Murder on the Orient Express

Year: 1974
Production Co: EMI
Director: Sidney Lumet
Writer: Paul Dehn
Cast: Albert Finney, Sean Connery, Jacqueline Bisset, Michael York, Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave

I can only imagine Agatha Christie handled the twist denouement of this story better on the page than the movie did on the screen, because I found it dreadfully contrived. I was expecting that one of the passengers on the titular train was the murderer and the story would arrange and obfuscate clues about who it was, keeping you guessing until the very end when Poirot (Albert Finney) would announce with a flourish 'thus, Mr __ is the killer!'.

As of writing this review I haven't yet seen Kenneth Brannagh's high star wattage 2017 remake (and after this I'm a bit less inclined to), but one of the things I'll be interested in is how Brannagh plays the famous detective. I found Finney's performance borderline pantomime-y and all over the place. I gathered he was trying to make Poirot appear like a clownish dolt to mask his true genius and disarm people around him, but even that's a guess.

Other than that it's only interesting because Sidney Lumet directed it, and I wondered if the anecdote I've heard about him (that he only signed on to It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World because some contemporary said he'd be incapable of making a comedy) had something to do with it, that a director known for taut American thrillers could pull off one of the most European stories around with its high minded fustiness.

Poirot has just solved a case and is boarding the titular train in Istanbul bound for what he thinks will be a relaxing journey to Paris, where he's been called on to London to look into another case.

After getting a berth on the fully-booked train thanks to the intervention of a friend, Poirot settles in before being approached by Ratchett (Richard Widmark), an American billionaire with plenty of enemies who knows of Poirot's reputation and asks him for protection, fearing someone might move against him during the journey.

Poirot isn't interested in helping the boorish, self-important industrialist but when he turns up dead the next morning, the game is afoot. We've already been introduced to the eclectic group of other passengers (and what a cast), and Poirot sets about interviewing them all to try and get to the bottom of the case while the train stops short, trapped in the middle of nowhere because of snowdrifts.

It's all got to do with mafia connections, a case from a few years prior about the young girl kidnapped from a rich family and murdered, and Poirot's deduction that everyone on board is actually linked not just to the murdered girl case but Ratchett himself.

But as I said, I found the explanation behind the murder all a bit silly and despite some interesting costuming and art decoration and watching Lumet stretch his aesthetic talent, I was disappointed.

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