The praise lavished on this bloated Agatha Christie adaptation (16 Oscar nominations!) has always mystified me, because while it’s a handsomely made film with an intelligent script and an amazing cast, it’s still just a methodical whodunit. I gather much of the picture’s novelty derived from the fact that it was a throwback to a beloved Hollywood genre, and also to a more sophisticated time in terms of diction and fashion, so the film’s glamorous production values and swellegant ’30s costumes were a change of pace from the gritty realism that dominated early ’70s cinema. Plus, it’s that rare all-star jamboree in which each actor has something interesting to do, with several performers receiving impressive showcase scenes, and even elaborate subplots, during the course of the movie’s lumbering 128 minutes. Even as a great admirer of many of the actors involved in the piece, however, I find the picture tedious—and director Sidney Lumet’s overly respectful treatment is a big part of the problem. The story is such an unabashed potboiler that it doesn’t support such painstaking presentation. Treating Agatha Christie like Shakespeare is as absurd as, say, treating John Grisham the same way. But there’s no denying that the movie is a visual feast. The clothes, linens, and table settings make a posh 1930s train look like a rolling four-star hotel, and cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth uses his signature haze filters to make everything look painterly (to a fault, because it’s sometimes hard to distinguish details). As for the cast, whereas producer Irwin Allen filled his all-star extravaganzas of the same era with random celebrities, Lumet’s cast is an artfully assembled collection of just the right people for just the right roles. Here’s the amazing list: Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, Albert Finney, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Widmark, Michael York. Begman won an Oscar, almost twenty years after her last previous nomination, and her resurgence was another significant aspect of the picture’s appeal.
Murder on the Orient Express: GROOVY