Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Day 115: Murder on the Orient Express (1974) - Rank 5/5


Robert Altman, eat your heart out. The director, notorious for his all-star casts, has nothing for the rabble of names that were collected for this adaptation of one of Agatha Christie's most famous works. Sir John Gielgud, Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, Rachel Roberts, Michael York...even Anthony Perkins shares the screen with Martin Balsam without killing him. Ingrid Bergman cinched her third and final Oscar for the role, though I felt that she was certainly outshone by Bacall's garrulous Mrs. Hubbard or Wendy Hiller's Princess Dragomiroff (a far more regal role than her part in "Elephant Man," but no less imposing). And then there's Albert Finney.

Finney is one of those actors whose ethnic origins often slip my mind. I know he's British, yet his southern accents in films like "Erin Brokovich" or "Big Fish" would dupe me into recalling that he's from one of the Carolinas. His Belgian Poirot is as impeccable as the detective's mustache. He assumes the persona as if he were born for the role - his posturing and eccentricities even betray his stature, making him seem more a squat, befuddled man. He was certainly deserving of his nomination for the Best Actor Academy Award. Short of taking in Art Carney's performance in "Harry and Tonto," I can't say if he was robbed the award. But I will say that I found his performance more impressive than two competing, powerhouse roles: Nicholson in "Chinatown" and Pacino in "Godfather II" (and yeah, I might be putting my neck out on that statement).

As for the plot of the film, it's the quintessential "whodunnit." However, an interesting spin on the tale, apart from the fact that there are thirteen potential suspects, is that some, if not all, may be in on it together. Fabulously witty dialogue, a fantastic score and gorgeous sets and cinematography make this an almost unrivaled spectacle of the screen where large cast films are concerned. Perhaps Altman's "Gosford Park" would be the most recent film that can be said to have a production analogous to this one. And now that I've mentioned Altman, we've gone full circle.

Watch the Trailer

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