This review is part of my Remake Preview series, where I watch the original version (or versions) of a movie that is set to be re-made in the near future.
I chose to watch 1974’s Murder on the Orient Express in anticipation of the star-studded Kenneth Branagh adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel, which is due out later this year. Branagh’s adaptation has some big shoes to fill – the 1974 film is a knock-’em-dead classic. Murder on the Orient Express is directed with subtlety by Sidney Lumet; he never draws attention to the film as a piece of Cinema with a capital C, instead choosing to let a murderer’s row of actors and an impeccably written plot do the heavy lifting. Lumet was at the height of his career when he directed this film -just the year before, in 1973, he directed Serpico; the following two years, he directed Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and Network (1976) – and it’s easy to see how he was able to attract the kind of talent that litters the cast of Murder.
The film has a simple, yet effective structure, partially due to its own confines (a large array of characters, all of whom are potential suspects, are trapped on a train together with nowhere to go), one that allows each of the actors to get a showcase scene, and creates a complex web of facts, clues, and lies for detective Hercule Poirot, and the viewer, to attempt to untangle. The scene at the end, where Poirot presents all the facts, and comes to a miraculous conclusion, is peak Agatha Christie. Without spoiling the conclusion of the mystery, it’s an ending that is both stunning in its simplicity, and yet bewilderingly complex. That the viewer is not left confused at the end is a true testament to the abilities of Agatha Christie and Sidney Lumet.