A Movie A Day: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974)
Has it occurred to you that there are too many clues in this room?
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
To illustrate just how much Albert Finney disappears into the role of Hercule Poirot let me just say that the movie was halfway through before the nagging “I know that guy from somewhere…” locked into place and I realized who the fuck it was playing the famous Belgian crime-solver.
The cast, on the surface, is the star of the film, but Sidney Lumet’s direction creeps up on you when you least expect it, like his awesome long, long, long train shot that tracks along the side of the Orient Express before it departs, passing by the windows on the platform side until we get a nice, epic shot of the front of the train. But the shot doesn’t end there. It holds, then slowely moves in on the front lamp, which sparks to life at just the right moment, accompanied by a little razzle-dazzle on the soundtrack, compliments of composer Richard Rodney Bennett.
If the train had been a spaceship, it would have been worthy of STAR WARS.
Let’s go over some of the huge cast of this movie. You have Finney as Poirot trying to solve the mystery of a murdered man (played by Richard Widmark) while on a headed across South-Eastern Europe towards Paris. The other occupants of the first class cabins include Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Martin Balsam, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York and Anthony Perkins.
What’s really impressive about this film is how they develop all these characters and don’t seem to really short-change any of them (with the possible exception of Sean Connery’s Col. Arbuthnot, who is surprisingly absent for most of the movie). And even more impressive is just how entertaining everybody is.
But Albert Finney is the hands-down MVP of the movie, his Poirot walking the fine line between cartoon character and believable person. He definitely leans closer to cartoon character as I can’t believe a character as smart, smarmy and hilarious can exist on this Earth, but he fits right into this world, which is both elegant and almost fantasy-like in execution.
Lumet films the whole thing very foggy, giving an otherworldy look to the film, which is essentially a bunch of people talking for 2 plus hours. It’s a great idea to keep it from feeling locked down, play-like on a stage.
I won’t go into great detail on the plot because there really isn’t much that isn’t a big spoiler outside of what I already told you, but I will say that I love the set-up.
I love that the murderer/murderers/murderess had this planned and just by a stroke of bad luck Poirot ended up on the train, along side his good friend, the owner of the railroad, played by Martin Balsam. Hell, Poirot doesn’t even want to try to solve the murder when it happens, but Balsam eggs him on.
Balsam is hilarious in this, sitting in as Poirot interviews everybody on the train one by one and after every interrogation Balsam proclaims “He did it!” or “She did it!” just as sure he’s right after every bit of back story we uncover.
It’s funny because that’s just how these things work. Red herrings and misleading characters always have you guessing and re-guessing with every bit of new info.
The more we come to find out about the dead man, the more it sounds like he got what he deserved, which leads to a genuinely awesome ending and revelation from Poirot. It’s a great twist on the conventional formula and one that feels wholly earned.
Jacqueline Bisset is amazingly hot in the movie as a Countess, Anthony Perkins is at his stammering best as Widmark’s assistant, Gielgud is his Gielgudy self as Widmark’s butler, Ingrid Berman is old, but still gorgeous (I must admit harboring a huge crush on her from her CASABLANCA and GASLIGHT days – She won the Oscar for Supporting Actress for this role, by the way), Bacall is cold and upper-crust (a perfect combination for her), Connery is mean and loud and Widmark is dickish, as to be expected.
Final Thoughts: I found MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS to a be a great showcase for superb actors, a fun playground to see a myriad of different personalities clash, creating often times fantastic sparks. Even with the stellar supporting cast filled with huge personalities, there are still none that can topple Albert Finney’s Oscar Nominated turn as Hercule Poirot. He seems to be having so much fun he’s essentially daring the audience not to enjoy themselves. Add on top of that some truly interesting visual filmmaking tricks by the great Sidney Lumet and you get an all-around winner. Also keep an eye out for the great hat-box trick (notice I added in the “box” to keep that from sounding dirty) that Poirot pulls off to pull a clue out of a burnt piece of paper… fucking awesome.
Here’s what we have lined up for the next week:
Thursday, November 13th: DANIEL (1983)
Friday, November 14th: EL DORADO (1967)
Saturday, November 15th: THE GAMBLER (1974)
Sunday, November 16th: ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984)
Monday, November 17th: SALVADOR (1986)
Tuesday, November 18th: BEST SELLER (1987)
Wednesday, November 19th: THE HOLCROT COVENANT (1985)
Looks like we’re swinging into the ‘80s for a little bit in the coming week. Some good lookin’ stuff in there. Can’t wait to dive into these upcoming titles! See you tomorrow for DANIEL, following director Sidney Lumet over to the 1983 drama starring Timothy Hutton, Ed Asner and Mandy Patinkin!
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest
November 11th: Ten Little Indians
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Nov. 12, 2008, 9:10 p.m. CST
by Harry The Hutt
What a great cast this film has.
Nov. 12, 2008, 9:21 p.m. CST
by Chicken Thunder
What's dirty about a hat trick? It's scoring three goals in a football game. Bizarre.
Nov. 12, 2008, 9:32 p.m. CST
Another triumph for Lumet. What a wonderful, if perhaps underrated director. Still going strong with the recent Before The Devil Knows You're Dead. Also, according to Ingid Bergman's biography "Notorious," she thought she should've been considered for an Oscar more for Autumn Sonota ('78) than this film. I agree, although her work in this is great, as usual. Amazing cast in a terrific film!!
Nov. 12, 2008, 9:41 p.m. CST
not sonota.. sorry. Gielgudy... love it. Glad you enjoyed the ride.
Nov. 12, 2008, 9:43 p.m. CST
Like I mentioned in yesterday's AMAD, if you haven't read Syney Lumet's Making Movies, read it. It gives great insight to making this movie, and to the choices he made. <p>
Nov. 12, 2008, 9:44 p.m. CST
That is all.
Nov. 12, 2008, 9:56 p.m. CST
Perkins' continual references to his Norman Bates character, the chilling first 5 minutes told in silence and flashback, the unabashed scenery chewing with so many great actors... suck it, Ustinov!
Nov. 12, 2008, 10:19 p.m. CST
by Mavra Chang
They simply don't cast movies like this anymore. Maybe I'm partial because several great actors from my top 10 list are in it, too. An amazing movie, from beginning to end. Thanks, Quint.
Nov. 12, 2008, 10:19 p.m. CST
by Yotz Von Frelnik
Connery, cool. I may rent this.
Nov. 12, 2008, 10:21 p.m. CST
I saw this for the first time about 10 years ago while I was in my early 20s. Although the movie looked a little aged back then, I think it suited the genre. I'm putting this on my short list of movies to rewatch. This flick is a must see for all mystery fans.
Nov. 12, 2008, 10:39 p.m. CST
by The Funketeer
I didn't realize Richard Widmark was in this. I may have to seek it out and watch it again. Haven't seen it since I was a kid.
Nov. 12, 2008, 11:46 p.m. CST
Definitely going to see this now. Loved Ustinov as Poirot, Sucet was good, Finney...could be interesting. <p>By the way, this is a truly inspired idea, Quint. (and whoever else is doing this. Isn't someone else doing this? Where do you find the time?) There are so many great films out there and this is probably the only time anyone under the age of 30 who isn't an extreme film buff will hear of them. Long Live Christie!
Nov. 13, 2008, 12:07 a.m. CST
I remember being on the film set in Ireland when i was about 4yrs old. My dad was focus puller on the movie.Apparently Sean Connery used to carry me around on his shoulders, but this i do not remember.
Nov. 13, 2008, 12:36 a.m. CST
Murder On The Orient Express & Before The Devil Knows You're Dead.... 34 years between & still going strong. Bravo!
Nov. 13, 2008, 12:42 a.m. CST
by Admiral Akwelches
Anybody that ever fucked Humphrey Bogart is immortal in my book. Her icy performance is lasting. I remember the first time I watched the film with my dad when I was like 8, before actors were actors and when I saw them for who they were trying to be. This is in the top five of all-time ensemble casts...any other thoughts?
Nov. 13, 2008, 2:25 a.m. CST
It's being played a lot on Encore lately, and you should all do yourselves a favor and check it out.
Nov. 13, 2008, 3:10 a.m. CST
Ok not the same movie, but it applies ;)
Nov. 13, 2008, 3:16 a.m. CST
I don't know why, but this movie SCREAMS early 70s to me in a way it shouldn't. But I have good memories of this film, as it's one of the two only movies I own on VHS.
Nov. 13, 2008, 6:40 a.m. CST
Peter Ustinov is the best Hercule Poirot. I never really cared much for Finney in this part. Finney is a good actor though.
Nov. 13, 2008, 9:31 a.m. CST
I was very young when I saw this film at its release and, even then, I remember enjoying it. There are few specifics that stuck in my brain: the hat box trick, which was very cool, and the actual murder of the victim. I kept trying to work out how the movie makers did it without really killing the actor. I’ve seen it since and it definitely holds up to adult viewing. Another good Christie film is Evil Under the Sun – you just can’t go wrong with Maggie Smith and Peter Ustinov is a good Poirot as well.
Nov. 13, 2008, 11:21 a.m. CST
It does have that early '70s feel, may be due to all the vaseline smeared on the lens. I remember it being released in the wintertime, and its a perfect get-cozy-in-the-house murder mystery.<p>And Finney like his mate Michael Caine, seem to get better with age like a fine wine.
Nov. 13, 2008, 11:24 a.m. CST
Quint, have you ever seen The Last Of Sheila? It was co-written by Anthony Perkins, and quite enjoyable.
Nov. 13, 2008, 11:51 a.m. CST
...I still have soft spots for Finney (as a more aggressive version) and Ustinov (as a more grandfatherly type). In short, whatever the actor, Poirot has rocked.
Nov. 13, 2008, 12:30 p.m. CST
Dude, that's my favorite line from "Murder by Death". Along with "I don't hear nothin', pop. What do you hear?" "Double negative and dog."
Nov. 13, 2008, 12:40 p.m. CST
Even Tony Randall played a "thin" Poirot in "The ABC Murders" -- not a great movie, but still fun to watch Randall chew the scenery -- but for me, Albert Finney disappears into the role and all I see is Poirot. Sort of like Frederic March in "The Adventures of Mark Twain." I love Hal Holbrook on stage, but March manages to vanish and just leave Twain -- and plays him from his 20s to his 70s, to boot. (Don't bother looking; this film isn't on DVD, mores the pity.) I second "skimn"; no list of great movie mysteries is complete without "The Last of Sheila" and I'll add one more: "Witness for the Prosecution." Agatha Christie filtered through Billy Wilder? It doesn't get much better than that.
Nov. 13, 2008, 1 p.m. CST
If you've never seen "Once Upon a Time in America." So say we all?
Nov. 13, 2008, 1:29 p.m. CST
...with The Holcroft Covenant. Caine at his Jaws 4/On Deadly Ground worse, lame plot, bad acting all around.
Nov. 13, 2008, 1:51 p.m. CST
Man, I have to watch the Holcroft Covenant again. I seem to remember liking it.
Nov. 13, 2008, 2:22 p.m. CST
...is the perfect partner to this movie. Another amazing ensemble Christie adaptation. You should definitely check it out, Quint.
Nov. 13, 2008, 2:48 p.m. CST
The Gambler is a '70s great. James Caan had a great film or two in him each decade, outside of The Godfather. This, Thief, Misery,...
Nov. 14, 2008, 1:19 p.m. CST
If you can figure out why the bad guys want Caine's character in charge, good luck to you. But jabootu sums it up better than I could... http://www.jabootu.com/holcroft.htm
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