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Film / Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

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This 1974 film is the first screen adaptation of Dame Agatha Christie's mystery novel Murder on the Orient Express, directed by Sidney Lumet and featuring an All-Star Cast headed by Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot.

A murder happens aboard the Orient Express, just as it is forced to stop due to heavy snow. Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective who is among the passengers, starts unravelling the mystery, and comes to learn that everyone's a suspect.

Joining Finney in the movie's All-Star Cast are Anthony Perkins, John Gielgud, Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, Wendy Hiller, Michael York, Jean-Pierre Cassel and others.

Another big screen All-Star Cast adaptation featuring Kenneth Branagh as Poirot was released in 2017.


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This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion:
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: In the original novel, Poirot rather cavalierly lets the murderers go free, but in the film, he only does so after an immense amount of soul-searching. Even then it is clear from his expression that he is not sure if he has done the right thing.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Of a sort, and of course depends on one's definition of villainy here. In the novel, the Countess does not stab Cassetti, Poirot even comments that her husband takes her place in the conga line of death in proxy. In the film, she and her husband stab him together. However, though she did not stab Cassetti in the novel, she was still part of the conspiracy.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole:
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    • The change of Cassetti’s fate from being caught but acquitted to him just fleeing the country before he could be arrested and left his partner to be the fall guy, who only admitted Cassetti's involvement on the eve of his execution.
  • Adaptation Name Change: M. Bouc becomes Signor Bianchi.
  • And This Is for...: Each of the murderers — save for Foscarelli and Schmidt, who only curse him — announce the name of the person they lost as they take their turns stabbing Ratchett/Cassetti.
  • Arc Number: Twelve. Twelve stab wounds on the body. Twelve suspects. The threatening messages each contained twelve letters.
  • Asshole Victim: Ratchett/Casseti was a child murderer and a mobster whose kidnapping and murder of Daisy Armstrong led to the deaths of Daisy's mother during childbirth which killed the baby as well, their maid who was Driven to Suicide by accusations of being the actual kidnapper, and Colonel Armstrong shot himself after being overwhelmed. This is one of the reasons why Poirot lets the murderers go.
  • As You Know: Poirot tells Colonel Arbuthnott that in his opinion the late Colonel Armstrong should have been awarded the VC, "which stands, as you may know, for Victoria Cross and is awarded for valor." (Possibly justified since this was during the summation, so it would have been for the benefit of those who were not British.)
  • Bad Liar: Colonel Arbuthnot is the most guilty of it. He cannot disguise his love for Mrs. Debenham when they have to pretend to be strangers, and denies knowing personally Colonel Armstrong but seems to have detailed knowledge of Armstrong's decorations and career.
  • Big Secret: Colonel Arbuthnot and Mary Debenham are not very forthcoming with Poirot at first because they try to hide a secret unrelated to the murder.Arbuthnot is filing for a divorce from his unfaithful wife, and wants to keep his relationship with Mary a secret.
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • Rather a Bilingual Spoiler way before the summation. Princess Dragomiroff mentions that the Armstrong maid's surname was Greenwood which made it obvious to anyone familiar with the German language that Countess Andrenyi (who was a Grünwald) must have had a connection to the Armstrong case.
    • The passage of Goethe read by the Princess' maid is from Kennst Du das Land and contains the line "What have they done, oh wretched child, to thee?"
  • Blood from the Mouth: Ratchett's body when found in the morning.
  • The Butler Did It: Double subverted. Beddoes, Ratchett's manservant, is one of the first suspects. After Poirot questions him, Bianchi is sure that he killed his employer and says verbatim "The butler did it." However, Poirot quickly points out that it is not plausible. Nevertheless, it is revealed in the end that Beddoes is one of the murderers.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Subverted twice by both Beddoes (intentionally) and Foscarelli. Hilarity Ensues for Poirot.
    Foscarelli: Hey, what are you reading, Mr. Beddoes?
    Beddoes: Love's Captive, by Mrs. Arabella Richardson.
    Foscarelli: Is it about sex?
    Beddoes: No, it's about 10.30, Mr. Foscarelli.
  • Dies Wide Open: The doctor has to close the murder victim's dead staring eyes the next morning.
  • Distant Prologue: The prologue is set five years before the main story.
  • Dramatic Drop: Beddoes drops his drink tray when the door is finally forced open and they find Ratchett dead in his bed.
  • Driven to Suicide: Colonel Armstrong shot himself after the death of his daughter, his wife and their unborn child. The family maid Paulette, wrongly accused of conspiring in Daisy's kidnapping, killed herself.
  • Empathy Doll Shot: The opening sequence showing the kidnapping of Daisy Armstrong focuses on an abandoned teddy bear on the floor.
  • Everybody Did It: The novel was the Trope Maker. All the suspects were in on it together.
  • Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor: Ratchett/Cassetti has made his fortune by kidnapping a child for ransom and then killing her. When asked by a yet clueless Poirot what his business was before retirement, his reply is "baby food". Also when Mrs. Hubbard accidentally walks in his cabin, he crassly lets her know that he would have asked her to stay, were she twenty years younger.
  • Foreshadowing: There are a couple of implications that Poirot recognized Mrs. Hubbard as Linda Arden from the very beginning. He quotes Greta Garbo when they first meet, admits that he saw the actress perform twice as Lady Macbeth to the Princess, and in one scene pointedly thanks her for "playing your part". He even paraphrases her lines as Lady Macbeth when she shows up with the dagger.
    Poirot: Why did you take this dagger from the place?
  • Funny Foreigner: Greta, the quirky missionary from Scandinavia. Also Mrs. Hubbard is a walking Eagleland stereotype.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: One of the trademarks of Christie film adaptations.
  • Hand Gagging: Poirot covers Hildegarde's mouth when she starts screaming after finding a conductor's uniform in her suitcase.
  • I Kiss Your Hand: Poirot and Bianchi do this to some of the female passengers.
  • Implausible Deniability: Princess Dragomiroff's interrogation drowns in Blatant Lies. She denies knowing the names of the Armstrong employees while she was Mrs. Armstrong's godmother and a family friend. The peak on unlikelihood is reached when she claims to not remember the name of Mrs. Armstrong's younger sister (in fact Countess Andreyi). Poirot can't call her out on her BS due to her old age and extremely high social status, and they both know it.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Arbuthnot holds strong views on the future of British India.
    Col. Arbuthnot: I was yarning with young... What's his name? McQueen, in his compartment. He was interested in the future of India, a bit impractical. He thought the British ought to move out.
  • Just Train Wrong: This film's version of the Orient Express has a French steam locomotive (on a train snowbound in Yugoslavia) and a Pullman lounge car, which the real Orient Express never featured.
    • A Wagon-Lits Pullman lounge car did operate in the Simplon-Orient-Express, but not on this part of the line.
  • Let Off by the Detective: Poirot allows the murderer to go free because the murder victim had hurt all of the people who committed the murder with his own crimes.
  • Locked Room Mystery: When his body was found, the door to Ratchett's cabin was locked and chained from the inside. This detail is not being brought up again though.
  • Mama Bear: Linda Arden, a.k.a Mrs. Hubbard masterminded Ratchett's murder to avenge her granddaughter, who he kidnapped and murdered, and her daughter, who in her grief gave birth to a stillborn child which also killed her.
  • Metaphorically True: Everything Princess Natalia Dragomiroff says to Hercule Poirot. They had to lie to throw him off the trail, but honor dictated they couldn't do it outright so they "merely" gave the nearest equivalent answer. For example; Mr. Whitehead became Mr. Snowpeak.
  • Necrocam: During Poirot's summation we get visuals of what he thought happened in the night of the murder.
  • The Oner: Poirot's interrogation of Greta is shot in one continuous, five-minute take.
  • Perpetual Frowner: Poirot notes that Princess Dragomiroff never smiles. She replies that her doctor had advised against it.
  • Pillow Pistol: Ratchett sleeps with a pistol under his pillow after getting threatening notes. It doesn't keep him from getting murdered due to the impact of a sedative.
  • Pinkerton Detective: Cyrus Hardman is a Pinkerton agent. This is a change from the original novel, which had him working for the fictional McNeil Detective Agency.
  • Pretty in Mink: Princess Dragomiroff, Countess Andrenyi and Mrs. Hubbard all wear furs at some point.
  • Red Herring: Poirot points out that false evidence was scattered around the train to mislead the investigation.
  • The Reveal: Each suspect is responsible for Ratchett's death, as each of them took a turn to stab him while he was drugged and helpless.
  • Running Gag: After each interview, Bianchi is sure they have found the killer. He wasn't wrong though.
  • Separated by a Common Language: How does Poirot know Mary Debenham spent time in America? Because she said "I could always call my lawyers long distance," when an Englishwoman would say "I could always make a trunk call to my solicitors."
  • Sherlock Scan: Poirot is somehow able to tell who the cook is because he "has, perhaps, a nose for fine dining".
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: Count Rudolph Andrenyi and Countess Helena Andrenyi. They are almost never out of each other's sight, and when interviewed as suspects in the murder, Rudolph can hardly stop cradling Helena like a fragile doll. This is partially because she is addicted to the drug used to put Cassetti under, so they could murder him: she is constantly in a weak, vulnerable state.
  • Slipping a Mickey: It turns out Ratchett was drugged so he could be easily taken out. The drug was placed in the valerian which he drunk before sleep.
  • Snowed-In: The train is stuck in a snowdrift, which gives Poirot a limited time frame to solve the case.
  • Spanner in the Works: The plan was actually very well planned out and meticulous. Too bad the killer could never count on A) a world-class detective boarding at the last minute and B) an avalanche stranding the train right after the killing, giving said detective a chance to piece it all together.
  • Spinning Paper: The prologue sequence, designed by Richard Williams' studio, features a montage of spinning and fading newspapers chronicling the kidnapping, and eventual murder, of Baby Daisy Armstrong.
  • Spiteful Spit: In Poirot's depiction of the crime, Foscarelli spits on the unconscious Ratchett before stabbing him.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Ratchett takes the opportunity of the train entering a tunnel (and thus becoming dark) to leave unobserved after Poirot refuses his offer.
  • Stopped Clock: A broken watch is found on Ratchett's body, which tells his time of death. Later Poirot deduces that it was planted to throw the investigation off.
  • Summation Gathering: Poirot orders everyone into the dining car so he can deliver his summation.
  • Thriller on the Express: A murder occurs on a train stuck in a snowdrift.
  • Vehicle Title: The title comes from the name of the train where the action occurs.
  • What You Are in the Dark: When Poirot discovers that all his fellow passengers were the killers, he has a crisis of faith, even though the suspects are willing to accept the consequences of their actions - the man was dead, they didn't care about their fate afterward. Poirot decides to go with the simpler, false explanation and let them all go free, but is visibly shaken.
    Bianchi: Hercule. I thank you.
    Poirot: My friend. Now I must go and wrestle with my report to the police and with my conscience.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole?: Ratchett is a through-and-through vile individual, but Poirot is still compelled to solve the man's death.

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