Eighty-four-year-old Dame Agatha Christie attended the movie premiere in November 1974. It was the only movie adaptation in her lifetime with which that she was completely satisfied. In particular, she felt that Albert Finney's performance came closest to her idea of Poirot (though was reportedly unimpressed with her sleuth's mustache). The premiere was her final public appearance. She died fourteen months later, on January 12, 1976.
In 1929, a westbound Orient Express train was stuck in snow for five days at Tcherkesskeuy, approximately one hundred thirty kilometers (eighty-one miles) from Istanbul, Turkey. This incident inspired the setting of the book and movie.
Since Albert Finney 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 house, 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 studio on a still sleeping Finney.
During promotion and publicity junkets, many of the stars admitted, independently of one another, that their chief reason for appearing in this movie was the chance to meet and work with the other cast members. In her memoir, Lauren Bacall recalled that the lure for most of the cast was getting to act on-screen with "Albie" Finney.
The final scene, in which Poirot relates his solution to the crime, had to be shot countless times, as it required more angles than could be captured in a single take, and more cameras than could fit on the confining dining car set. The multiple takes were especially challenging for Albert Finney, whose uninterrupted monologue was eight pages long, but many cast members later recalled the tedium of sitting motionless for so long, maintaining their physical posturing for continuity, bolstered only by their professional drive to provide support for Finney's tour de force.
The luxury food that is inspected and carried aboard the train early in the movie had been stolen from the set just before shooting. All of the food had to be bought again, in the middle of the night, on-location in Paris, France.
The poem that the Princess' maid reads aloud is "Kennst Du das Land" by 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.
Albert Finney, who was then 37 years old, was the third choice for the much-older Poirot. The role was offered to Sir Alec Guinness, who was unavailable, as was Paul Scofield. Special make-up was created to give Finney the appearance of the 55-60 year old old beloved, but peculiar, Belgian detective.
After several disappointing movie adaptations, Dame Agatha Christie initially refused to sell the movie 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 movie adaptation of any of her books. Mountbatten was the father-in-law of producer John Brabourne.
With so many suspects in the plot, and none of them expendable, director Sidney Lumet decided that the audience's odds of keeping the characters straight would improve if he cast a familiar face in each role. Lumet thought the best way to acquire an all-star cast was to sign the biggest star first. In 1974, that was Sir Sean Connery, who Lumet had previously directed in The Hill (1965), The Anderson Tapes (1971), and The Offence (1973). Once Connery was attached, the remainder of the cast was set in a matter of weeks.
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 movie, although it couldn't travel very far. Only portions of the carriages still existed in museums, mostly in Belgium, and sometimes had to be re-created from real portions borrowed.
After Poirot finds the scarlet kimono in his luggage, and brings it into the car, where Bianchi, Doctor Constantine, and Colonel Arbuthnot are waiting, Arbuthnot asks, "Are you opening a dress shop?" In the novel, another character mistakes Poirot for Paul Poiret, the famous French couturier and costume designer.
Wendy Hiller was not first choice for the role of Princess Dragomiroff. Director Sidney Lumet initially wanted Marlene Dietrich, who refused to come out of retirement. The role was next offered to Ingrid Bergman, though Lumet told her she could play any role of her choosing. After reading the script, Bergman bypassed Dragomiroff in favor of Greta Ohlsson, the Swedish nurse. Lumet advised against it, reminding her that the nurse had fewer scenes than the Princess. But Bergman felt an affinity for the role, and her instincts paid off when she won an Oscar for it.
One of only two plots that Dame Agatha Christie derived from a real-life event. The other was The Mirror Crack'd (filmed in 1980), inspired by actress Gene Tierney, who gave birth to a brain-damaged child after contracting rubella from a contagious fan who broke quarantine to see the star make a personal appearance. As is the case in the Christie adaptation, the fan rushed up to the pregnant Tierney to kiss her in gratitude. The baby was ultimtely born developmentally disabled and had to be institutionalized.
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 Eddy Duchin, I wanted the Warsaw Concerto. The waltz (theme) was a combination of the two."
There is a frequent mention of the place "Shimoga" in this movie. At the time that the novel was written, and the movie is set, Shimoga was part of the kingdom of Mysore, which ceased to exist after Indian independence in 1947. Shimoga is now one of the popular districts in the state of Karnataka, which happens to be in South India.
In an interview, co-producer Richard Goodwin said that Vanessa Redgrave "would spend all of her lunchtimes converting the workers (to Communism), making speeches about politics in the canteen, while the rest of the actors would sit and listen to Sir John Gielgud telling his amazing stories. Eventually, the guys in the canteen asked if we could get Vanessa to go and talk to someone else."
The Cordon Bleu chef aboard the Orient Express, seen preparing elaborate gourmet meals for the wealthy passengers, was played by George Silver, who was, in real life, the proprietor of several low-cost fast-food restaurants.
In 1974, Sir John Gielgud also worked with Ingrid Bergman when he directed her on-stage in "The Constant Wife". When asked what he thought of her, he famously remarked, "Ingrid speaks five languages, and can't act in any of them."
When Paramount Pictures acquired the U.S. distribution rights, it was necessary to create new main and end titles because the British prints contained three errors. In the main titles, Colin Blakely's name was misspelled as "Colin Blankey". In the end titles, Wendy Hiller's name is misspelled as "Wendy Miller", and Albert Finney's name was omitted entirely. In reconstructing the revised credits, Paramount Pictures meticulously matched the existing font of the main title sequence, while creating an entirely new font for the end titles, which also Americanized the British spellings of words such as "jewellry" and "colour". The misspelled credits can still be seen on British-released DVDs and Blu-rays of this movie.
There are two musical references to Shirley Temple movies: (1) in the restaurant where Bianchi (Martin Balsam) and Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) dine, a trio plays "On the Good Ship Lollipop" from Bright Eyes (1934) and (2) Poirot later sings two lines from "Animal Crackers in my Soup" from Curly Top (1935).
One clue to the mystery's solution is the fact that several of the passengers in the Calais Coach, notably Greta Ohlsson (Ingrid Bergman), Mary Debenham (Vanessa Redgrave), and Gino Foscarelli (Denis Quilley), could not have afforded a trip on a train so luxurious at the Orient Express. Dame Agatha Christie, ever one to cover her bases, compensates for this by having the less affluent passengers travel in shared compartments, as opposed to second class compartments, which would have been located in a separate car of the train.
This movie boasts fifty-eight Oscar nominations and fourteen wins (not including two honorary wins) from its principal cast and crew. Martin Balsam (one), Ingrid Bergman (three; seven nods), Sir Sean Connery (one), Sir John Gielgud (one; two nods), Wendy Hiller (one; three nods), Vanessa Redgrave (one; six nods), Paul Dehn (one; two nods), Geoffrey Unsworth (two; four nods), Anne V. Coates (one; five nods), Tony Walton (one; five nods), and Jack Stephens (one; two nods) are Oscar winners; Lauren Bacall and Sidney Lumet are Honorary Oscar winners. Albert Finney (five), Bacall (one), Anthony Perkins (one), Rachel Roberts (one), Richard Widmark (one), Sidney Lumet (five), Sir Richard Rodney Bennett (three), and Producers Richard B. Goodwin (one) and John Brabourne (two) are Oscar nominees.
John Moffatt (Chief Attendant) provided the voice of Poirot in the BBC audio dramatization of "Murder on the Orient Express", broadcast from December 28, 1993, to January 1, 1994. Additionally, Moffatt portrayed Poirot on BBC radio in twenty-four other stories.
The final toast between the principals served two purposes: After two hours of role playing, it allowed the characters to drop their façades and interact transparently as a family. Secondly, director Sidney Lumet envisioned the toast as a theatrical curtain call, forming Lauren Bacall and Jacqueline Bisset into a "proscenium" from behind, into which each star steps, one at a time, for his or her bow.
This movie may hold the record for the largest number of major acting awards for its cast. Of the fifteen leading actors and actresses, thirteen received major awards and/or nominations for movie and stage. Altogether, they won forty-five major awards in their careers, and had more than one hundred more nominations. The tally includes eight Oscars and twenty-five more Academy Awards nominations, sixteen Golden Globes and thirty-two more nominations, nine BAFTA awards and twenty-nine more nominations, six television Emmy awards and seventeen more nominations, and five of them won six Tony awards on Broadway.
When this story takes place, the Orient Express and CIWL, Compagnie Inernationale des Wagons-Lits (International Sleeping-Car Company) were at their zenith. Belgian George Nagelmackers founded CIWL in 1874 to provide luxury train service across Europe. He got the idea after visiting the United States in 1867 to 1868 where he saw the success of the Pullman night trains. By 1886, CIWL was operating its luxurious dining and sleeping cars on train routes across Europe and into Asia. Eventually, it operated in Africa and much of Asia. The company owned no train engines outright. Its cars were pulled by the state-run railroads of the time. In 1931, the company reached its peak of two thousand two hundred sixty-eight railroad cars. CIWL branched out into a luxury hotel line. Over the years, the original company underwent mergers and separations in the travel industry.
The Orient Express in the 1930s as now, with the exception of twenty-first century train suites, passengers do not have private bathrooms. Passengers must share toilets and all must do without showers or baths. In 2018, from the shortest routes to transcontinental vacations with train suites, fares for passengers range from £2,200 to £40,000.
Culture clash and multiple language barriers are an essential thread of the story's fabric; indeed, Poirot states at the outset his fascination with "a group of strangers from different backgrounds brought together by fate, their destinies controlled by the train's engine." The ethnic authenticity that pervades this movie is a testament to the extraordinary actors and actresses, many of whom were portraying nationalities far removed from their own: Of the Brits, Albert Finney played a Belgian, Michael York a Hungarian, Jacqueline Bisset an American masquerading as a Hungarian, Wendy Hiller a Russian, Rachel Roberts a German, Denis Quilley an Italian, and George Coulouris a Greek, while Irishman Colin Blakely appeared as an American, and American Martin Balsam portrayed an Italian. Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jean Pierre Cassel, Sir Sean Connery, Sir John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, and Richard Widmark were less taxed, as they all played their own ethnicities in this movie.
Richard Rodney Bennett's Academy Award-nominated score is a tour de force, the centerpiece of which is his extended "Orient Express" suite. Fulfilling director Sidney Lumet's intention of making the locomotive a focal character in the story, the piece begins as the train pulls out of the Istanbul station and continues uninterrupted, often under dialogue, for nearly twenty minutes until the moment Poirot recognizes the stillness brought on by the snowdrift and "the night of red herrings" comes to an end. Ironically, following an early screening of this movie, legendary composer Bernard Herrmann accosted Bennett for his decision to primarily use major as opposed to minor chords in his score. While Herrmann thought the main theme should have emphasized the fact that "these people were travelling on a train to their doom", Bennett defended his choice, stating that Lumet wanted the music to reflect not the crime, but the lush, glistening and extravagant era the movie hoped to evoke.
The Orient Express was the first long-distance train to operate in Europe with sleeping and dining cars. It began service in 1883 and continued until the first decade of the twenty-first century. It ran three trains per week in each direction between Paris, France and Istanbul, Turkey. The trips were over four days and three nights. Service was interrupted during World War I and World War II. Modern air travel, Europe's new high-speed rail network, and declining demand for the slower, luxurious services led to the end of the Orient Express in 1977. In 1982, American James Sherwood revived the train over a route from London, England to Venice, Italy. After 2007, the Orient Express sleeper service ran just between Strasbourg, France and Vienna, Austria. It made its last run on December 14, 2009.
Colonel Arbuthnot praises the trial by jury system and how being judged by twelve men is the most sound judicial system in the world. Martin Balsam (Bianchi) portrayed Juror #1 in 12 Angry Men (1957), also directed by Sidney Lumet.
The character of Bianchi (Martin Balsam) was originally conceived in the novel as a Frenchman named M. Bouc. He was reconfigured as an Italian for the movie version, primarily to justify English as the common language between him and Poirot, thus avoiding stretches of extended dialogue between the characters in French, as frequently occurred in the book. Transforming M. Bouc into an Italian produced a happy by-product in Bianchi's comic banter with chauffeur Antonio Foscarelli (Denis Quilley).
This movie takes place in December of 1935, five years after the Armstrong kidnapping. The month provides a significant clue to the mystery regarding how overpopulated the train is: Bianchi (Martin Balsam) expresses visible shock that there are no available berths on the Orient Express for Poirot, to which Wagon Lit conductor Pierre (Jean Pierre Cassel) replies, "All the world elects to travel tonight."
When Poirot is bantering with the British officer on the Istanbul ferry, he reports feeling no prejudice against either the European or Asian sides of the continent, a sentiment true to Dame Agatha Christie's portrayal of her Belgian detective as a citizen of the world.
The youngest of the twenty cast members was Jacqueline Bisset (Countess Andrenyi), who was 30 years old at the time of this movie's release on November 21, 1974. The oldest cast member was George Coulouris (Dr. Constantine), who was 71 years old. Following the death of Albert Finney (Hercule Poirot) on February 7, 2019, Bisset is one of only five only surviving cast members as of March 2019 along with Sir Sean Connery (Colonel Arbuthnot), Vernon Dobtcheff (Concierge), Vanessa Redgrave (Mary Debenham), and Michael York (Count Andrenyi).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
When she has finished giving her evidence, Poirot (Albert Finney) thanks Mrs. Hubbard (Lauren Bacall) for "playing your part." Later, when she appears with the murder weapon, he asks "Why did you bring this dagger from the place?" This indicates that Poirot has long identified her as actress Linda Arden, famous for her performance as Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth and the quotation "Why did you bring these daggers from the place?" This covers what might be the only suspension of disbelief called for in Paul Dehn's screenplay, as it seems impossible that no one on the investigation team recognizes so famous a celebrity in their midst. In the novel, Dame Agatha Christie covers her bases: Once Arden is exposed, she removes a wig and other elements of disguise and speaks in a mellifluous, theatrical voice entirely different from the one she has been using. Christie also makes a point of stating, through her physical description of Mrs. Hubbard, that Arden has gained a great deal of weight since retiring from the stage.
In contrast to the novel, in which the passengers admit to Poirot's accusation, and then expand upon how the crime was committed, screenwriter Paul Dehn left the dining car in absolute stillness at the close of Poirot's summation, the passengers' silence a painful admission of their guilt. The only plot element lost by this otherwise effective device was the passengers' revelation of the reason they decided to commit the crime en masse as opposed to one of them acting on behalf of the family: so that none of them would have to live with the guilt of knowing whose blow had actually killed Ratchett.
In the final flashback scene, five of the thirteen conspirators (Mrs. Hubbard, Mary Debenham, Countess Andrenyi, Princess Dragomiroff, and Masterman) name Mrs. Armstrong as the reason for their actions; Mrs. Hubbard and Countess Andrenyi, along with Greta Ohlsson, also name Daisy Armstrong. Colonel Arbuthnot and Beddoes name Colonel Armstrong. Hardman and Pierre name Paulette Michel. Count Andrenyi is alone in naming a person still living; he names his wife. Foscarelli and Hildegarde Schmidt do not name anyone, but utter imprecations in their respective languages; Foscarelli mutters "vigliacco", which means "coward" in Italian, and Hildegarde Schmidt says "schweinehund", which literally translates from German as "pig-dog" and loosely translates as several English-language vulgar epithets.
Seven of the thirteen characters from the Calais Coach can be seen in the kidnapping sequence that opens the movie, although director Sidney Lumet takes great pains to obscure their familiar faces: Ratchett (Richard Widmark) holds the blanketed Daisy to his face in the bedroom and hallway, down the staircase and out through the kitchen's service entrance. Greta (Ingrid Bergman) is gagged and bound to an overturned chair, shown only from behind as she struggles to break free. Beddoes (Sir John Gielgud) is cushed from behind by Ratchett's accomplice, and falls to the ground with his back to the camera. One flight above, Hildegarde Schmidt (Rachel Roberts) looks down, putting her hands to her face in petrified response, with a ceiling light casting a stark glare to mask her features. Hardman (Colin Blakely) can be seen in a darkened long shot, exiting the Garden House with Paulette, the maid. Foscarelli (Denis Quilley) is run off the road by the getaway car, and emerges from the Armstrongs' Rolls-Royce to catch a glimpse of Ratchett's escape route. And, with her back to the camera, Mary Debenham (Vanessa Redgrave) exits Colonel Armstrong's plane with Mrs. Armstrong, clearing a path for the distraught couple through the crowd of clamoring newsmen; Redgrave's partial profile is then seen in the photo that accompanies the next newspaper headline.
While at first glance a traditional murder mystery, the resolution of this movie is one of few in the annals of fictional crime that does not utilize an established motive of the genre (i.e. greed, blackmail, revenge, crime of passion) to justify the killing. Rather, Dame Agatha Christie employs grief as the chief motive, an element that not only distracts audiences from guessing the solution, but also lends the story an unexpectedly emotional punch lacking in most mysteries. Of the 73 novels Christie penned, this is the only one in which her detective was sufficiently moved by the motive that he did not bring the killer(s) to justice.
In the novel, there was no way for Dame Agatha Christie to specify which twelve hands delivered the fatal blows to Ratchett, as Poirot was not present to see exactly how it was done. Poirot's best guess is that Helena (Countess Andrenyi) likely took a sleeping draught, and that her husband "filled in" for her. Once it became clear that the crime would have to be shown in explicit terms on-screen, screenwriter Paul Dehn cleverly assured a twist for those who might figure out the connection between the Armstrong family and Ratchett's murder: Dehn has the Andrenyis (Michael York and Jacqueline Bisset) join hands for one plunge of the knife, leaving the twelfth stab wound to Conductor Pierre Michel (Jean Pierre Cassel), the last character revealed to be connected to the Armstrong family, moments before Poirot begins his summation of the crime. Lending further contrast, the BBC's version of the story for Poirot (1989) (season twelve, episode three) has the family protect Helena by insisting that she not take part in the crime. In that rendition, the twelfth stab wound is administered by Dr. Constantine, who is revealed to have been Sonia Armstrong's obstetrician. While unfaithful to the original plot, this twist adds an undeniably intriguing element to the tale, as Dr. Constantine is part of the investigation team and therefore in a position to sway Poirot toward the idea of a mafioso having killed Ratchett, and away from the truth.
When Ratchett fails to answer the door on the morning after his murder, Pierre (Jean Pierre Cassel) tells Poirot (Albert Finney) that the chain is latched from the inside, and they proceed to break open the door. In a bit of poetic symmetry, it is later revealed that Pierre put the chain in place the night before, immediately following the completion of the murder.
Beddoes is bringing Ratchett his amber moon for breakfast when he finds him murdered. An Amber Moon is a cocktail containing Tabasco sauce, raw egg, and whiskey, or sometimes vodka. The drink is similar to a Prairie oyster, but has fewer ingredients, and includes alcohol. It is therefore intended more as a "pick me up" or "hair of the dog" hangover remedy. Wikipedia.com ingredients: three ounces Whiskey or vodka, one raw egg, Tabasco sauce, to taste. Preparation: Crack an egg into a tall glass, leaving the yolk unbroken. Pour in whiskey. Add Tabasco to taste, or serve on the side.
During the murder sequence, Sir John Gielgud becomes so carried away in his knifing of Richard Widmark that he clearly forgets to hand the weapon over to Denis Quilley, until he spots Jean Pierre Cassel, whose eyes cue him to transfer the prop.
Mafioso Casetti/Ratchett masterminded the kidnapping of the Armstrong baby, but his henchman committed the actual murder. In Dame Agatha Christie's last Poirot novel "Curtain: Poirot's Last Case" Poirot murders a serial killer. Thus, the evening of Ratchett's murder, everyone in the Sleeping Car/Pullman would eventually kill someone except Ratchett.