Review: Murder on the Orient Express (1974 version)

Sean Connery and Vanessa Redgrave in Murder on the Orient Express

I had company over the weekend. Their favorite channel is TCM, which I don’t get. Since we couldn’t find an oldie to watch on TCM, we watched the 1974 Murder on the Orient Express on Amazon Video.

At 34 years of age, Murder on the Orient Express is a moldy classic that both fails and succeeds for me.

It is hopelessly old fashioned, with music and opening credits that look like something from 235 years ago, not just 35 years ago. It is extremely racist. People of color talk about systemic racism built into the everyday fabric of our lives. Films like this help you see it in the blatantly overt forms it used to take. It’s more subtle now, but it’s still there.

Where the film did succeed was the direction by Sidney Lumet and the photography by Geoffrey Unsworth. Both did a beautiful job with the material using the tools they had at the time. It was partly in black and white, and partly in color.

The other success was the cast. Seeing younger versions of Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Rachel Roberts, Richard Widmark, Michael York and Vanessa Redgrave was a treat. Some of these actors are lifetime favorites of mine. Sadly, some are no longer with us.

Seeing them as they were years ago reminds you that it wasn’t just all about talent. Vanessa Redgrave, for example. Certainly she is one of the most talented actresses who ever lived, but you forget what a stunning woman she was. Being stunning is often the entry point for young women who want a career as an actress. If she got her start based on looks, she’s long since proven her ability.

The more recent Murder on the Orient Express was panned. I haven’t seen the newer one. The 1974 version was a huge success. With its improbable murder plot and unbelievable Detective Hercule Poirot solving the crime based on no information at all, you have to wonder if either of them were really good. Maybe everyone just has such warm regard for Agatha Christie that a movie based on her book was bound to succeed in those earlier times.

Have you watched this old favorite? What did you think of it?

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