the climax, but it's so damn great that I really was almost tempted to select some random people and try out the formula myself! Six strangers share a compartment on the night train to Paris, one of them being a fare dodger who met up with a cute young girl in the compartment itself. The next morning one of travelers, a woman, lies murdered in her bed and a hugely complicated police investigation led by the cynical Inspector Graziani ensues. The next following days, however, the other residents of the compartment are murdered Agatha Christie style - in cold blood as well, as if the killer wants to eliminate all potential witnesses before they have a chance to talk to the police. With the number of compartment survivors rapidly decreasing, the fare dodger and his girlfriend will have to seek protection before the killer finds them.
The set-up of "The Sleeping Car Murders" is brilliant, without any form of exaggeration, and the tight screenplay fills in every tiny detail and remains always several steps ahead of even the cleverest viewers. The plot patiently takes its time to draw a detailed portrait of every witness and, since they each have their own dark secrets and suspicious characteristics, they could all be the culprits. The structure and unfolding of the plot is truly genius here. Whenever you're sure you figured out the killer's identity, he/she gets killed or some other type of twist points out he/she couldn't have done it. The film also gives some marvelous and realistic insight into the progress of a police murder investigation, like stressed Inspectors, false attention-seeking witnesses, dead-end leads, media circuses and a lot of hatred from wrongfully accused suspects. The entire cast and crew also contributes a great deal to the high level of brilliance of the film as well. This may perhaps have been Costa-Gavras' long-feature debut as a director, but his obvious talents and straightforward vision place his right away up there with the greatest film-makers ever. The performances, particularly from Simone Signoret and Yves Montand, are just as top-notch as every other tiniest detail in the rest of this ingenious but shamefully overlooked production.
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