Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

PG | 127-128 mins | Mystery | December 1974

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HISTORY

The opening title cards read Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express . After the opening credits, the film begins with a montage of events at the “Armstrong” home in 1930, on the night of the kidnapping of toddler “Daisy Armstrong.” The montage contains no dialogue and several images of the Armstrongs and their household staff are freeze-framed, then dissolves into newspaper photos that are part of front page coverage of the kidnapping. Portions of the montage repeat throughout the film, as more information becomes known about the kidnapping and its connection with the passengers on the Orient Express.
       According to a 29 May 1974 Var news item, Murder on the Orient Express was one of the costliest British co-productions in years, with the cast alone budgeted at over a million dollars. As noted in the onscreen closing credits, the film was shot on location in France, Turkey and England, with most of the action, which took place within the train, shot at EMI Elstree Studios, outside London. Ingrid Bergman received an Academy Award for Actress in a Supporting Role. The film also received the following nominations: Actor (Albert Finney), Cinematography, Costume Design, Music and Writing.
       The “Armstrong” baby kidnapping at the center of Christie’s novel and subsequent film was inspired by the real-life kidnapping of the infant son of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Mar 1932. As with the film’s fictional kidnapping of “Daisy Armstrong,” the Lindbergh baby was abducted from their private home. The family, who lived in Hopwell, N. J., was besieged by the press; ... More Less

The opening title cards read Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express . After the opening credits, the film begins with a montage of events at the “Armstrong” home in 1930, on the night of the kidnapping of toddler “Daisy Armstrong.” The montage contains no dialogue and several images of the Armstrongs and their household staff are freeze-framed, then dissolves into newspaper photos that are part of front page coverage of the kidnapping. Portions of the montage repeat throughout the film, as more information becomes known about the kidnapping and its connection with the passengers on the Orient Express.
       According to a 29 May 1974 Var news item, Murder on the Orient Express was one of the costliest British co-productions in years, with the cast alone budgeted at over a million dollars. As noted in the onscreen closing credits, the film was shot on location in France, Turkey and England, with most of the action, which took place within the train, shot at EMI Elstree Studios, outside London. Ingrid Bergman received an Academy Award for Actress in a Supporting Role. The film also received the following nominations: Actor (Albert Finney), Cinematography, Costume Design, Music and Writing.
       The “Armstrong” baby kidnapping at the center of Christie’s novel and subsequent film was inspired by the real-life kidnapping of the infant son of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Mar 1932. As with the film’s fictional kidnapping of “Daisy Armstrong,” the Lindbergh baby was abducted from their private home. The family, who lived in Hopwell, N. J., was besieged by the press; then after the Lindberghs paid the ransom demanded, the baby’s dead body was discovered. Another detail in the book and film inspired by the Lindbergh case was suspicion of an inside accomplice within the family residence falling on a maid, who subsequently committed suicide after several police interrogations. Christie’s novel was published in England in Jan 1934, eight months before the arrest of German immigrant Bruno Hauptmann, who was subsequently charged with the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and murder. Hauptmann was found guilty following a highly publicized trial and was electrocuted in 1936.
       The original Orient Express, operated by the Compaignie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, began service in Jun 1883, with service between Paris and Vienna, under the name “Express d’Orient.” By Oct 1883 the route was Paris, Romania, Munich and Vienna. In Romania, passengers would be ferried across the Danube to Bulgaria where they would catch another train to Varna and complete the journey to Istanbul by ferry. In 1885 another route was added going from Paris to Vienna to Belgrade to Plovdiv and Istanbul. In Oct 1891, the train was officially renamed the Orient Express. After service was suspended for the duration of World War I, it resumed in 1919. During the 1930’s period in which Murder on the Orient Express is set, the luxury service was at its peak in popularity and frequented by prominent business people as well as royalty, diplomats and notable artistic luminaries.
       By 1971 the Wagon-Lits company stopped running the train service and instead sold or leased its carriages to national railway companies. In May 1977 the last Paris-Istanbul service ran. A service bearing the Orient Express name continued to run from Paris to Budapest, and in 2001 the service was cut back to a Paris to Vienna run. With the advent of high speed rail lines that opened in 2007, the Orient Express service was further reduced to running only between Strasbourg and Vienna. In 1982, a private venture established the Venice-Simplon Orient Express that restored the 1920’s and 1930s rail cars which operated between London and Venice, with occasional service to Istanbul.
       Producers John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin went on to produce two more films adapted from Christie novels featuring the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, Paramount’s 1978 release of Death on the Nile and Universal’s 1982 production of Evil Under the Sun , both starring Peter Ustinov as Poirot and featuring a large “all-star” cast. In 2001 CBS-TV broadcast a remake of Murder on the Orient Express , starring Alfred Molina as Poirot, Meredith Baxter as “Mrs. Hubbard” and Peter Straus as “Ratchett.” The made-for-television movie, directed by Carl Schenkel, updated the 1930s period setting of the novel and original film to 2001. In 1989 Britain’s ITV television began a series called Agatha Christie’s Poirot , starring David Suchet as the Belgian detective. The series ran through the 1990s and returned for an eleventh season in 2008. Prior to Suchet, regarded by many critics as the best Poirot, Finney had been lauded by fans of the Christie novels as giving the most accurate portrayal of the eccentric, fastidiously attired and groomed Poirot. Modern sources note that Christie herself approved of Finney’s depiction. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
25 Nov 1974
p. 4737.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Nov 1974
p. 3.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
24 Dec 1974.
---
Los Angeles Times
22 Dec 1974
Calendar, p. 1.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
13 Nov 1974
p. 47.
New York Times
25 Nov 1974
p. 38.
Newsweek
2 Dec 1974
p. 107.
Time
9 Dec 1974
p. 4.
Variety
29 May 1974.
---
Variety
20 Nov 1974
p. 14.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A John Brabourne - Richard Goodwin Production
A John Brabourne--Richard Goodwin Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
PRODUCERS
Pres
WRITER
Scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Camera and lenses by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
COSTUMES
The Princess' jewelry by
MUSIC
Orch of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden cond
VISUAL EFFECTS
Montage seq and titles by
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairdressing supv
Miss Bergman's and Mr. Finney's hair by
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
French prod mgr
Prod assoc
Unit mgr
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on novel Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (New York and London, 1934).
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express
Release Date:
December 1974
Premiere Information:
New York and Los Angeles openings: 25 December 1974
Production Date:
ended May 1974 at EMI Elstree Studios, Borehamwood, England
France and Turkey
Copyright Claimant:
EMI Film Distributors, Ltd.
Copyright Date:
20 November 1974
Copyright Number:
LF228
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
127-128
MPAA Rating:
PG
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
24034
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1930 Long Island, New York, baby Daisy Armstrong is kidnapped from the estate of her parents, Col. Hamish and Sonja Armstrong, a crime that is sensationalized in the press. Although the Armstrongs pay the kidnapper’s eventual ransom demand, Daisy’s body is soon discovered. Five years later in Istanbul, as British teacher Mary Debenham meets Scottish Guard officer Col. Arbuthnott onboard a ferry, they are observed by Belgian private detective Hercule Poirot. At a hotel on the European side of the city, Poirot runs into longtime friend, Signore Bianchi, Italian director for Compaigne Internationale des Wagons-Lits, and reveals that he is taking the luxurious Orient Express train that night. When a porter regretfully informs Poirot that all the first class berths are reserved, Bianchi, who is also traveling on the Express, vows to find a place on the train for his friend. Later that night at the station platform, passengers arrive to board the opulent train: the austere, elderly Princess Natalia Dragomiroff and her maid, Hildegarde Schmitt; elegant Hungarian diplomat Count Andrenyi and his beautiful wife; stylish American Mrs. Harriet Hubbard; anxious Swedish missionary Greta Ohlsson; retired American businessman Mr. Ratchett with his secretary Hector McQueen and servant Beddoes, all of whom join Arbuthnott and Miss Debenham who are already on board. When Italian-American car salesman Gino Foscarelli and American theatrical agent Cyrus Hardman complete the passenger list, Bianchi places Poirot in the same compartment as Hector, promising to get the detective a single berth the next night. The next day at lunch in the sumptuous dining car, Ratchett summons Poirot and tells him that he has received death threats, ... +


In 1930 Long Island, New York, baby Daisy Armstrong is kidnapped from the estate of her parents, Col. Hamish and Sonja Armstrong, a crime that is sensationalized in the press. Although the Armstrongs pay the kidnapper’s eventual ransom demand, Daisy’s body is soon discovered. Five years later in Istanbul, as British teacher Mary Debenham meets Scottish Guard officer Col. Arbuthnott onboard a ferry, they are observed by Belgian private detective Hercule Poirot. At a hotel on the European side of the city, Poirot runs into longtime friend, Signore Bianchi, Italian director for Compaigne Internationale des Wagons-Lits, and reveals that he is taking the luxurious Orient Express train that night. When a porter regretfully informs Poirot that all the first class berths are reserved, Bianchi, who is also traveling on the Express, vows to find a place on the train for his friend. Later that night at the station platform, passengers arrive to board the opulent train: the austere, elderly Princess Natalia Dragomiroff and her maid, Hildegarde Schmitt; elegant Hungarian diplomat Count Andrenyi and his beautiful wife; stylish American Mrs. Harriet Hubbard; anxious Swedish missionary Greta Ohlsson; retired American businessman Mr. Ratchett with his secretary Hector McQueen and servant Beddoes, all of whom join Arbuthnott and Miss Debenham who are already on board. When Italian-American car salesman Gino Foscarelli and American theatrical agent Cyrus Hardman complete the passenger list, Bianchi places Poirot in the same compartment as Hector, promising to get the detective a single berth the next night. The next day at lunch in the sumptuous dining car, Ratchett summons Poirot and tells him that he has received death threats, then offers the detective several thousand dollars to act as his personal bodyguard. Put off by Ratchett’s presumptive manner, Poirot demurs. As the Orient Express reaches Yugoslavia, heavy snow blankets the countryside. At a stop in Belgrade, Bianchi offers his own berth to Poirot, who gratefully accepts. Questioning attentive porter Pierre about his “neighbors,” Poirot learns that Ratchett is on one side of him. That night, while preparing for bed, Poirot overhears Beddoes, then Hector visit Ratchett. After midnight, Poirot is jerked out of his sleep by a cry from Ratchett's compartment, followed by Pierre’s immediate, anxious inquiry and the businessman's response that he has had a nightmare. Some time later, Poirot is again disturbed by a sharp knocking, and when he angrily opens his door, sees a woman in a white kimono-style dressing gown and turban retreating down the passage. Abruptly aware of total silence, the detective peers out the window and notes that the train is stuck behind a large snow drift. The next morning, when Ratchett has failed to respond to Beddoes’ knock, Poirot helps Pierre break through the chained door. Finding Ratchett dead in his berth, Poirot summons Bianchi and the train’s physician, Dr. Constantine. After a cursory examination, the doctor states that Ratchett’s Valerian draught was tampered with, then finds that the victim has also been stabbed a dozen times in the chest. Poirot finds a cracked watch in Ratchett’s breast pocket, stopped at 12:45. Deeply distressed, Bianchi pleads with Poirot to investigate to prevent interference from the Yugoslav police. Reluctantly, Poirot agrees, requesting the passengers’ passports and a private car in which to question each individually. Upon learning of the murder and Poirot’s investigation, Mrs. Hubbard loudly proclaims that the night before there was a man in her compartment, which is on the other side of Ratchett’s, but she is greeted with skepticism. In Ratchett’s compartment, Poirot spots a burned note in the ashtray and, commenting that there appear to be too many clues, asks Constantine to act as a witness while he reheats the note thus allowing the writing on it to blaze up for a few seconds. Seeing the letters “aisy arms,” Poirot excitedly declares he knows Ratchett’s true identity. Joining Bianchi, Poirot announces that information provided by Hector, as well as the writing on the burnt note confirm that Ratchett actually was the assumed identity of Cassetti, the at-large mastermind behind the Daisy Armstrong kidnapping. Reminding his friend that Cassetti was responsible for more than Daisy’s death, Poirot details that upon the discovery of the baby’s murder, the shocked Sonja gave premature birth to a stillborn baby girl, then died herself days later. Devastated by grief, Hamish committed suicide, and after the family maid came under suspicion as an accomplice, she also committed suicide. With the passengers resigned to being stranded while the train awaits an ice-breaking engine, Poirot begins his formal questioning of each in the private car and learns from Hector that his father was the District Attorney on the Armstrong kidnapping case, and that he was deeply moved by the kindness shown to him by Sonja. Uneasy about questioning the loquacious Mrs. Hubbard, Poirot asks for proof of her claim that there was a man in her compartment. This prompts her to produce a button she found on the floor, which proves to be from the tunic of a train porter. Out of respect for Princess Dragomiroff’s age and position, Poirot and Bianchi visit her compartment, where the aging princess acknowledges being Sonja Armstrong’s godmother and a long-time friend of Sonja’s mother, famous actress Linda Arden. Although the princess evades identifying others in the Armstrong household, Hildegarde mentions having a photo of the maid Paulette. When Poirot follows Hildegarde to her compartment to see the photo, she is horrified to find a porter’s uniform in her suitcase. Returning to his own compartment with the uniform and picture, Poirot is startled, then amused to find the white kimono and turban on his suitcase. After examining Miss Debenham, Poirot then speaks with Foscarelli, who believes that Cassetti was a Mafioso, but they are interrupted by Mrs. Hubbard’s sudden appearance bearing a bloodied dagger found in her makeup bag. Telling Bianchi to summon the passengers so that he might present them with the murder solution, Poirot then speaks briefly with Hardman, who confesses to being a Pinkerton agent and Ratchett’s bodyguard. When Poirot hands him the photo of the maid Paulette, however, Hardman admits that he is lying. Joining the waiting passengers in the dining car, Poirot displays the porter’s uniform, which is missing a button, a pass key found in the uniform pocket and the dagger. Reminding everyone that Mrs. Hubbard saw a man in her compartment, Poirot proposes that the man could have boarded the train in Belgrade, murdered Ratchett, then used the train’s stall in the snowdrift to escape undetected. Poirot then adds that there is another, more complex solution that revolves around Ratchett’s identity as Cassetti. The detective then describes how each passenger is connected to the Armstrongs: the family secretary was, according to the princess, Miss Freebody. Poirot notes that Freebody is the name of a partner in a famous British women’s apparel shop, the senior partner being Debenham, which is the secretary’s true name. Miss Debenham’s use of colloquial American phrases also revealed that she spent time in America. Sonja’s maiden name, the princess suggested was Greenwood, which is English for the countess’s maiden name Grunwald, making the countess Sonja’s sister. Poirot then mentions Hildegarde’s inadvertent acknowledgement of being a cook, suggesting that she worked for the Armstrongs, as did Greta as baby Daisy’s nurse and Foscarelli as the family chauffeur. Arbuthnott’s claim not to have known Hamish well is disproved by his familiarity with Armstrong’s many decorations. Both men served in a Scottish regiment, along with Beddoes, who was Hamish’s batman. Arbuthnott’s observation about trial by jury prompted Poirot to realize that, beside himself, Bianchi, Ratchett and the doctor, there were twelve passengers, twelve wounds and twelve letters in each threatening note. Turning to Hardman, Poirot says that he was not a bodyguard as Ratchett had tried to hire him and suggests that, instead, Hardman was a Long Island policeman who fell in love with the Armstrong maid, Paulette. Turning to Pierre, Poirot asks if Paulette was his daughter and, weeping, the porter admits that she was. Declaring that he knew he purposely was being fed numerous conflicting clues, such as the mysterious woman in the kimono, Poirot admits he finally recognized Mrs. Hubbard as famed actress Linda Arden, mother of Sonja and the countess Helena, and grandmother to Daisy. Poirot concludes that Mrs. Hubbard organized the revenge plot with Pierre’s inside assistance and, confessing admiration for the flurry of hastily arranged clues upon learning of his unexpected addition to the train, then describes how the murder occurred: After Hector drugs Ratchett, he breaks the watch and pretends to be Ratchett crying out during a nightmare, all details intended to convince Poirot that the murder was committed before one a.m. Much later, each passenger enters Ratchett’s compartment through Mrs. Hubbard’s adjoining door, stabs Ratchett once, with the count and countess performing their strike together. With the murderers departing through the adjoining door, Ratchett’s compartment remains locked from the inside. After his conclusion, Poirot turns to Bianchi and asks which solution he would prefer. After hesitating, Bianchi declares they should provide the Yugoslav police with the porter’s uniform, the button, pass key and dagger. When Poirot accepts the decision, the relieved passengers quietly toast Mrs. Hubbard for their successful retribution, just as the ice-breaking engine clears the path for the Orient Express to resume its journey. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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