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Classic Christie Adaptation

Posted by acdtest on January 21, 2003

Classic Christie Adaptation

idney Lumet’s 1974 big-screen movie adaptation of the Agatha Christie classic whodunit, Murder on the Orient Express, is on my list of Top Ten Greatest Brain-candy Movies. I’ve seen it some half-dozen times, and each time it’s just as delicious as I remembered it. It is, in fact, a movie perfect of its type, and one of the few times the phrase Stellar All-star Cast is no mere hype but the simple truth in that most of the cast are indeed genuine stars, and their performances stellar. There’s Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Widmark, Michael York, Colin Blakely, and George Coulouris. Mouth-watering just to contemplate in one movie, and when headed by a skilled and invariably intelligent director like Lumet, a confluence almost certain to result in something well worth one’s time.

I’ve not read the Christie novel, and so can’t comment on how faithful an adaptation was done, but in any case, and for any movie adaptation, it makes no difference as the movie is the movie, the novel the novel, and the two have only the most tenuous of connections. But in this case, if the novel isn’t exactly like the movie, well, it should have been.

The key character in this whodunit is, of course, Christie’s famous fictional private detective, Hercule Poirot, played brilliantly by Albert Finney. Now, I bow to no-one in my admiration for the Poirot of David Suchet in the long-running series on PBS’s Mystery, but one senses immediately that Suchet drew much on Finney’s realization of the character to shape his own, rounding and smoothing the sharp, edgy eccentricities of Finney’s Poirot (which is Christie’s) as when realized in that high relief they’d be intolerable in a weekly series. Finney’s Poirot is fastidious, meticulous, impatient, and vain to a degree bordering on, but never crossing over to, sheer caricature. It’s one hell of a balancing act, and Finney pulls it off without so much as a trace of sweat. Typical Finney, who in this role is absolutely unidentifiable as Finney so perfect in manner and figure has he transformed himself into the great Belgian sleuth.

Classic whodunits are not exactly Sidney Lumet’s specialty, but he took this one, and turned it into a stylish masterpiece of the movie genre. It’s easily the classiest, lushest, and most intelligent of its type ever done on film, and one wonders how the director of such films as The Pawnbroker and The Hill could ever summon the requisite mindset and sensitivities to accomplish such a feat. But summon them Lumet did, and the evidence of his success is indisputable, and also available on VHS (but not yet on DVD) for all to witness without cuts or commercial interruption. So, give your mind a delightful and refreshing two-hour break some rainy evening, and pop it in the ol’ VCR.

Your brain will thank you.

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