This November sees the release of a glitzy new big screen adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic whodunit, with Kenneth Branagh donning the iconic moustache of Hercule Poirot. It doesn’t take a great detective, then, to work out why Vintage Classics have taken this opportunity to re-release a bunch of Christie adaptations on Blu-ray and DVD, not least this 1974 take on the same source.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, it’s basically what it says on the tin; the world-famous detective is travelling on the world-famous locomotive when one of his fellow passengers, a mysterious American businessman, is found dead in his bunk. Poirot interrogates the other travellers one by one before gathering everyone together and, as is his style, revealing the solution. Without spoiling anything, it’s one of the most famous twists in detective fiction – and it’s a little more complex than ‘the butler did it’.
Despite the glamour of the setting, the story itself isn’t particularly cinematic, being very dialogue-led and confined to a single location in a way that suggests a stage adaptation may be more suitable than a screen one. What it needs to make it work is a strong cast, and this version certainly succeeds in that regard. OK, so Albert Finney tends to overact and over-growl a tad as Poirot, and hardcore fans generally prefer David Suchet’s incarnation, but Finney certainly knows how to hold the attention during a long monologue. The line-up of suspects, meanwhile, includes Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, and John Gielgud, among other talents. That’s a seriously impressive list of stage and screen stars (earning extra points over the new version of the film by not having Johnny Depp in sight), and director Sidney Lumet allows them all a chance in the spotlight; Bergman, of Casablanca fame, even went on to win an Oscar for her role. If any film could be described as ‘prestigious’, it’s this one.
The new release can also be described as such – just about. The main bulk of the extras is a set of rather self-congratulatory featurettes, adding up to about 50 minutes overall, but there’s also a brand new 20-minute interview with producer Richard Goodwin, which shines some interesting light on the making of the film and working with Christie herself. The new box and menu art is gorgeous, particularly when placed in a set with the other releases. If you’re a Christie fan, or just want to experience a classic detective tale told well, then this is worth adding to your collection.
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: SIDNEY LUMET / SCREENPLAY: PAUL DEHN / STARRING: ALBERT FINNEY, LAUREN BACALL, INGRID BERGMAN, SEAN CONNERY, ANTHONY PERKINS / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 23RD