Murder on the Orient Express
Posted On July 17, 2021
You may have already seen my comments on Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun; two Hercule Poirot films produced by John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin. Murder on the Orient Express predates both of these films and was the first time Brabourne and Goodwin teamed up to produce an Agatha Christie film, so I’ve actually looked at the films “out of order” in a sense, however, as the role of Poirot is played by a different actor in this film – Albert Finney – it didn’t really matter too much.
Like the other two films, this has a ridiculous star-studded cast. Joining Finney are Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York, Jacqueline Bisset, and Anthony Perkins. I always enjoy seeing big names in ensembles. Connery, in particular, I was watching closely as I’m a James Bond enthusiast, and enjoying the fact that he doesn’t have to carry the film.
I must mention Albert Finney at this point who is probably the closest to carrying the film as he’s playing Poirot. Although he looks like the definitive Poirot we all think of (TVs David Suchet who played the role from the late 80s into the mid 2010s), his outrageous Belgian accent and speedy delivery had me missing his lines every now and then. He also didn’t feel particularly likeable, which isn’t to say he felt unlikeable either… there’s just nothing there for me to really latch onto and make me believe that he’s worth my time; a little alarming when he’s the lead. By all accounts, Academy Award and BAFTA nominations came his way for the role, so maybe I’m in the minority on this. His portrayal just doesn’t resonate with me. Peter Ustinov, in the other two films, seems to be having much more fun as Poirot. I don’t know why Finney didn’t return to the role, but I’m kind of glad.
Story-wise, this most resembles Death on the Nile, as you have the cast mostly confined to a small interior space – the train – for most of the film. It never feels particularly claustrophobic, which is welcome given the two hour-plus runtime, but does ensure the focus is on the murder and the characters around it. A clever storytelling device. What I didn’t particularly gel with, however, was that the plot is very, very intertwined. All these seemingly diverse passengers are all tied together and it’s actually hard to hold all the relationships in your head simultaneously. Eventually I just let it go and watched the movie in a very ‘dumb’ way, just letting the story play out and not trying to piece it all together. Which, if I’m honest, kind of ruined the whole point of watching a film like this. I didn’t have the same experience with the other two Poirot films, where I felt more in command of the action.
The resolution of the film is also quite disappointing. No spoilers, naturally, but I felt it was something of a cop-out. It’s certainly not what you expect, if you’ve seen other Poirot movies, or are even a fan of this kind of fiction. So I guess that’s quite clever as it comes out of nowhere. But, if I’m honest, I still felt let down by it and as mentioned, I wasn’t even trying to keep up and guess ‘whodunnit’. Cop-out is about the best I can do. Even Poirot himself seems to shrug his shoulders at how it all turns out.
All told, I’m glad I have this classic movie a spin in ye olde DVD player. It’s shot in a lovely way and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the soundtrack before ending this piece. One theme, in particular, is based on a waltz and really evokes the elegance, glamour and atmosphere of travel in the 1930s. So don’t get this review wrong; there’s all sorts of interesting aspects to the film. But for mine, with the leading man not gelling with me, and the storyline being extremely convoluted (even for Agatha Christie standards), it went wide of the mark, star-studded cast or not. Let me know what you think.