The film (and book) features the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Albert Finney stars as Poirot, who is asked by his friend Bianchi (Martin Balsam), a train company director, to investigate the murder of an American business tycoon, Mr. Ratchett (Richard Widmark), aboard a train with an all-star cast of suspects, including Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman (delivering an Oscar-winning performance), Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York and Anthony Perkins. The screenplay was penned by Paul Dehn and an uncredited Anthony Shaffer.
The film's tagline was: "The greatest cast of suspicious characters ever involved in murder."
Richard Rodney Bennett's memorable Orient Express theme has been reworked into an orchestral suite and performed and recorded several times. It was performed on the original soundtrack album by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden under Marcus Dods. The piano soloist was the composer himself.
Having sorted a matter out in the Middle East, detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) is returning to England aboard the Orient Express. During the journey, Poirot encounters his friend Bianchi (Martin Balsam), a director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, which owns the line. The train is unusually crowded for the time of year: every first-class berth has been booked. Shortly after the train's departure from Constantinople, a wealthy American businessman, Ratchett (Richard Widmark), tries to secure Poirot's services for $15,000 since he has received many death threats, but Poirot finds the case of little interest and turns it down. That night the train is caught in heavy snows in the Balkans. The next morning Ratchett is found stabbed to death in his cabin.
Poirot and Bianchi work together to solve the case. They enlist the help of Dr. Constantine (George Coulouris), a Greek medical doctor who was travelling in another coach with Bianchi as the only other passenger and thus is not a suspect. Pierre Michel (Jean-Pierre Cassel), the middle-aged French conductor of the car, also assists the investigation, as well as being a suspect. Poirot soon discovers that Ratchett was not who he claimed to be. The victim's secret past indicates a clear motive for murder, even justification, but who was the killer?
Dr. Constantine's examination of the body reveals that Ratchett was stabbed 12 times. Some wounds were slight, but at least three of them could have resulted in death.
The stopped watch in the victim's pocket, as well as Poirot's reconstructed timeline of passenger activities the night before, indicate that Ratchett was murdered at about 1:15 a.m. The train had stopped, surrounded by fresh snow, before that time. There are no tracks in the snow and the doors to the other cars were locked, so the murderer is almost certainly still among the passengers in the coach in which Ratchett was killed.
Poirot discovers that Ratchett's real name was Lenfranco Cassetti, a gangster who five years before planned and carried out the kidnapping of Daisy Armstrong, the infant daughter of a wealthy British Army Colonel who had settled in America with his American wife. The kidnappers demanded a ransom; but after it was delivered, instead of returning the girl, they murdered the child. Overcome with grief, the then-pregnant Mrs. Armstrong went into labor early and died while giving birth to a stillborn baby. A maidservant named Paulette (Suzanne in the novel), who was wrongly suspected of being involved in the kidnapping, committed suicide, only to be found innocent after she took her life. Colonel Armstrong, consumed by these tragedies, later killed himself as well. Cassetti betrayed his partner, leaving him to be executed while he fled the country with the ransom, as he was only revealed to be the leader of the kidnapping plot on the eve of the execution.
Having established these facts, Poirot, Dr. Constantine and Bianchi summon the other passengers one by one and proceed to interrogate them.
(The fictitious Armstrong case was inspired by the real-life kidnapping of aviator Charles Lindbergh's child.)
The thirteen suspects are:
- Pierre-Paul Michel (Jean-Pierre Cassel), the French conductor of the sleeping car.
- Hector McQueen (Anthony Perkins), a tall, young American man, the victim's secretary and translator;
- Edward Beddoes (Sir John Gielgud), the victim's English valet;
- Mrs. Harriet Belinda Hubbard (Lauren Bacall), an older, fussy, very talkative American pluri-widowed socialite;
- Greta Ohlsson (Ingrid Bergman), a middle-aged Swedish missionary returning to Europe on a fund-raising trip for her mission in Africa;
- Count Rudolf Andrenyi (Michael York), an aristocratic Hungarian diplomat;
- Countess Elena Andrenyi (Jacqueline Bisset), née Grünwald, his beautiful young wife;
- Princess Natalia Dragomiroff (Wendy Hiller), an elderly Russian royal;
- Hildegarde Schmidt (Rachel Roberts), a middle-aged German woman, the Princess' personal maid;
- Colonel Arbuthnott (Sean Connery), a British officer in the British Indian Army returning to England on leave;
- Mary Debenham (Vanessa Redgrave), a young English woman, returning home to England after working as a teacher in Baghdad;
- Antonio (Gino) Foscarelli (Denis Quilley), an exuberant Italian American car salesman from Chicago;
- Cyrus B. "Dick" Hardman (Colin Blakely), a Pinkerton's detective masquerading as a talent agent;
After concluding his enquiries on the suspects, Poirot gathers all of them in the dining room to present his solution to the crime. He has concluded into two possible scenarios of the murder. The first scenario, which he calls the simple solution, is based on several clues, planted by the suspects to imply that Ratchett's/Cassetti's murder was a result of a mafia feud, intending to throw off-track any investigations. Then Poirot analyzes his second solution, referring to it as a more complex one than the previous, according to which every passenger of the Calais coach, including the steward, Michel, were linked to the Armstrong case, thus providing them with sufficient motives:
- McQueen was the son of the District Attorney who prosecuted the case and was very fond of Mrs. Armstrong;
- Beddoes was Colonel Armstrong's army batman and the family butler;
- Miss Debenham was Mrs Armstrong's secretary;
- Col. Arbuthnott was an army friend of Col. Armstrong;
- Princess Dragomiroff was Sonia Armstrong's godmother;
- Miss Schmidt was the Armstrongs' cook;
- Countess Andrenyi was Mrs Armstrong's sister;
- Count Andrenyi was Mrs Armstrong's brother in law.
- Miss Ohlsson was Daisy's nursemaid;
- Mrs Hubbard was Mrs Armstrong's mother;
- Foscarelli was the Armstrongs' chauffeur;
- Hardman was, at the time, a policeman who was in love with Paulette;
- Michel was Paulette's father; Ratchett was sedated by Beddoes and McQueen. Each of the passengers then stabbed him in turn.
As soon as Poirot finishes his explanation, everyone in the car is dumbfounded. Poirot suggests that Bianchi should choose which explanation they should present to the police: the simple or the complex one. Bianchi decides that this "simple" solution will be more than enough for the local police and that Ratchett deserved everything he got. A cover-up is therefore instigated. Poirot agrees with the decision, and he departs to conduct his report to the police, even though he admits he will struggle with his conscience. The train becomes unbound with snow and starts on its way as everyone toasts one another.
Details about the kidnappingEdit
- Greta Ohlssen is bound and gagged, when she discovers and tries to stop Daisy being kidnapped (thus crushing many toys and having the chair in which she is bound to, knocked over).
- Beddoes tries to attack Cassetti, but his partner knocks him out with a blow to the head.
- Hildegarde witnesses this act and screams from the upper stairs.
- The kidnappers escape in a car, out through a back door.
- Paulette and someone (believed to be Cyrus Hardman) are in the garden house and see the getaway car; which is why the police suspect her, because she was in the garden house at 3:00 am.
- Foscarelli had delivered Colonel. and Sonia Armstrong to the airport, meaning Daisy's parents were not in the house, when she was being kidnapped.
- Foscarelli nearly collided with the getaway car, when he arrived back at the house.
- Foscarelli is the first to discover the crime, by finding Greta bound and gagged.
- Cassetti has a partner who knocks out Beddoes, helps them escape, and is the one who actually did murder Daisy, but is captured (betrayed by Cassetti) and sentenced to death by electric chair.
- Daisy's parents delivered the ransom money to a place in the countryside, near their house, with the police, reporters, and Mary Debenham.
- Daisy's body is discovered by two teenagers, 15 miles from the Armstrong home.
- Greta became a Swedish missionary looking after children, because she was unable to save Daisy.
Arrangement of the Calais Coach:
|Athens-Paris Coach||Michel||16. Hardman||15. Arbuthnot||14. Dragomiroff||13. R. Andrenyi||12. E. Andrenyi||3. Hubbard||2. Ratchett||1. Poirot|| 10. Ohlsson|
| 8. Schmidt|
| 6. MacQueen|
| 4. Beddoes|
- Albert Finney ... Hercule Poirot
- Lauren Bacall ... Mrs. Harriet Belinda Hubbard
- Sean Connery ... Colonel Arbuthnott
- Ingrid Bergman ... Greta Ohlsson
- Michael York ... Count Rudolf Andrenyi
- Vanessa Redgrave ... Mary Debenham
- Jacqueline Bisset ... Countess Elena Andrenyi
- Richard Widmark ... Mr. Ratchett
- John Gielgud ... Edward Beddoes
- Anthony Perkins ... Hector McQueen
- Martin Balsam ... Bianchi
- Rachel Roberts ... Hildegarde Schmidt
- Wendy Hiller ... Princess Dragomiroff
- Denis Quilley ... Antonio (Tony) Foscarelli
- Colin Blakely ... Cyrus B. "Dick" Hardman
- Jean-Pierre Cassel ... Pierre Michel
- George Coulouris ... Dr. Constantine
Production details Edit
Exterior shooting was mostly done in France, with a railroad workshop near Paris standing in for Istanbul station. The scenes of the train proceeding through central Europe were filmed in the Jura mountains on the then recently closed railway line from Pontarlier to Gilley, with the scenes of the train getting stuck being filmed in a cutting near Montbenoît. Coincidentally, this area (part of Yugoslavia in the story) is part of the micronation of Saugeais. There were concerns about a lack of snow in the weeks preceding the scheduled shooting of the snowbound train, and plans were made to truck in large quantities of snow at considerable expense. However, heavy snowfall the night before the shooting made the extra snow unnecessary—just as well, as the snow-laden backup trucks had themselves become stuck in the snow.
Every castmember approached eagerly accepted. Lumet went to Sean Connery first, citing that if you get the biggest star, the rest will come along. He was right.
The film was shot in France in 1973.
The film was extremely successful at the box office, earning an estimated $20 million in the US and $15 million in other territories.
On opening weekend, there were crowds around blocks waiting to see the movie.
Agatha Christie had been quite displeased with some film adaptations of her works made in the 1960s, and accordingly was unwilling to sell any more film rights. When Nat Cohen, chairman of EMI Films, and producer John Brabourne attempted to get her approval for this film, they felt it necessary to have Lord Mountbatten of Burma (of the British Royal Family and also Brabourne's father-in-law) help them broach the subject. (Note: John Braebourne was also a peer. His title was John Ulick Knatchbull, 7th Baron Brabourne, CBE, though he used simply "John Braebourne" for this film's credits.)
In the end, according to Christie's husband Max Mallowan, "Agatha herself has always been allergic to the adaptation of her books by the cinema, but was persuaded to give a rather grudging appreciation to this one." Christie's biographer Gwen Robyns quoted her as saying, "It was well made except for one mistake. It was Albert Finney, as my detective Hercule Poirot. I wrote that he had the finest moustache in England — and he didn't in the film. I thought that a pity — why shouldn't he?"
Roger Ebert gives the film a great review, calling it "The movie provides a good time, high style, a loving salute to an earlier period of filmmaking,"
The New York Times gives the film 4 out of 5 stars.
Blogs, Agatha Christie fans, critics and movie goers all praise the film for its style, cast, and score.
Academy Awards and nominationsEdit
- Academy Award: Best Supporting Actress, Ingrid Bergman
- Academy Award Nomination: Best Actor in a Leading Role, Albert Finney
- Academy Award Nomination: Best Cinematography, Geoffrey Unsworth
- Academy Award Nomination: Best Costume Design, Tony Walton
- Academy Award Nomination: Best Music, Original Dramatic Score, Richard Rodney Bennett
- Academy Award Nomination: Best Writing, Screenplay Adapted from Other Material, Paul Dehn
Other Poirot films Edit
It was the first of a number of "all-star" adaptations of Agatha Christie novels in the 1970s and early 1980s. Similar films included Death on the Nile, The Mirror Crack'd, Evil Under the Sun, and Appointment with Death. It is the only occasion that Finney portrayed Poirot, with Peter Ustinov portraying the detective in subsequent films.
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