Search This Blog

Monday, August 19, 2013

Murder on the Orient Express

I just want to talk about my love for mysteries. In particular, the mysteries that usually end up with somebody dying at the very end.

I think I got bit by the mystery bug at a really young age. If I remember correctly, it started with a book that I had my mother order for me through the Scholastic Book Clubs that we used to have in elementary school. Here's the thing though...for the life of me, I can't even remember what the book title is, but I can tell you that it was one of my all-time favourite books. There were ten mysteries that you had to solve just by reading the stories and examining the illustrations for clues. Now, keep in mind that because the book was geared towards an elementary school audience, the crimes were more like petty larcenies (for example, one case had you trying to figure out which seventh grader cheated on a test, while another case had you trying to discover who destroyed a shop window), but as a kid, I was so fascinated with trying to piece together all of the puzzles. In fact, it almost inspired a possible career choice as a private investigator...

...until I deduced that my absolutely dislike of the sight of blood would forever crush that dream.

Oh well...I still love the idea of a good murder mystery. I love watching mystery movies, I enjoy playing video games with a murder mystery element to it, and I will be the first one to admit that one of the things that I have added onto my bucket list is to participate in a murder mystery dinner or murder mystery theatre. I just think it would be so fun to be a part of the action, even if I ended up being one of the victims.

I mean, I was watching the television series “Whodunnit” that recently concluded on ABC last night, and I was absolutely glued to the series from the very beginning. The premise of the show was that thirteen ordinary people of different backgrounds came together inside of a luxurious mansion to what they think is a simple cocktail party. But when people start getting killed off one by one, the real game becomes clear. One of the party guests is the murderer, and the other twelve, pawns in his or her game. Using clues left behind by the killer, the surviving guests of the manor must piece together how each person died, and pinpoint who the killer is before they become the next victim themselves. Whoever is the last one standing receives a cash prize of $250,000...and more importantly, the right to stay alive.

DISCLAIMER: Contrary to what some people astonishingly believed, nobody on the show actually ended up dead.

And, you know what? Even though I got the murderer wrong in the end, I still had a great time trying to piece together all of the puzzles.

SPOILER ALERT: From day one, I had my eye on Lindsey. I either suspected that she would win the whole thing, or be exposed as the killer. Imagine my surprise when she was the killer's final victim, shot through the throat by an arrow shooting knight. I did have Cris (the real killer) on my radar for a little bit, but discarded her as being the killer because I thought Lindsey acted more suspicious by playing both sides. But anyway, congratulations to Kam for exposing Cris as the real killer. Spend that money wisely. And, Cris? Congratulations for duping even myself! You really had a ball playing the role of killer, and I for one was impressed. Well done all!

(I certainly hope there's a second season.)

So, why would I talk about murder mysteries? Well, as you might have guessed, today's Monday Matinee will be featuring a film that acts as a two hour long murder mystery. And the reason why I chose this movie is because it happens to be one of the better murder mystery films that I have ever seen. There are so many twists, turns, clues, and red herrings within this film that it keeps you glued to the screen right from the very beginning until the surprise ending.

And we have author Agatha Christie to thank in part for the film being brought to the big screen.

Now, anyone who has heard of Agatha Christie knows that she is the master of detective fiction. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time, and her various works have been ranked by her estate as the third most-widely published books, right behind the works of William Shakespeare and the Bible. Her works have been translated into at least 103 different languages, and some of her best-selling novels include “The A.B.C. Murders”, “Ten Little Indians”, and “A Murder is Announced”, and made household names of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.

(Appropriately enough, Agatha Christie was the subject of a mystery herself when she disappeared for nearly two weeks following a fight between her and her then-husband! But more on that story another time.)

Instead, we're going to be featuring one of Agatha Christie's works, which was adapted into a feature film in 1974.

On New Years' Day, 1934, Agatha Christie published one of her most famous books, “Murder on the Orient Express”, a tale about a murder taking place on a train and investigator Hercule Poirot has to examine every nook and cranny to determine who committed the crime. Not an easy task though, given that everyone on the train was a potential suspect.

Well, director Sidney Lumet felt that it was a classic book that was worthy enough to be made into a movie. And on November 24, 1974, the film adaptation of “Murder on the Orient Express” debuted in theatres, and instantly became a success. In fact, many critics believe that this film was one of the greatest film adaptations of any Agatha Christie novel ever made.

I certainly can see why. The film boasted some immense star power, and had a great story that kept people guessing right up until the end.

(Well...that is unless you read Christie's book prior to watching it.)

TRIVIA: Admittedly Agatha Christie was apprehensive about greenlighting the producers and director the rights to turn her novel into a movie, as she had not been happy with previous films. However she reluctantly agreed, and the final project earned her seal of approval – minus the fact that she disapproved of the way that Albert Finney's moustache was styled when he performed the role of Hercule Poirot.

Sigh...everyone's a critic.

Anyway, the mystery begins on the legendary Orient Express (a train route through Europe that began services in 1883), as Hercule Poirot is on his way back home to England. While on the journey, Poirot reconnects with his friend Monsieur Broc (Martin Balsam), a director of the company which owns the line that the Orient Express travels on. While the Orient Express is usually almost always filled with people, this particular day, every single first-class compartment is booked completely.

As soon as the train departs from Istanbul, Turkey, Poirot is approached by a man named Ratchett (Richard Widmark), who wishes to secure Poirot's help for the price of fifteen grand. You see, Ratchett is not exactly the most popular person in the entire world. In fact, according to Ratchett's claims, several people want to kill him. He is willing to do anything to stay alive, even if it means asking a random stranger on a train to serve as his bodyguard. Poirot, on the other hand, wants no part of it, and flatly turns down his offer.

That night, a sudden snowstorm slows the train to a crawl, and the people inside have no choice but to wait it out. It's only until the next morning arrives that Poirot and the rest of the passengers on the train realize that Ratchett's fears were founded. His body was found in one of the first-class cabins, stabbed twelve times. Some of the wounds were not harmful, but at least a couple were enough to kill the man. It was a very puzzling case indeed.

And this time, Poirot was on the case to figure out who did the deed.

Certainly, everyone who had access to the first-class cabins were instant suspects. There were thirteen in all.

Pierre-Paul Michel (Jean-Pierre Cassel) – French conductor of the sleeping car
Hector McQueen (Anthony Perkins) – Ratchett's secretary/translator
Cyrus B. “Dick” Hardman (Colin Blakely) – a detective in the guise of a travel agent
Antonio “Gino” Foscarelli (Denis Quilley) – an Italian car salesman from Chicago
Edward Henry Beddoes (John Gielgud) – Ratchett's valet
Mary Debenham (Vanessa Redgrave) – a teacher returning home to England
Harriett Belinda Hubbard (Lauren Bacall) – a chatty socialite from America
Colonel Arbuthnott (Sean Connery) – an officer of the British Indian Army
Greta Ohlsson (Ingrid Bergman) – a missionary from Sweden returning from Africa
Count Rudolph Andrenyi (Michael York) – an aristocratic Hungarian diplomat
Countess Elena Andrenyi (Jacqueline Bisset) – The Count's wife
Princess Natalia Dragomiroff (Wendy Hiller) – a member of the Russian Royal Family
Hildegarde Schmidt (Rachel Roberts) – Princess Natalia's maid

Wow...right off the bat we have Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, and Jacqueline Bisset in the same movie! No wonder this film was so good, with all the Hollywood influence signed to the picture!

But which one did the deed? Well, I'm certainly not going to tell you. One thing I absolutely HATE is when people spoil the murder mystery for me ahead of time. So the last thing that I will do is reveal who the killer is.

But what I can do is reveal some clues as to what the motive could be.

You see...Ratchett wasn't the man who he claimed to be. Five years earlier, he was going under a different name, and he was involved heavily in criminal activity. His worst sin was kidnapping a young child from a family and demanding a huge ransom from her worried parents. Something went terribly wrong though, and the end result meant that an entire family was completely destroyed and eradicated from existence forever. Ratchett went into hiding, taking on a brand new identity in hopes that his crime would go unpunished.

But fate has a funny way of delivering instant karma, courtesy of a train trying to pass through a blinding snowstorm.

What connection could any of these suspects have in a case that took place five years ago? Well, that's for you to figure out.

Since I'm ending this blog off on a mysterious note, I thought that I would offer up some trivia in regards to the behind the scenes action during the filming of this movie.

1 – Although the actual Orient Express train cars had not been used for some time prior to the filming of this movie, the authentic Orient Express engine was.

2 – The film's premiere was the last public appearance that Agatha Christie would make prior to her death in January 1976.

3 – Ingrid Bergman was initially asked to play the role of Princess Dragomiroff, but she felt that the role of Greta would give her more to work with. Although Greta had far fewer scenes than the Princess did, they were enough to earn Bergman an Academy Award for her performance!

4 – Believe it or not, Albert Finney was just two years shy of forty when he won the role of Hercule Poirot. He had prosthetic make-up applied to make him appear a decade older than he was to fit the part.

5 – Alec Guinness was offered the role of Hercule Poirot, but he had to turn it down as he had another prior engagement.

6 – The cast filmed the final scene of the film in multiple takes, which nearly exhausted poor Albert Finney, who had an eight page monologue at the end of it all!

7 – Richard Widmark admittedly was a little star-struck when he agreed to take on the role of the victim. He did so just so he could have the opportunity to meet the other stars who took part!

8 – Sean Connery was reportedly the first person cast for the movie. According to the director, he felt that if he said yes, others would surely follow.

9 – The backstory of the film (and I hate to give plot details away, but I have no choice here) is loosely based on the Lindbergh kidnapping case of 1932.

10 – I found this to be absolutely bizarre, but according to the Internet Movie Database, Albert Finney was actually picked up at his home each shooting day by ambulance! While Finney still slept, the people inside the ambulance would apply his make-up! Apparently, Finney was working on a stage play at the same time the film was shot and he was complaining about not being able to get enough sleep!

11 – The luxury food that is inspected and carried aboard the train early in the film was actually stolen from the set before the scene was shot! It all had to be repurchased, which must have been a huge strain on the already tight $1.4 million budget!

And finally...

12 – If you want to see the film yourself, click HERE. The entire two hour movie is available for viewing on YouTube (though admittedly, you may want to click on it as soon as possible, as full length movies typically don't last too long there.)

No comments:

Post a Comment