"Murder on the Orient Express" DVD Movie Review

5/05/2010 Posted by Admin

DVD Movie Review

"Murder on the Orient Express"

By our guest blogger, Matt Jussim

Many people consider the 1970s to be one of the most classic decades for film. It's also true that the '70s were a golden age for director Sidney Lumet. He directed 12 films in the '70s, and in a stretch from 1973-76, he helmed the films “Serpico”, “Murder on the Orient Express," “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Network.”

All four of those films are classics, each well written, acted and directed. The reason I bring this up is because many filmmakers are lucky to create one film that is considered “great,” and here in only a span of four years, Lumet crafted four brilliant pieces of filmmaking. While all are fantastic, “Murder on the Orient Express” may be the best of the group.

The film is based on the Agatha Christie novel of the same name, which was published in 1934. Christie is among the best selling authors of all time, and “Murder on the Orient Express” is one of her finest novels.

Both the book and the film follow the exploits of Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who is played by Albert Finney, as he investigates a murder that takes place on the titular “Orient Express.”

In this one, Belgian detective Poirot (Finney) finds himself surrounded by 13 murder suspects after a vulgar American millionaire (Richard Widmark) gets stabbed to death in his train compartment. Could the assailant be the victim's nervous assistant, played nimbly by Anthony Perkins? Is it the quick-tempered military man, Sean Connery? The meek missionary, Ingrid Bergman? Or did the butler, played by John Gielgud, really do it? I won’t give it away, but let’s just say everyone is connected.

Although the murder is the central focus of the story, the film's success rests on Finney's performance, which he handles gracefully. Finney is nearly unrecognizable as Mr. Poriot. His mustache is perfectly groomed, and his accent is impeccable. Finney was nominated for an Oscar for his performance, and deservedly so.

Finney’s performance was a ‘Hercule-an’ effort in itself. For example, the final scene, in which Poirot shares his solution of the case, required more shots and camera angles than could be captured in a single take on the cramped set, so the cast had to shoot the scene multiple times. You can imagine how difficult that must have been on Finney, whose monologue was eight pages long. The scene is beautifully directed, but Finney is just unbelievable in it.

All told, the film was nominated for six Academy Awards, with Ingrid Bergman winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Virtually all of Ingrid Bergman's winning performance is contained in a single scene in which Poirot interrogates her character. The scene was captured in a single continuous take, nearly five minutes long.

Adapting a book is never easy. Adapting a book that is considered to be one of the best of its genre is even harder. Lumet shows his brilliance as a director on this film and he makes things look easy.

I’m amazed that the film wasn't nominated for Best Actor or Best Director, but the Academy doesn’t always get things quite right anyway (“Shakespeare in Love” over “Saving Private Ryan”? I’m still not over that one).

Either way, “Murder on the Orient Express” is easily one of the best mystery films of all time, but I’ll also go as far as to say it’s one of the best films of all time. It's a definitive classic.

Grade: A

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