Since Albert Finney's required many hours of make-up procedures before shooting each day and because he was performing in a stage play at the same time, he didn't have much time for his badly-needed sleep. A daily routine was developed where an ambulance arrived to pick-up the sleeping actor at his home, in his pajamas, carefully trying not to wake him up. During the half-hour commute to the studio, the make-up artists would begin the rough work on his face. The rest of the fine detail work was completed at the the studio on a still sleeping Finney.
An 84-year-old Agatha Christie attended the movie premiere in November of 1974. It was the only film adaptation in her lifetime that she was completely satisfied with. In particular, she felt that Albert Finney's performance came closest to her idea of Poirot (though was reportedly unimpressed with her sleuth's moustache). The premiere would be her final public appearance: she died fourteen months later, on January 12, 1976.
Wendy Hiller was second choice for Princess Dragonmiroff. Director Sidney Lumet's first choice was vetoed by the producers. The role was also turned down by Ingrid Bergman who chose instead to play Greta Ohlsson, the somewhat crazy Swedish nanny, even if this part had fewer scenes than the part of the Princess. Ingrid Bergman had good instincts since she won an Oscar for the role.
The final scene, in which Poirot shares his solution of the case, required more shots and camera angles than could be captured in a single take on the cramped set. The cast had to shoot the scene multiple times, as the required number of cameras didn't fit in such a small space. This was especially hard on Albert Finney, whose monologue was eight pages long.
Albert Finney, who was then 37 years old, was the third choice for the much-older Poirot. The role was offered to Alec Guinness who was unavailable as well as Paul Scofield. Special make-up was created to give Finney the appearance of the 55-60 year old beloved but peculiar Belgian detective.
The luxury food that is inspected and carried aboard the train early in the film had been stolen from the set just before shooting. All the food had to be bought again, in the middle of the night, on location in Paris.
The film boasts 58 Oscar nominations and 14 wins (not including 2 Honorary wins) from its principal cast and crew. Martin Balsam (1), Ingrid Bergman (3; 7 nods), Sean Connery (1), John Gielgud (1; 2 nods), Wendy Hiller (1; 3 nods), Vanessa Redgrave (1; 6 nods), Paul Dehn (1; 2 nods), Geoffrey Unsworth (2; 4 nods), Anne V. Coates (1; 5 nods), Tony Walton (1; 5 nods) and Jack Stephens (1; 2 nods) are Oscar winners; Lauren Bacall and Sidney Lumet are Honorary Oscar winners. Albert Finney (5), Bacall (1), Anthony Perkins (1), Rachel Roberts (1), Richard Widmark (1), Lumet (5), Richard Rodney Bennett (3) and producers Richard B. Goodwin (1) and John Brabourne (2) are Oscar nominees.
The actual Orient Express trains were no longer in existence at the time of shooting. However, the real Orient Express engine was used in the film although it couldn't travel very far. Only portions of the carriages still existed in museums, mostly in Belgium, and sometimes had to be recreated from real portions borrowed.
After several disappointing film adaptations, Agatha Christie initially refused to sell the film rights to any more of her books, but EMI chairman Nat Coleman enlisted the aid of Lord Louis Mountbatten to persuade Christie to allow the filming of her 1934 novel. It turned out to be her favorite film adaptation of any of her books. Mountbatten was the father-in-law of the film's producer John Brabourne
The poem that Rachel Roberts reads to the dozing Countess is "Kennst du das Land," by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, later set to music by Beethoven. The verse goes like this: Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn, Im dunklen Laub die Gold-Orangen glühn, Ein sanfter Wind vom blauen Himmel weht, Die Myrte still und hoch der Lorbeer steht, Kennst du es wohl? Dahin! Dahin Mocht ich mit dir, o mein Geliebter, ziehn.
There are two musical references to Shirley Temple movies. In the restaurant where Bianchi and Poirot dine, a trio plays "On The Good Ship Lollipop." And later Poirot sings two lines from "Animal Crackers in my Soup"
Although the producers agreed to all the other suggestions from casting director Dyson Lovell, they balked at his choice of Marlene Dietrich as The Countess, believing it was "too campy." Wendy Hiller ultimately played the role.
Richard Rodney Bennett was originally hired to arrange 1930s tunes for the soundtrack, but persuaded the studio that this was a cliché and that he should write an original score. Bennett said "Sidney Lumet wanted Eddie Duchin ... I wanted the Warsaw Concerto... the waltz [theme] was a combination of the two."
The poem that the Princess's maid reads aloud is "Kennst Du das Land" by the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The poem contains a line that translates as "What have they done, oh wretched child, to thee?" a reference to the murder of Daisy Armstrong.
There is a frequent mention of the place 'Shimoga' in the movie. At the time of the novel being written, Shimoga was indeed part of the kingdom of Mysore. By the time movie was made, kingdom of Mysore ceased to exist after Indian independence in 1947. Now, Shimoga is one of the popular districts in the state of Karnataka, which happens to be in South India.
The actor John Moffatt, who is listed in the cast as 'Chief Attendant' would later go on to provide the voice of Poirot himself in the BBC audio dramatization of 'Murder on the Orient Express' broadcast from 28 December 1993 to 1 January 1994.
Mrs. Hubbard mentions several times about the fact of being married two times. Lauren Bacall was really married two times (with Humphrey Bogart and Jason Robards. Coincidentally, the name Hubbard sounds a little like Robards and both were the second husband of character and also of the actress.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
When she has finished giving her evidence, Poirot thanks Mrs Hubbard for "playing your part". When she later appears with the dagger, he asks "Why did you bring this dagger from the place?". This indicates that Poirot has long identified her as Linda Arden, an actress famous for her performance as Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth and the line "Why did you bring these daggers from the place?"