DATELINE: Another Christie Version
Before we tackle the newest Orient Express by Branagh, let’s look at the oldest version.
The star-studded Sidney Lumet version took Agatha Christie out of the hands of 1960s-style Margaret Rutherford and Miss Marple. Murder on the Orient Express is bumpy in the night.
Indeed, the cast is spectacular, one of the last gasps of Old Hollywood gone mad. The suspects are so rococo and bizarre that they make Albert Finney’s weird Poirot look positively like Sam Spade crossed with Richard III.
As the names of stars pass in the opening credits, your jaw may drop. Bacall, Bergman (Bogart’s leading ladies), Perkins, Connery, Gielgud, Redgrave (later to play Christie herself), Widmark, and stellar second bananas too, like Balsam, Bisset, and let’s catch our breaths! Wow.
Lumet is not so much interested in atmosphere as glamour.
If Margaret Rutherford had not died the year before the film, she likely would have been cast in it too. Christie never liked the idea of Miss Marple joining forces with Hercule—but in this sort of movie, you almost expect it.
The new auteur Kenneth Branagh version cannot touch the sheer aristocracy of actors in this film. You have to savor each little gem from Lumet’s cast, as these great stars finally can play it to the hilt one last time and first time as an ensemble.
Agatha Christie was the Shakespeare of crime plots—and so we will have more remakes. After all, we have seen about seven great Hamlet movies. Christie cannot be far behind.
We do condemn the music score that lightly sounds over the credits at the end—which is completely wrong for the mood of the film.