Cinerama: Murder on the Orient Express

Posted: September 12, 2009 in Cinerama

Murder on the Orient Express
By Mike Derderian

Many philosophers argue that life is predictable. But ask any cat that was unlucky enough to kiss the fender of a speeding car and it will tell you it is not predictable. First of course you need to find a cat that survived a car accident in Jordan; a cat that has become known among the Felis Catus society as “the cat that was not meant to be called road-kill.”

Getting inside a cab to find a grumbling driver sitting behind the wheels is predictable. Riding the bus to find an obnoxious toll collector standing in the middle of bus yelling at you is predictable.

Boarding a train to find your self stuck in the middle of snowstorm and a murder mystery is definitely not predictable, unless you read Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and watched Sidney Lumet 1974 film version of the story.

Even though I read the Arabic version of this breathtaking murder mystery over and over in the past few years and watched Lumet’s star studded film twice, I still have a mind for reading the book and watching the film again.

True, by now I know who murdered Samuel Edward Ratchett (a very mean Richard Widmark) but going through Christie’s detailed description of characters and settings is an experience unlike any other.

Her writings are like the exotic spices added to cheese atop a toast soaked in a thick onion broth that is swallowed with extreme delight by Hercule Poirot, the renowned Belgian detective, who is probably seated in a fancy restaurant that offers delicious French cuisine.

Enough talking about food and let us dig into the core of the cheese and by George it is quite smelly.
Traveling on board the Orient Express after solving a murder involving a French soldier stationed in Aleppo, the stumpy bald headed detective finds himself standing in the middle of train car packed with passengers aghast by a gruesome murder.

Murder on the Orient Express was not only crammed with intriguing character but was jam-packed with a cast of great actors the like of John Gielgud, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York and finally Albert Finney as the Belgian detective, who prides in sporting a handsome moustache more than any other man I have seen on screen.

Finney’s portrayal of Poirot was quite good even though he was not exactly a perfect fit in the shoe.
On the other hand David Suchet, who appeared in a number of Agatha Christie mini-movies back in the 90s, was the best actor to ever portray the egghead French-speaking crime solver.  If you had the chance to watch any of them you will agree.

Lumet’s 128 minutes movie is a sincere adaptation of the book. The ambience and the conspiracy theory it so deliciously offered to mystery readers was more than present in the Orient Express train car, where the entire action takes place.

By action I don’t mean chases, gunfights or arm wrestling with an alligator. Any Agatha Christie reader would know what I mean. The film as the book is a slow buildup of evidence enhanced by scientific examination, interrogation and logical prognosis of a killer’s mind and actions.

Bisset and York, where compassionate as the Andrenyi count and countess; Connery was aggressive as Colonel Arbuthnot; Bergman earned a Best Actress in supporting role, while, Finney was nominated for an Oscar for best actor in a lead role; Bacall was annoying as Harriet Belinda Hubbard (one of the character’s requirements) and
Vanessa Redgrave as Mary Debenham was far less than angelic even though she appeared to be so. John Gielgud certainly proved his presence even though it was in a hushed manner-usually his way in acting.

Anyway as Hercule Poirot says in the film, “a repulsive murderer has been murdered repulsively, and, perhaps, deservedly.” Enjoy solving the mystery.

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