The latest major movie to hit theaters as we approach the coming holiday season is the famous Agatha Christie story Murder On The Orient Express. Originally published in 1934, this murder mystery sports one of Christie's most hilariously outlandish endings, with a twist that will make your head spin. But this isn't the first time it's been filmed. The original version came out in 1974, and the Murder On The Orient Express remake vs. the original suggests that though Christie's might have the greatest twist of all time, turning it into a movie really only works one way.
Agatha Christie is the Best Selling Author Of All Time. She wrote 88 novels, 19 plays and one autobiography. She's sold ~2 billion copies since she started publishing in 1920. Her play The Mousetrap holds the record for longest running show ever, starting in 1952 at the Ambassadors Theatre in London's West End, where it's still playing today. Her mysteries have been adapted thousands of times for stage, movies and television.
So perhaps it's not that surprising that a remake of the film would in fact hew closely to the original. After all, there are only so many ways, as they say, to skin a cat.
The world-famous detective Hercule Poirot winds up on the First Class portion of the Orient Express after a last-minute booking. Overnight, the train plows into a snowdrift, trapped high in the mountains where there is no escape. In the morning, the passengers wake up to discover one of them is dead. Whodunit?
There are 13 suspects, Poirot, the train director, and one dead body in a swanky, upper-class train trapped in a snowdrift. The colors in the new one may be slightly hyper-realized than the original 1974 version, and a few extra "action" scenes may be slid in here or there. But, on the whole, the setting is unchangeable.
The 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express was a lavish production, starring the biggest names of the day. This was because Christie was very unhappy with most movie adaptations of her work, and EMI Productions was determined to please her.
They didn't please just her. It was a critical success, nominated for six Academy Awards.
Let's look at the cast:
- Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot, The Detective
- Martin Balsam as Bianchi, The Train Director
- Richard Widmark as Ratchett/Casetti, The Gangster
- Lauren Bacall as Harriet Belinda Hubbard, The Widow
- Ingrid Bergman as Greta Ohlsson, The Missionary
- Jacqueline Bisset as Helena Andrenyi, The Countess
- Michael York as Rudolf Andrenyi, The Count
- Rachel Roberts as Hildegarde Schmidt, The Maid
- Wendy Hiller as Natalia Dragomiroff, The Princess
- John Gielgud as Edward Beddoes, The Butler
- Jean-Pierre Cassel as Pierre Paul Michel, The Conductor
- Anthony Perkins as Hector McQueen, The Assistant
- Sean Connery as Colonel Arbuthnott, The Doctor
- Vanessa Redgrave as Mary Debenham, The Governess
- Colin Blakely as Cyrus B. Hardman, The Bodyguard
- Denis Quilley as Antonio Foscarelli, The Salesman
That's one hell of a cast. Bacall, Connery, Perkins, Bergman, York, Bisset, Giegud, Redgrave. That may have been nearly 50 years ago, but those names are still known today.
The 2017 Version Hasn't Changed
The cast for the 2017 version is our own version of an all star cast, headed up by Kenneth Branagh, who not only directs, but stars as the great detective.
This, in my view, is the only casting misfire here. (Yes, I'm even okay with Johnny Depp, since he's the one who gets murdered.) But when it comes to Hercules Poirot, those of us who have spent our lives watching Christie mysteries on PBS know there is only one Poirot of this generation, and it's David Suchet. Sorry Branagh.
Otherwise, this cast is spectacular:
- Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot, The Detective
- Tom Bateman as Bouc, The Train Director
- Johnny Depp as Ratchett/Cassetti, The Gangster
- Michelle Pfeiffer as Caroline Hubbard, The Widow
- Penélope Cruz as Pilar Estravados, The Missionary
- Lucy Boynton as Elena Andrenyi, The Countess
- Sergei Polunin as Rudolph Andrenyi, The Count
- Olivia Colman as Hildegarde Schmidt, The Maid
- Judi Dench as Natalia Dragomiroff, The Princess
- Derek Jacobi as Edward Masterman, The Butler
- Marwan Kenzari as Pierre Michel, The Conductor
- Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen, The Assistant
- Leslie Odom Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot, The Doctor
- Daisy Ridley as Mary Debenham, The Governess
- Willem Dafoe as Gerhard Hardman, The Professor
- Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Biniamino Marquez, The Salesman
There are small changes. An effort has been made to diversify the cast. Cruz and Garcia-Rulfo's characters have been renamed. A couple of names have changed back to the book versions (Edward Masterson and Bouc, the train director.) Odom is not an Army Colonel anymore, just a doctor. The biggest change is Defoe's character who is no longer a bodyguard, but a professor. But otherwise, they all line up.
Does that mean you shouldn't see the new version? Why not? It's new, and it stars 2017's version of a who's who. But afterwards, maybe come home and find the 1974 version streaming online and compare them yourself. Even though by then you'll know whodunit, it's still a heck of a ride.
Murder on the Orient Express opens Friday, Nov. 10, 2017.