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Monday, September 13, 2021

Mystery Movie Review - Murder on the Orient Express 1974 vs 2017

Which is the best movie adaptation:
Murder on the Orient Express 1974 vs 2017

In December 1935, when the luxury train with detective Hercules Poirot aboard is stopped by avalanche (blocking the tracks or derailing train, depending on the version), he is called on to solve a murder that occurred in his car the night before. 

This is a great book and I will try to compare these two movie adaptations without any serious spoilers (a tough trick, but I'll give it a whirl!)

1974 Adaptation
Rotten Tomatoes 90%
6 Oscar Nominations/1 Oscar win
The 1974 movie is considered closer to the book.

Starred:  Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Jacqueline Bisset, Michael York, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, John Gielgud, and Richard Widmark.

Opens with the kidnapping of Daisy Armstrong and news coverage which sets the stage for what follows.

1974 thoughts:
  • The cinematography is stylish and atmospheric.
  • The costumes I felt were better because they gave more contrast between characters and the the styles for the wealthy reflected the opulence of the era.  
  • Music is period specific and lavish.
  • Poirot is fastidious and true to the books.
  • Better written characters in this screenplay. 
  • Richard Widmark as Samuel Ratchett is more a businessman and not an obvious bad man as the 2017 screenplay portrays him.
  • Ingrid Bergman is superb as a missionary-Won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for this role!
  • Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of the victim's personal secretary, Mr. McQueen, was far better.
  • Jacqueline Bisset is the best Countess Andrenyi and Michael York is a suave Count and more believable than the 2017 Count.
  • John Gielgud is the penultimate butler, although I know Derek Jacobi (2017) is a stellar actor but it wasn't the role for him to show his abilities.
  • Lauren Bacall was brilliant throughout as Mrs. Hubbard where Michelle Pfeiffer (2017) didn't have her moment until Poirot reveals the solution.
  • An 84 year-old Agatha Christie attended the movie premiere in November 1974. It was the only film adaptation in her lifetime that she was completely satisfied with. In particular, she felt that Albert Finney‘s performance came closest to her idea of Poirot.

2017 Rotten Tomatoes 60%  

Starred: Kenneth Branagh, William Dafoe, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Penélope Cruz, Leslie Odam Jr., Johnny Depp

Opens with Poirot uncovering police corruption.

2017 Version thoughts:

  • Poirot is particular, friendly, and far more warm and humorous than the book. 
  • He uses his cane for utility more than walking or style.  
  • Characters aren't true to the book and aren't distinctly different, they rather melded together.
  • Count is overly prone to violence and over the top silent brooding.
  • Judi Dench is a much younger Princess Dragomiroff, but gives a superb performance and she is better than the 1974 version.
  • Johnny Depp is more of a mobster portrayal of victim Samuel Ratchett and openly does business with mobsters giving away he is a criminal early. I think having him as a demanding businessman was better.
  • Derek Jacobi, who is a phenomenal actor, was under-cast as the butler/valet.
  • Trainline owner is a ridiculous playboy rather than a businessman.
  • The character of the English Colonel John Arbuthnot, played by Sean Connery in 1974, is incorporated into the Doctor for 2017 adaptation. Both Sean Connery and Leslie Odam Jr. do a great job.  The 1974 being closer to the book though.
  • The train is derailed rather than tracks blocked from an avalanche, which makes isolation more pronounced.
  • Excellent cinematography, camera angles, exterior shots -- Modern, slick - all the benefits of modern film making.
  • The luxury of the train is optimized.
  • Chase scenes and some gun play are added which was forced into the story and didn't really make sense. 
  • The killer reveal was more emotional and in one instance too melodramatic.
  • The ending was more philosophical with murder portrayed as causing a fracture of the human soul and resulting in so many broken lives. 

Albert Finney vs Kenneth Branagh

1974's Finney is more true to Christie's vision, although the mustache wasn't big enough. This Poirot is fastidious like in the books and you follow his thought process as he comes to his conclusions.  There are only a couple of scenes where you get much of a sense of the man Poirot is.  But that was like the books. 

2017's Branagh: Poirot surprisingly gets a romantic backstory of some lost love that is never explained, he displays a sense of humor, his mustache may be even bigger than Christie had in mind, and ultimately he wrestles with the imbalance of justice in this case.  Branagh's portrayal on the one hand makes Poirot more warm and human but on the other hand his leaps of logic seem more fantastical than elementary.

There are excellent aspects to both movies but here is my breakdown.

I love the 1974 movie for a true Christie portrayal and the superior acting.  There's a reason why it had 6 Oscar nominations (Best Actor in a Leading Role: Albert Finney, Best Writing-Screenplay Adapted From Other Material, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Music-Original Dramatic Score) and Ingrid Bergman won for Best Supporting Actress.  The cast was fantastic together.  They did a great job for 1974 with the cinematography and created an atmospheric feel and suspicious mood.  Costuming was superior and reflected the golden era of Hollywood.  This movie wins, absolutely.

Although I enjoy the modern camerawork of the 2017 adaptation with unusual angles and how it addresses some modern issues and sensibilities, I honestly found the acting only barely grabbing me in a few rare scenes and not for long.  The addition of a chase scene and a shooting scene was out of character and didn't fit (IMHO).  Changing Poirot to provide some sort of romantic backstory seemed like trying to make him more likeable or make the movie very different from the original, but it is nothing like Christie's Poirot and didn't provide the payoff.  It came off all wrong and even awkward.  Poirot was also uncharacteristic in that he had such doubts that he could solve the murder after a while, which Christie's Poirot never has such self-doubts.  The screenplay left some characters poorly written (The Count and trainline owner were terrible).  There were some scenes that actually made no sense as well. I can't go into them without spoilers. 

1974 version is my favorite, hands down.  But don't take my word for it.  Watch both and see what you think of them.  If you've seen both, leave a comment on how they measured up for you.

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Mystica said...

I've read the book watched the movie maybe the later version, loved Poirot with all his foibles. With the pandemic, I've gone back to watching them.

A.F. Heart said...

Thank you for commenting. It is fun to go back and watch them. I didn't include any of the made-for-TV adaptations of Orient Express, so there are a couple of those to check out as well. Yes, with the pandemic I have gotten to watch more than usual and these classics are always fun.

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