Friday, April 30, 2010

Could the detective be the killer?

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
Starring: Albert Finney, Martin Balsam, Lauren Bacall, Richard Widmark, Anthony Perkins, Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Jean Pierre Cassel, Michael York, Jacqueline Bisset, and Vanessa Redgrave
Director: Sidney Lumet
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

While traveling westward on the Orient Express, celebrated detective Hercule Poirot (Finney) must solve the murder of an unpleasant passenger as the train is halted by a mudslide. The case is complicated by the fact that virtually none of his fellow passengers are telling the truth or are who they appear to be, and that Poirot is apparently the only person without an iron-clad alibi.

"Murder on the Orient Express" is an excellent adaptation of one of Agatha Christie's best mystery tales. It manages to streamline a very complex and tangled scenario while keeping Christie's original narraive mostly intact. It also features an excellent cast giving great performances, with Albert Finney as the Great Detective, Lauren Bacall as an annoying American widow, and John Gielgud as an acid-tongued gentleman's gentleman being particularly noteworthy.

The weakness of the film is that it's slow in getting underway and that when it's finally got a good head of steam going, the mystery is solved and the movie ends. It causes the viewer to swing from a "get on with it!" sensibility to a "wait... that's all?" mindset. I think that if the movie had been more carefully edited, losing perhaps as little as five or ten minutes of running time during its first act, the film would have carried alot more tension.

That's not to say that what's here isn't good... it's very good and it's definately worth seeing for fans of period films and "cozy" mysteries. (On a personal note, the solution to the mystery in this film really creeped me out as a child, and I partially watched it again to see if it had remained as impactful. I didn't have quite the reaction I remember, but it is well delivered.)

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