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26 September 2012

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974): A Lauren Bacall Classic

Lauren Bacall boards the Orient Express
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974) will be airing tonight on Turner Classic Movies at 2:15 am EST as TCM continues to celebrate Lauren Bacall every Wednesday night in Spetember.

Sidney Lumet's 1974 film adaptation of Agatha Christie's classic crime novel Murder on the Orient Express is on of the few versions of her stories of which the author approved. Lumet (director of Katharine Hepburn masterpiece LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (1962)) assembled an all-star cast for this film, headed by Albert Finney in the role of detective Hercule Poirot.

Poirot: “For three days, all these people, these total strangers, meet in a single train whose engine controls their destiny.”

Poirot finds himself travelling from Istanbul to Paris on the Orient Express, a train almost as famous as its illustrious passengers. On the first day of their journey, Poirot is approached by the wealthy, though mysterious, Mr. Ratchett who tells Poirot that he is afraid for his life. That night, the man is poisoned and brutally murder by twelve stab wounds. The train has gotten stuck because of snowfall, and Poirot takes it upon himself to solve the case before their reach their next destination. Is it possible that Ratchett, or any of the other passengers, are in some way connected to the mysterious kidnapping and murder of young Daisy Armstrong a few years before? Why are there so many clues? Who is covering up for whom, and why? Is this man's murder justified by his heinous past? The answers to these questions will certainly surprise you.
The premier of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS was Agatha Christie's final public appearance before her death in 1976. She had been reluctant to sell the rights of the story to be made into a film due to her disappointment at recent adaptations of her stories for the screen. owever, she was reportedly fairly satisfied with the final product, except for one minor flaw:
"It was well made except for one mistake. It was Albert Finney, as my detective Hercule Poirot. I wrote that he had the finest moustache in England - and he didn't in the film. I thought that a pity - why shouldn't he?" (Agatha Christie to biographer Gwen Robyns)
Finney performed the part of Poirot well enough, but his voice and mannerisms did not fit the part as well as others who have played the famous detective, most notably: David Suchet.
Mary Debenham (Vanessa Redgrave): "What a funny little man!"
Col. Arbuthnot (Sean Connery): "Obviously a frog."

The film boasts a star-studded cast of stellar proportions. Lumet knew that if he cast the biggest actor of the day first, then the rest would agree so as to work with that actor. Sean Connery was the biggest name of the day, having been playing James Bond for the last decade, so he was cast first. Many of the actors had performed together before, and several of them either had made or would make film and TV versions of Agatha Christie mysteries.
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS was nominated for several Oscars, but Ingrid Bergman was the only winner for the picture. She played Greta, a mousy Swedish missionary, and the five-minute scene in which she performed so well was shot in a single continues take. Because Bergman (a native Swede) had been making films in America for so long, a speech coach had to be employed to teach her how to use a Swedish accent for this role!
Greta (in thick Sweedish accent): “I was born backwards. That is why I work in Africa as missionary teaching little brown babies more backwards than myself.”

John Gielgud gives a subtle, but stellar performance as Beddoes, valet of the victim.

          Poirot: “Does he speak English?”
          Bedoes: “A kind of English, sir. I think he learned it in a place called ‘Chicago.’”

          Bedoes: “I have often thought, sir, that instead of our employers requiring references from us, we should require references from them.”

Wendy Hiller, one of the very first actresses to play Eliza Doolittle on the screen in PYGMALION (1938), plays the elderly Princess Dragomiroff.

          Poirot: “You never smile, Madame la Contesse.”
          Princess: “My doctor has advised against it.”

          Mrs. Hubbard: “Don’t you agree the man must have entered my compartment to gain access to Mr. Ratchett?”
          Princess: “I can think of no other reason, Madame.”

Lauren Bacall almost steals the movie as loud-mouthed, wealthy, American, Mrs. Harriet Belinda Hubbard. Although it cannot truly be said that Lauren Bacall is the star of the movie, she certainly holds a very commanding position as an actress and as a character. 
Poirot: “Why did you bring this dagger from the place?”
Mrs. Hubbard: “Because I found it in my makeup bag.”  

Mrs. Hubbard: “Well! My second husband, Mr. Hubbard, would have raised hell. No place for my makeup bag, no ice in my drinking water, and the hot water burps as it comes out of the faucet!”

Mrs. Hubbard: “My second husband said always to ask for change in dollars or, at worst, sterling. So, for Pete’s sake, what’s a ‘Drakma’?”

Mrs. Hubbard: “I have known many warm relations with both my husbands.”
Bianchi: “With your eyes closed?”
Mrs. Hubbard: “That helped."

Other members of the cast include Martin BalsamJacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Anthony Perkins, Rachel Roberts, and Michael York. MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS has a very detailed Wikipedia page, so if you are interested in this movie, I suggest you take a look there. The Wiki author has provided lists of suspects and clues, a chronology of events, and a diagram of the train and its inhabitants. Although I have not myself read Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, I am comfortably recommending any of her books to readers. The Sidney Lumet's 1974 film is a masterpiece, and I urge all film lovers to purchase a copy for their DVD/BluRay collection.


  1. First, welcome to the LAMB!
    Second, this is a great movie based in a great book. Both are surprising. Ingrid is awesome and deserved her Supporting Actress Oscar.
    I didn't like Tony Perkins being stereotiped and having a mother-son relationship with Mrs. Armstrong. And Lauren Bacall could have better moments, seing how many memorable lines Mrs. Hubbard had in the book!

    1. Thank you! I should totally read the book, especially if I get to imagine Lauren Bacall as Mrs. Hubbard. Thanks for reading!

  2. I absolutely adore this film and love that you gave it this special attention, Margaret. Wonderful piece!


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