TBT: Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

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Murder on the Orient Express is probably THE classic Agatha Christie story, and the 1974 feature film starring Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, and Vanessa Redgrave is one of the classic screen adaptations. I saw the recent Kenneth Branagh version that I thought was acceptable, so I wanted to see how this one stacked up.

As a film? Sure, the ’74 version was fine? The opening was so heavy-handed with all the backstory on the Armstrong kidnapping that underpins the current-to-the-story murder; I suppose I wouldn’t know how that tied in if I didn’t know the story, but it was so randomly obvious. I’m never sure how comic the character of Poirot is supposed to be. I quite like Peter Ustinov’s take; Albert Finney was so unsubtle that it just felt stagey. Nothing sucked, I just didn’t feel any major emotional connection to any of the characters or story.

The costumes were designed by Tony Walton, who also did the production design, and has done a lot of both for theater; he was nominated for a costume design Oscar for his work on this film. I can’t find much info on his approach other than these thoughts on costuming Poirot/Finney:

“I costumed Albert Finney in a film role for Murder on the Orient Express that required padding, makeup, slicked-back hair, etc., to transform him into a very different character than the attractive young man he was playing at night on the London stage. I gave him a ring made from a bullet casing. He would knead the ring to remind himself that his character had a limp from a bullet wound. The right cuff links are something the audience may never be aware of, but it does help the actors, especially if they happen to be engraved with the character’s initials.” (SurfacesVisual Research for Artists, Architects, and Designers)

The costumes do read as 1930s and not 1970s, thankfully, and were character-appropriate but not in any way that bowled me over. Again, it’s all fine?

1974 Murder on the Orient Express

Jacqueline Bisset as the reclusive-yet-ultra-fashionable countess. Compare to the more earthy Mrs. Hubbard (Bacall).

1974 Murder on the Orient Express

Ok, somewhat 1970s here. There’s probably no good way to handle the “ooo foreign train station,” but a bunch of pushy sellers seems heavy-handed.

1974 Murder on the Orient Express

Mrs. Hubbard seems just as glam as the other ladies when she boards.

1974 Murder on the Orient Express

I felt like Mrs. Hubbard was too tastefully dressed for her brassy, loud character.

1974 Murder on the Orient Express

SO MUCH soft focus on the ladies!

1974 Murder on the Orient Express

Princess Dragomiroff’s look was way too heavy-handed. She had CORPSE levels of makeup on. It was Hammer Horror level.

1974 Murder on the Orient Express

Better in black and white.

1974 Murder on the Orient Express

Miss Debenham got lots of prints; the colonel was very sporty.

1974 Murder on the Orient Express

I was just glad Redgrave’s hair didn’t look wiggy.

1974 Murder on the Orient Express

Great preppy look on McQueen (Anthony Hopkins).

1974 Murder on the Orient Express

Lady’s maid Hildegarde was very prim.

1974 Murder on the Orient Express

Finney as Poirot definitely looked the part.

1974 Murder on the Orient Express

The shots got very crowded and claustrophobic.

1974 Murder on the Orient Express

I can see why the Branagh version reset the Big Reveal. It felt anticlimactic to have everyone just shoved into one car.

 

What’s your take on the 1974 Murder on the Orient Express? Should I have gotten more excited?

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About the author

Kendra

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Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

11 Responses

  1. Kate D

    My favorite Murder on the Orient Express is the episode version starring David Suchet. The opening scenes they used made the conclusion of the episode make more sense.

    Reply
  2. Jennie Gist

    Nice overview! BTW that’s Anthony Perkins as McQueen, not Anthony Hopkins.

    Reply
  3. Frannie Germeshausen

    I prefer ALL the David Suchet versions. He truly inhabited the character. And the clothes and settings were always impeccable.

    Reply
  4. Roxana

    Is it humanly possible for Lauren Bacall NOT to look elegant? I don’t think so.

    Reply
  5. ljones1966

    Some of the costumes are lovely, but a bit too stylized for my tastes. And the men’s haircuts – especially for the extras – were a tad long for a 1930-1935 setting.

    Reply
  6. Elisa

    This was my introduction to Christie- I saw it when I was about ten. I completely fell in love with the costumes at first sight and though my parents told me to go to bed i just quitely stayed in the corner of the sofa- and in the end they let me. I loved it so much, and it was not a good idea to re-watch it a couple of years ago- I found Albert Finney’s Poirot unbearable! But I stll loved Luren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman.

    Reply
  7. Laura

    I just watched this recently and thought they did a good job overall but Albert Finney’s Poirot was almost shouting his lines at the other characters! It was really over the top! And it was fun to see all of the other famous actors – Anthony Perkins’ character talking about how he loved his mother made me giggle.
    David Suchet’s Poirot is my fav but I do love Peter Ustinov’s Poirot in Evil Under the Sun.

    Reply

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