MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974) versus MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017)
Does forty-three years make any difference?
In 1974 producers John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin with director Sidney Lumet made a film called MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS based on the novel by Agatha Christie.
In 2017 Kenneth Branagh both directed and starred in a film also entitled MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS and once again based on the same novel by Agatha Christie.
How do these two films compare? Let us take a look.
They both tell the same basic story. In 1935, on the fabulous Orient Express, the famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is called upon to solve a mystery. During the night the train has been stopped by a sudden snowfall and during that night one of the other passengers has been murdered – repeatedly stabbed to death. One of the other passengers must have done it – but whom?
In the 1974 film Hercule Poirot is played by Albert Finney. He portrays the detective as a strange little man with peculiar quirks especially about his appearance. Nevertheless, his Poirot is brilliant as we watch him sift thru the clues and solve the mystery.
Joining Albert Finney in this film is a large all-star cast including Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Ingrid Bergman (she won a best supporting Oscar for this role), Jacqueline Bisset, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Widmark, Michael York, and Colin Blakely. As one of the taglines for the movie put it: “The greatest cast of suspicious characters ever involved in murder.”
This is the only movie adaptation in her lifetime that Dame Agatha Christie was completely satisfied. She especially liked Albert Finney’s portrayal of Hercule Poirot although she apparently was unimpressed by his moustache.
This is a fairly strait forward adaptation of the novel although there are always small changes made by necessity. For example, Poirot’s friend is a Frenchman called Bouc in the novel. In this film he has been changed into an Italian named Bianchi. This was to avoid long stretches of dialogue in French (that would have to be subtitled) and allowed them to speak in English – for the benefit of the audience.
This is a delightful movie, a wonderful mystery, and filmmaking at its best. It is a bit slow in the beginning but most mysteries are that way as we are introduced to the myriad characters – and there are a lot of them here. The music is also uneven and at one point it sounds as if you’re watching a Disney movie. But the performances are outstanding, the writing is superb and makes perfect sense, and the whole film is beautiful to look at. And you simply cannot get past that all-star cast.
On our rating scale I give this film four Grey Greeks.
In the 2017 film Hercule Poirot is portrayed by Kenneth Branagh. His take on the character emphasizes his obsessive-compulsive behavior and downplays his being a dandy. Nevertheless, his Poirot is equally brilliant – as he takes every opportunity to remind us – and manages to piece all the clues together. He also sports the most ridiculous moustache ever seen on film. I can only assume that having heard of Dame Agatha Christie’s criticism of Albert Finney’s moustache Branagh felt compelled to outdo him.
In this film Branagh is also joined by a large all-star cast. This includes Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daisy Ridley. The tagline for this movie is: “Everyone is a suspect.” This has to be the lamest tagline I have ever seen. You’re talking about a murder mystery; of course everyone is a suspect that goes without saying. Whoever came up with this tagline should be shot for being criminally idiotic.
This is not a particularly faithful telling of the story and the film veers from the novel in several places. For example, in the novel as well as the 1974 movie, Arbuthnot is a Colonel in the Army. In this movie his character is a doctor allowing the moviemakers to eliminate the Doctor Constantine character from the story. Also there is an action sequence added that is like something out of the Charles Bronson movie BREAKHEART PASS. Hercule Poirot as a man of action? Unthinkable!
Overall I found myself unsure about this movie. On the one hand I love the actors. I adore Kenneth Branagh and although his portrayal of Poirot was different it wasn’t bad. I also loved the look of the film and the pacing. But there is something about this movie that doesn’t feel like Agatha Christie. There were too many changes in the story that seemed to be for no real reason. Why stage a fake stabbing of Mrs. Hubbard? Why add shootouts? It is as if they felt they could improve on Agatha Christie and that is what bothers me the most. You can’t!
On our rating scale I give this film three and a half Gray Geeks and that last half a Geek is out of pure sentiment not merit.
Our original question asked how do these two films compare? While I can without reservation recommend both films as marvelous entertainment I have to admit that the 1974 movie is much better than the 2017 film. If you can see both you will not be disappointed. If you can only see one check out the 1974 version and let Albert Finney delight you.
That’s it for now all you armchair detectives. It has been a pleasure sharing my thoughts and feelings with all of you. Remember to stay safe it is still dangerous out there. Keep wearing your mask and gloves and be the super-hero you always knew you were.