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Revenge Is A Dish Best Served… Glamorous! — Murder On The Orient Express

November 27, 2008

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974)
d. Sidney Lumet 

Yet another whodunnit adapted from an Agatha Christie mystery starring that irascible Belgian, Herecule Poirot (Albert Finney). This time set on the famous intercontinental steam train, Detective Poirot must solve the murder of a wealthy man on the snowbound train before it is set free and the report made to the Yugoslavian police who will take over the case.

Like Death On The Nile, this film is chock full o’ stars — a somewhat higher caliber of stars, many hailing from classic Hollywood. You’ve got a gorgeous collection of leading ladies, starting with Lauren Bacall, and then you have Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset and Vanessa Redgrave. On the men’s side you have Martin Balsam, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Michael York and Sean Connery. It’s amazing to see such talent in an ensemble getting brief scenes in which to have their moments and in longer scenes where they are gathered together to just listen as Albert Finney runs through a ten minute dialogue explaining the solution to the murder!

The mystery does not suffer under the mountainous amounts of dialogue being shoveled into our ears, though it can be a challenge to keep up when the relationships between each character becomes resolved. Still, Finney’s performance really shines here even if his Poirot is less warm than Ustinov’s interpretation, and more irascible.

The stars on-screen are not the only objects that dazzle. The sets are all very lavish, and the cinematography impressive. There is an amazing tracking shot down the length of the train in its berth that ends on the front lights being turned on. The music score is also very lush and timeless, avoiding the need to pin the movie down to its 30s setting.

If anything, the opening sequence detailing the kidnap and death plot of Daisy Armstrong (stripped directly from the real-life Lindbergh case) may be overwhelming and confusing because a ton of information gets heaped up-front.

All in all, Sidney Lumet does a great job balancing each actor, giving them their moments, and keeping the proceedings brisk even if the dialogue threatens to grind everything to a halt, much like the stalled train stuck in the snowbanks.

*** stars.

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