Merry Christmas! Our not-particularly-obscure movie takes place in December 1935 on board the luxurious Orient Express. Although the subject is rather grim for the holiday season, it’s a crackerjack who-done-it with an all-star cast of stage and screen — and snow plays a key part in the film.
As always, the brightest star from my point of view is the train itself. Pulling the posh coaches is SNCF #4353, a 1922-built 4-6-0 steam locomotive that is still with us. In order behind the engine are a baggage car, Restaurant car (#9), Sleeping car (#7), and a Pullman Lounge car #4163.
From Istanbul, Turkey, the train traveled through “Uzunkopru, Sofia (Bulgaria), Belgrade (Serbia), Zagreb (Croatia), Brod (Kosovo), Trieste (Italy), Venice, Milan, Lausanne (Switzerland), Bazel, Paris (France), Calais, with connections for London.”
Watch Hercule Poirot (played by Albert Finney) try to unravel a tangle of clues and suspects onboard an opulent occidental passenger train.
The engineman and his conductor come face to face with a snow-filled cut as #4353 simmers in the background; Poirot plays a little air-violin in his compartment, but all is not peaceful onboard. Nice fixtures and accoutrements, though!
The train scenes begin about 13 minutes into the movie at Istanbul Station. First, the food. Three pictures of the chef loading and testing fruit, veggies (cauliflower looks to be on the push list), a side of beef and oysters onto the restaurant car.
Boarding the train requires “running the gauntlet”. Here we see Count Andrenyi (played by Michael York) and Countess Andrenyi (played by Jacqueline Bisset) high-stepping past trinket salesmen, spilled oranges and trackside beggars. Note the origin and destination sign on the side of the Pullman Lounge – each of the 4 cars has a similar sign and all are going to Calais.
Finally, Poirot arrives with his friend Line Director Bianchi (played by Martin Balsam) who arranges transportation for him on the curiously-overcrowded Calais Coach (it’s the off-season). Nice travel poster next to the beggars.
It’s train time (9pm). Baggage car doors are slammed shut (note the stylish Wagons-Lit logo), the driver boards his 4-6-0, lights ON and we’re off!
Here’s a runby of the four coaches as they roll out of the station (two shots of the last car – note the pink lamps on the tables).
The next day, we are rolling through the countryside. Compare #4353 in basic black with a modern day view by Didier Duforest. I think the 4-6-0 looks much more dashing in the green paint!
Onboard, a sumptuous meal is being enjoyed by the passengers. I’m not going to bother naming all the characters — these pictures are just to show some of the food, china, silverware and glassware being used in the restaurant car.
In this screen capture, the baggage car has a cupola extending up on the car roof — which makes me think this is actually a dynamometer car as seen in this side view.
Norman, is that you? Yep, that’s Anthony Perkins (playing McQueen, a secretary) sending a telegram from the Belgrade station. Much to his annoyance, Poirot is strolling by with the local paper.
As the train heads into the mountains, snow has fallen along the route as darkness falls.
Now daybreak, the train is stopped at a cut that has filled in with drifting snow. They can go no further. Trainmen climb up the snowbank for a look.
At the same time, butler Beddoes (played by Sir John Gielgud) is bringing his master an “Amber Moon” pick-me-up. When his master does not respond, Poirot uses the porter’s pass key to enter. No le touch! As the blue night light blazes overhead, we have a crime scene on our hands. I like all the dark wood paneling.
In his shock, Beddoes drops his tray. An onboard doctor confirms the master has been knifed to death. After looking around himself, Poirot warbles, “There are too many clues in this room”.
“Round up the usual suspects”. Bianchi does his best to calm a carload of agitated passengers, moving them all into the dining car.
Vistas of the lounge car (note the pink lamps) as Poirot questions the suspects one by one. That’s Baby! Yep, Lauren Bacall plays Mrs. Hubbard, one of the passengers on the Calais coach. Also, Sean Connery stays out of the way, giving us a great view of the rear lounge car interior.
As the Express sizzles quietly, a rescue train has arrived with a wedge plow and begins the task of clearing the mainline.
Time is running short. The crime was committed in Yugoslavia, so their police will have to be notified. Poirot sits everyone down and explains who was the killer, how it was done and WHY it was done.
Of course, I’m not going explain the solution in case some of you haven’t seen this movie.
Finally, the wedge plow punches through, freeing the Orient Express. The engineer releases the brake and they’re off down the track, as the credits roll.
As I was researching this movie, I came across a very interesting link about a chap who found a whole train of old Orient Express cars…in Poland! I believe they are in the process of restoration.
And now I must go rest my little gray cells…
Here’s what IMDb has to say about Murder on the Orient Express:
If you have ANY information about this movie you’d like to share, please contact me at: Lindsay.Korst@gmail.com, or leave a comment. Thanks and enjoy the blog!