Ingrid Thursdays: Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

The Film: The very concept of a murder mystery film can be daunting for a variety of different reasons. For one, without an Murder on the Orient Express Postereffective director the plotline and resolution can be obvious to the film viewer before the mystery’s ultimate reveal. Second, murder mystery films typically feature an all-star cast, to which without the proper production, these very actors could step on each other for more shine under the spotlight. This is not the scenario with Murder on the Orient Express. Director Sidney Lumet allowed for the screenplay to carefully construct the environment and situation and also was sure to showcase every single actor for a handful of minutes in the film during their “interrogation scenes.” Never once do the actors step on each other or even come close to being in competition with each other, but rather the performances complement each other and provide a litany of characters that is holistic to the plotline.

The film title essentially spells out the premise of the film, by which Hercule Poirot finds himself on board the Orient Express enroute to England from India. His observant demeanor immediately begins to detect suspicious behavior and mannerisms from many of the passengers, but he doesn’t initially react to them. It is not until one of the Murder on the Orient Express 02passengers, named Ratchett, directly speaks to him of how he is fearing for his life and offers him an exorbitant amount of money to be his personal bodyguard. Poirot refuses and the next morning Ratchett is found murdered. In a twist of fate, the train is trapped in ice, thus Poirot is persuaded to utilize the available time to investigate the crime. Poirot then proceeds to engage in a series interrogations with each of the passengers, and through them, he begins to gather clues to reconstruct the events of the crime and ultimately reveal who the murderer is.

This film is one of the first Agatha Christie novels to be adapted onto the silver screen, and it is a truly effective one. What makes it a masterful film is its ability to transplant the film viewer to the era in which the film takes place; 1935. The costumes and set design both make ode to this era down to the very detail, such as the cramped sleeping cars, the narrow hallways and the crowded observation cars. Yet what ultimately sells this film is the extraordinary performance from Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot, whose performance is arguably one of the most Murder on the Orient Express 01transformative performances ever to have graced film. Finney perfectly conveys the vision Agatha Christie had with her detective with his thick Belgium accent, arrogant yet witty dialogue, and eccentric mannerisms. Finney crafted his performance as knowingly being the smartest individual in every room he occupies, but gave his performance enough charisma to not be off-putting to film viewers. Often Finney would interject comedy into his dialogue that functioned to defuse rising tensions on the screen with characters he was interacting with, but adversely Finney was also keeping film viewers entertained by the events on the screen by use of the eccentric behavior of his character. For that, Finney was deserving of his Oscar nomination for Lead Actor, and it is a shame he didn’t win.

The Performance: In the context of screen time, Ingrid Bergman is in this film for little more than ten minutes out of a 128 Ingrid Murder 01minute film, yet it was enough for her to win her third Oscar in the Best Supporting Actress category. Additionally, Bergman famously said she didn’t deserve the Oscar she won for her role as Greta Ohlsson, claiming it should have gone to Valentina Cortese for Day for Night instead. Yet despite the screen time, and Bergman’s own belief that her win was undeserved, her performance does deserve to be recognized in the same frame as her other body of work. To that, Bergman’s performance proves that a lot can be conveyed in so little. It is true that Bergman’s performance isn’t overtly showy, or even traditionally Oscar worthy, but she is still captivating in her scenes nonetheless.

The majority of her performance stems in one scene that lasts close to five minutes. The argument can be made as to whether a single scene is deserving, or capable, of winning an Oscar. Critics have claimed that Bergman’s win may have Ingrid Murder 03been due to compensation for Hollywood’s disregard of her in the 1950s due to her affair with Roberto Rossellini, yet Bergman had already won an Oscar in 1956 for her role in Anastasia by the time she starred in Murder on the Orient Express, which seems to disprove this claim. Therefore, the reason Bergman won was due to her bringing so much in a mere five minute scene. Without giving into expressive acting, Bergman was able to completely capture the psychology and the demeanor of her character, which is apparent in both her physical behavior and also how she presents herself. There is a certain psychosis Bergman provides to the character, emphasizing she is emotionally unstable and clings to the notion of religion as a means to maintain her sanity. This gave Bergman the chance to provide her character with a tragic frailty that causes film viewers pity her, rather than suspect her of any wrongdoing. Added onto that, Bergman conveyed nervous mannerisms to her character due to the situation and her hesitancy of being interrogated. It is with this dimension that Bergman was able to incorporate subtlety into her performance. Her character not being able to sit still, continually shaking, and avoiding eye contact are all natural human behavior, given the situation, that provided a level of realism to her performance. Even in her character introduction to her “interrogation scene,” Poirot begins speaking to her in Swedish, to which the tension in her body briefly dissipates before he reveals he has reached the extent of his knowledge of the language. That is acting subtly only an acting great would incorporate within a performance to Ingrid Murder 02establish realism with their character. Lastly, Bergman’s “interrogation scene” was filmed in an unedited, uncut single take, which further emphasized her ability to not only stay in character, but also convey a wide range of emotions without assistance from editing or the enhancement of camera angles or shots. Instead, the scene centered directly upon Bergman and she is allowed to act and truly showcase her talents. Bergman may not have realized the extent of her performance in those five minutes, but all she needed was five minutes to reinforce what a brilliant actress, such as herself, is capable of when they truly have the talent to exhibit. It is for these reasons why Bergman’s performance is captivating to watch and subsequently was worthy of being her third Oscar win.

Performance Rankings:
Autumn Sonata: 5/5
Gaslight: 5/5
Murder on the Orient Express: 5/5
Casablanca: 5/5
Anastasia: 5/5
Cactus Flower: 5/5
A Woman Called Golda: 4.5/5
Notorious: 4/5
Spellbound: 3.5/5
For Whom the Bell Tolls: 3.5/5
Joan of Arc: 3/5
The Bells of St. Mary’s: 3/5

Film Rankings:
Casablanca: 5/5
Autumn Sonata: 5/5
Murder on the Orient Express: 5/5
Gaslight: 5/5
Cactus Flower: 5/5
Notorious: 4/5
A Woman Called Golda: 4/5
Anastasia: 4/5
For Whom the Bell Tolls: 4/5
Spellbound: 3.5/5
The Bells of St. Mary’s: 2.5/5
Joan of Arc: 2/5

Links for other Ingrid Thursdays can be found here:
A Woman Called Golda
Autumn Sonata
Joan of Arc
Murder on the Orient Express
Cactus Flower
For Whom the Bell Tolls
The Bells of St. Mary’s


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