When the Orient Express is trapped by snow and a body turns up brutally stabbed, it is up to fellow passenger, the legendary Belgian detective Hercule Piorot to investigate. A case that becomes ever more intriguing when it seems all the passengers have a connection to the victim.
To paraphrase Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, this is the: Best… Agatha… Christie… Adaptation… Ever. Sidney Lumet, a director who tends to the hardboiled, finds something terse and edgy in the convolutions of its plot, invites Albert Finney to make Hercule Piorot quite unlikeable, and still maintains that musty period mystique with which the queen of whodunits bewitched millions. He also manages to do the aged guest list thing (and, fading careers apart, this is some cast list) without sinking into the cheesy excesses of the Peter Ustinov era.
What is so redolent between the finery of the wood panelled Orient Express and the moody, high quality performances on show (Ingrid Bergman would pick up an Oscar for her show) is how devious Christie’s thinking actually was. Unless you’ve previously encountered the plot, it takes a sharp mind to reveal its dark recesses, and there remains a delicious thrill to Piorot/Finney’s deftly delivered final explanation. It is, inevitably, too busy to be a classic, each of those plush names bustling for attention, and no matter how good the performer you can’t escape Christie’s leisurely approach to characterisation — simple concoctions of quirk, guilt and red herring. But Lumet is having loads of credible fun with the formula, keeping up a genuine sense of claustrophobia in this isolated railway car surrounded by crisp white snow.
Not a classic but definitely up there with the best Poirot features.