The first class compartment of the December 1935 departure of the Orient Express from Istanbul is full, unusual for this time of the year. Regardless, famed and fastidious Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, who needs to get back to London immediately, is able to secure last minute passage in the compartment with the assistance of his friend, Signor Bianchi, one of the directors of the train line who is also making the trip. Some of the first class passengers seem concerned about Poirot's presence on the train. At least one of them has reason to be concerned, as later, another first class passenger, who earlier in the trip asked Poirot to provide protection for him due to several death threats, is found murdered in his stateroom by multiple stabbings. At the time the victim is found, the train is unexpectedly stopped and delayed due to snow in remote Yugoslavia, which may be problematic for the murderer in getting away now that Poirot is on the case, which he is doing as a favour to ... Written by
When Agatha Christie Finally Came Into Her Own Cinematically
Agatha Christie lived long enough to enjoy something few of her contemporaries could claim.
Movies based on Christie's novels and stories were being made back to the 1930s. One early one with Charles Laughton as Hercule Poiret so turned her off that she was hesitant about future productions of her work. But they were made - like the two versions of LOVE FROM A STRANGER. There were two high points: Rene Clair's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE and Billy Wilder's WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (oddly enough with Laughton again, but in a better fitting performance). Then came the popular series of Miss Marple films with Margaret Rutherford, which were rewritten to emphasize Rutherford's comic abilities (and to give Miss Marple a companion - Mr. Stringer, played by Rutherford's husband Stringer Davis). Another attempt at Poirot was made, again as a comic film, THE A.B.C.MURDERS (with Tony Randall as Poirot). Christie was not amused. But in 1974 she saw her vision of Hercule Poirot as a character put properly on screen by Albert Finney in MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.
It gave her a satisfaction that few mystery novelists of her age ever had. Dorothy Sayers did live to see Lord Peter Wimsey played by Robert Montgomery in BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON, but while entertaining it was not the Wimsey that she created - she died before she could see Ian Carmichael play the role on a series of television multi-episodes shows based on her novels. While Josephine Tey's novels occasionally were made into films, her Inspector Grant was not turned into a good running series character.
I think that the reason that Agatha Christie was satisfied was the care that Sidney Lumet took with MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. Not only the all star cast involved, but keeping the story in the late 1920s to early 1930s style, with clothing, vehicles, and class snobbery maintained. It actually helped preserve the novel's effectiveness.
The casting is quite good. Poirot is ably played by Finney, who is fussy but also serious and sharp when going over the clues and interrogations. Martin Balsam as his friend, the railroad official, is properly "watsonish", constantly jumping at conclusions as to who the killer is. Interestingly forgotten in the background is the only other passenger we learn of that is not under suspicion, the Greek doctor who assists Poirot (George Coulouris). In the 1940s Coulouris would have been a red herring at least.
The suspects (led by Lauren Bacall and Wendy Hiller) are properly snobbish (especially Sean Connery). They are even snobbish towards each other. But the question of who killed the victim is handled to constantly throw off the viewers. It is one of the most perfectly balanced whodunits.
I only have one minor criticism. The murder centers on a "Lindbergh" kidnap-murder tragedy of the past, and the killer has to be someone after the real brains behind the tragedy. So all the suspects happen to be connected to the victim(s). But as it turns out there was one victim who was overlooked - the patsy killer (based on Hauptmann?) who was frightened into committing the crime and was hanged. It would have been interesting if the family of this criminal also had been represented among the suspects.
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