Murder on the Orient Express (1974 film)

Murder on the Orient Express (1974 film)
Murder on the Orient Express

film poster by Richard Amsel
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Produced by John Brabourne
Richard B. Goodwin
Screenplay by Paul Dehn
Anthony Shaffer
Based on novel Murder on the Orient Express by
Agatha Christie
Starring see below
Music by Richard Rodney Bennett
Cinematography Geoffrey Unsworth
Editing by Anne V. Coates
Studio EMI Films
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) 24 November 1974 (1974-11-24)
Running time 128 min.
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Box office $27,634,716

Murder on the Orient Express is a 1974 British mystery film directed by Sidney Lumet, starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot, and based on the 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.



The film (and book) features the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Albert Finney stars as Poirot, who is asked by his friend Bianchi (Martin Balsam), a train company director, to investigate the murder of an American business tycoon, Mr. Ratchett (Richard Widmark), aboard a train with an all-star cast of suspects, including Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman (delivering an Oscar-winning performance), Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York and Anthony Perkins. The screenplay was penned by Paul Dehn and an uncredited Anthony Shaffer.

The film's tagline was: "The greatest cast of suspicious characters ever involved in murder."

Richard Rodney Bennett's memorable Orient Express theme has been reworked into an orchestral suite and performed and recorded several times. It was performed on the original soundtrack album by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden under Marcus Dods. The piano soloist was the composer himself.


The murder

Having sorted a matter out in the Middle East, detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) is returning to England aboard the Orient Express. During the journey, Poirot encounters his friend Bianchi (Martin Balsam), a director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, which owns the line. The train is unusually crowded for the time of year: every first-class berth has been booked. Shortly after the train's departure from Constantinople, a wealthy American businessman, Ratchett (Richard Widmark), tries to secure Poirot's services for $15,000 since he has received many death threats, but Poirot finds the case of little interest and turns it down. That night the train is caught in heavy snows in the Balkans. The next morning Ratchett is found stabbed to death in his cabin.

Poirot and Bianchi work together to solve the case. They enlist the help of Dr. Constantine (George Coulouris), a Greek medical doctor who was travelling in another coach with Bianchi as the only other passenger and thus is not a suspect. Pierre Michel (Jean-Pierre Cassel), the middle-aged French conductor of the car, also assists the investigation, as well as being a suspect. Poirot soon discovers that Ratchett was not who he claimed to be. The victim's secret past indicates a clear motive for murder, even justification, but who was the killer?


Dr. Constantine's examination of the body reveals that Ratchett was stabbed 12 times. Some wounds were slight, but at least three of them could have resulted in death.

The stopped watch in the victim's pocket, as well as Poirot's reconstructed timeline of passenger activities the night before, indicate that Ratchett was murdered at about 1:15 a.m. The train had stopped, surrounded by fresh snow, before that time. There are no tracks in the snow and the doors to the other cars were locked, so the murderer is almost certainly still among the passengers in the coach in which Ratchett was killed.

Most importantly, Poirot discovers that Ratchett's name was an assumed one, his real name being Casseti, a gangster who planned and carried out the kidnapping of Daisy Armstrong five years ago (1930), the infant daughter of a wealthy British Army Colonel who had settled in America with his American-born wife. The ruthless kidnappers demanded ransom be paid in exchange for infant; but after it was delivered, they murdered the child. Overcome with grief after discovering the infant's corpse, the pregnant Mrs. Armstrong went into labor early and died while giving birth to a stillborn baby. A maidservant named Paulette who was wrongly suspected of being involved in the kidnapping committed suicide. Colonel Armstrong, consumed by these tragedies, later killed himself as well. Cassetti's accomplice was arrested and executed, but Cassetti betrayed his partner and fled the country with the ransom, as he was only revealed to be the leader on the eve of the execution.

Having established these facts, Poirot, Dr. Constantine and Bianchi summon the other passengers one by one and proceed to interrogate them.

(The fictitious Armstrong case was inspired by the real-life kidnapping of aviator Charles Lindbergh's child.)


The thirteen suspects are:


After concluding his enquiries on the suspects, Poirot gathers all of them in the dining room to present his solution to the crime. He has concluded into two possible scenarios of the murder. The first scenario, which he calls the simple solution, is based on several clues, planted by the suspects to imply that Ratchett's/Casseti's murder was a result of a mafia feud, intending to throw off-track any investigations. Then Poirot analyzes his second solution, referring to it as a more complex one than the previous, according to which every passenger of the Calais coach, including the steward, Michel, were linked to the Armstrong case, thus providing them with sufficient motives:

  • McQueen was the son of the District Attorney who prosecuted the case and was very fond of Mrs. Armstrong;
  • Beddoes was Colonel Armstrong's army batman and the family butler;
  • Miss Debenham was Mrs Armstrong's secretary;
  • Col. Arbuthnott was an army friend of Col. Armstrong;
  • Princess Dragomiroff was Sonia Armstrong's godmother;
  • Miss Schmidt was the Armstrongs' cook;
  • Countess Andrenyi was Mrs Armstrong's sister;
  • Count Andrenyi was Mrs Armstrong's brother in law.
  • Miss Ohlsson was Daisy's nursemaid;
  • Mrs Hubbard was Mrs Armstrong's mother;
  • Foscarelli was the Armstrong's chauffeur;
  • Hardman was, at the time, a policeman who was in love with Paulette;
  • Michel was Paulette's father;

Ratchett was sedated by Beddoes and McQueen. Each of the passengers then stabbed him in turn.

As soon as Poirot finishes his explanation, every one in the car is struck dumbfound. Poirot then suggests that Bianchi should choose which explanation they should present to the police: the simple or the complex one. Bianchi decides that this "simple" solution will be more than enough for the local police and that Ratchett deserved everything he got. A cover-up is therefore instigated. Poirot agrees with the decision, whereupon he departs to conduct his report to the police, even though he admits that he will struggle with his conscience.

Arrangement of the Calais Coach:

Athens-Paris Coach Michel 16. Hardman 15. Arbuthnot 14. Dragomiroff 13. R. Andrenyi 12. E. Andrenyi 3. Hubbard 2. Ratchett 1. Poirot 10. Ohlsson
11. Debenham
8. Schmidt
6. MacQueen
4. Beddoes
5. Foscarelli
Dining Car
  First-class compartment (1 person)
  Second-class compartment (2 people)
  Compartment where murder occurred (first class)


Production details

Exterior shooting was mostly done in France, with a railroad workshop near Paris standing in for Istanbul station. The scenes of the train proceeding through central Europe were filmed in the Jura mountains on the then recently closed railway line from Pontarlier to Gilley, with the scenes of the train getting stuck being filmed in a cutting near Montbenoît.[1] Coincidentally, this area (part of Yugoslavia in the story) is part of the micronation of Saugeais. There were concerns about a lack of snow in the weeks preceding the scheduled shooting of the snowbound train, and plans were made to truck in large quantities of snow at considerable expense. However, heavy snowfall the night before the shooting made the extra snow unnecessary—just as well, as the snow-laden backup trucks had themselves become stuck in the snow.[2]


Christie's opinion

Agatha Christie had been quite displeased with some film adaptations of her works made in the 1960s, and accordingly was unwilling to sell any more film rights. When Nat Cohen, chairman of EMI Films, and producer John Brabourne attempted to get her approval for this film, they felt it necessary to have Lord Mountbatten of Burma (of the British Royal Family and also Brabourne's father-in-law) help them broach the subject.

In the end, according to Christie's husband Max Mallowan, "Agatha herself has always been allergic to the adaptation of her books by the cinema, but was persuaded to give a rather grudging appreciation to this one." Christie's biographer Gwen Robyns quoted her as saying, "It was well made except for one mistake. It was Albert Finney, as my detective Hercule Poirot. I wrote that he had the finest moustache in England — and he didn't in the film. I thought that a pity — why shouldn't he?"[3]


The film has received positive reviews. Roger Ebert has given the film 3 out of 4 stars. He stated that his favorite feature of the film "is its style, both the deliberately old-fashioned visual strategies used by director Sidney Lumet, and the cheerful overacting of the dozen or more suspects." [4] The film has received a 100% Fresh rating on the website Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 7.4/10.[5]

Academy Awards and nominations

  • Academy Award: Best Supporting Actress, Ingrid Bergman
  • Academy Award Nomination: Best Actor in a Leading Role, Albert Finney
  • Academy Award Nomination: Best Cinematography, Geoffrey Unsworth
  • Academy Award Nomination: Best Costume Design, Tony Walton
  • Academy Award Nomination: Best Music, Original Dramatic Score, Richard Rodney Bennett
  • Academy Award Nomination: Best Writing, Screenplay Adapted from Other Material, Paul Dehn

Other Poirot films

It was the first of a number of "all-star" adaptations of Agatha Christie novels in the 1970s and early 1980s. Similar films included Death on the Nile, The Mirror Crack'd and Evil Under the Sun. It is the only occasion that Finney portrayed Poirot, with Peter Ustinov portraying the detective in subsequent films.


  1. ^ Trains Oubliés Vol.2: Le PLM by José Banaudo, p. 54 (French). Editions du Cabri, Menton, France
  2. ^ DVD documentary "Making Murder on the Orient Express: The Ride"
  3. ^ The Agatha Christie Companion: The Complete Guide to Agatha Christie's Life and Work, by Dennis Sanders and Len Lovallo (1984), pgs. 438-441
  4. ^ is its style, both the deliberately old-fashioned visual strategies used by director Sidney Lumet, and the cheerful overacting of the dozen or more suspects.
  5. ^

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