Murder on the Orient Express is probably known as one of the best on-screen adaptations of an Agatha Christie novel. It also has the particularity to be composed of an all-star cast, all wonderful actors, all unique in their own genre: Albert Finney as the notorious detective Hercule Poirot, Martin Balsam, Vanessa Redgrave, Sean Connery, Wendy Hiller, Jacqueline Bisset, Michael York, Richard Widmark, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Ingrid Bergman (who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance), Jean-Pierre Cassel and, of course, the one and only Lauren Bacall. That’s the one we’ll be focusing on today, as I am writing this article for The Lauren Bacall Blogathon, hosted by the marvelous Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.
Murder on the Orient Express was brilliantly directed by Sidney Lumet (Twelve Angry Men, Network, Dog Day Afternoon) and released in 1974. The film was nominated for no less than seven Oscars: Best Actor (Albert Finney), Best Supporting Actress (Ingrid Bergman), Best Screenplay, Best Costumes, Best Cinematography and Best Music. Unfortunately, it only won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. In my opinion, it should have won, at least, the Best Music Oscar too. The score of this film is simply enchanting.
Murder on the Orient Express starts with the case of the Armstrong’s baby. We are then settled in 1930. The little Daisy Armstrong, daughter of a British Army Colonel and his American wife, is kidnapped. After the ransom is delivered to the criminal, the child is murdered instead of being returned back. Then, things take a pretty bad turn for the Armstrong family. Mrs. Armstrong dies while giving birth to a stillborn baby, the Armstrong’s maid, being falsely accused of being involved in the kidnapping, kills herself and Mr. Armstrong, overwhelmed, kills himself too. This introduction to the film is shown to us in a very mysterious way. We see what happens, but the images are very dark and we never see the face of the people who are involved in the case. The moving images constantly become a static image in a newspaper.
Then, we are brought a few years later in time. Bagdad: 1935. Hercule Poirot, the famous investigator, is about to travel via the Orient Express to go back home. He travels with his friend Monsieur Bianchi (Martin Balsam), director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits. They travel in the upper-class section with some other rich people: Ratchett (Richard Widmark), an American Businessman and his secretary Hector McQueen (Anthony Perkins) and his valet, Edward Henry Beddoes (John Gielgud); Mrs. Harriet Belinda Hubbard (Lauren Bacall); Greta Ohlsson (Ingrid Bergman), a Swedish missionary; Count Rudolf Andrenyi (Michael York), a Hungarian diplomat and his wife Countess Elena Andrenyi (Jacquelyne Bisset); Princess Natalia Dragomiroff of Russia (Wendy Hiller) and her personal maid, Hildegarde Schmidt (Rachel Roberts); Colonel Arbuthnott (Sean Connery) and his girlfriend Mary Debenham (Vanessa Redgrave); Pierre-Paul Michel (Jean-Pierre Cassel), the French Conductor; Antonio (Tony) Foscarelli (Denis Quielly), a cars salesman from Chicago, Cyrus B. “Dick” Hardman (Colin Blackely), a detective, and Dr. Constantine (George Coulouris). On the first night, the businessman, Ratchett, is murdered. Poirot, with the help of Bianchi and Dr. Constantine, will try to discover, who, among the passengers, is the murderer and why Ratchett was killed.
Ok, let’s get back to our dear Lauren Bacall. Her character, Mrs. Hubbard, certainly makes a sensational entrance in the film. We first see her on the quay train where the passengers are about to enter in the train. She appears wearing a white fur coat, in the locomotive fumes. Her head is covered with a large white hat on her beautiful blond hair and she really looks like a grande dame. She looks
a little VERY snub, too, but that’s part of her character. At this moment in the film, we still don’t know much about the nature of this beautiful lady. However, it doesn’t take us a long time to discover that Mrs. Hubbard main characteristic is that she talks too much and is always willing to comment the situation, whatever it concerns her or not. When she is questioned by Poirot after the murder cased, he asks her to answer with the briefest answers as possible, because he wants to be effective and doesn’t want to lose time.
Except for Albert Finney and Martin Balsam, each actor in this film doesn’t have a very BIG part, but they are all important at one point and, despite their short on-screen appearance, they are all noticeable and are all unique and important in their own way. That concerns Mrs. Bacall too. As a matter of fact, Lauren Bacall’s character is maybe one of the most important ones in the gang. She always seems to be the one who finds the important clues first. For example, she is the one who finds the crime weapon, a silver dagger, all covered with blood. This scene when she brings it to Poirot is quite memorable.
Mrs. Hubbard also seems to be a person who can’t stand to be alone. For example, even if she’s traveling by herself, she seats with other passengers in the wagon-restaurant. But we, spectator, are not sure if she knows them or not. She arrives alone, but she is very “friendly” like if they were long-time friends. Nobody seems really annoyed by her presence, except for Poirot, who can’t, obviously, stand her. All this is very mysterious. Of course, I don’t want to say too much for those who haven’t seen the movie yet.
I must admit, to my own regrets, I haven’t seen many Lauren Bacall’s films. As a matter of fact, I saw only two: this one and How to Marry a Millionaire. Please, please, don’t throw rocks at me! 😦 Mrs. Bacall was 50 when she starred in Murder on the Orient Express. It was far from being her first film and was not her last one neither. As I said, I haven’t seen many of her films, so I can’t really compare her performance with other ones. Well, even if she has a small part, I think she did a great job. She took her role seriously and the result is great. She didn’t win an Oscar like Ingrid but remains a model of acting. I also think her character is one of my favourite in the film, along with Beddoes (John Gielgud). The film wouldn’t be the same without her.
On September 16th, we’ll celebrate Lauren Bacall’s birthday. That’s one of the main reasons why this blogathon takes place from September 14th to September 16th, 2015. She would have been 91. Before I’ll make an end to this article, I wish a very happy heavenly birthday to this beautiful and talented actress, and want to thank In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood for hosting this amazing event!
Of course, don’t forget to read the other entries!