Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) boards the Orient Express with his friend Martin Balsam(playing an Italian). On the train is an eccentric group of characters: sullen millionaire RichardWidmark, his twitchy aide Anthony Perkins, motor-mouthed Lauren Bacall, Bible-obsessedIngrid Bergman, aristocratic couple Michael York and Jaqueline Bisset, army officer SeanConnery, his lover Vanessa Redgrave, princess Wendy Hiller, and so on and on, each with anaccent more outrageous than th… last. A murder occurs the first night out, and Poirot must solvethe mystery before the train is freed from the snowdrift it ran into.
You know you’re in the 1970s when a big-budget film stars every conceivable marqueename, though none are at the height of their careers. Such a roster tags Sidney Lumet’s film as aclassier version of the star-studded disaster movies that were flourishing at the same time, and, aswith those films, you are much more conscious of the star than of the character. The perioddetails are lovingly handled, and the story is diverting enough. However, one can’t help but feelthat a one-hour version of the story on Mystery! with David Suchet as Poirot would be farpreferable. Most of the film consists of endless interrogation scenes (the movie might as wellhave been a play for its second half), and Albert Finney not only is guilty of the most awfulFrench, but of chewing the scenery most improperly for the dapper Belgian dectective.
Two options here: the original mono, and a 5.1 remix. The remix works very well, and isa sterling example of its kind. The music (one of the movie’s strongest elements) is gloriouslybig and nostalgic. The surround effects are surprisingly frequent and generally well-placed,though there are a couple instances of inappropriate rear-speaker contributions.
The anamorphic widescreen picture has nice colours and a sharp image, though the blackssometimes aren’t as strong as they might be. The print condition leaves something to be desired.There is some dirt and grain (less so after the first few minutes), and there is specklingthroughout, though not to a severe degree. The bigger complaint is with the widescreen, which isirritatingly phony: the format is 1.78:1, but the theatrical aspect was 2.35:1, and the difference istelling, particularly when the character speaking is chopped off the side of the screen.
The main feature is a four-part “Making Murder on the Orient Express,” aretrospective documentary that clocks in at just under 50 minutes. It’s all very laudatory, but is aninteresting look back at how the movie came together. There is also a 10-minute “Portrait ofAgatha Christie” narrated by her grandson, Mathew Prichard (who also contributes to the maindocumentary). Finally, there’s the theatrical trailer. The menu is basic.
Ingrid Bergman won Best Supporting Actress for her rather goofy role here. Go figure. So,far too long at 127 minutes, the story still holds interest, and the movie is a very handsomeproduction. It is also very much a product of its time.
Special Features List
- “Making Murder on the Orient Express” Four-Part Documentary
- “Agatha Christie: A Portrait” Featurette
- Theatrical Trailer