Friday, 24 November 2017

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

I've never understood the Hollywood fetish for remaking 'classic' movies. These are meant to update the films in question to the tastes of the modern audience, who by and large are unfamiliar with the original -- and which nowadays means drenching the narrative with unnecessary CGI effects. Kenneth Branagh's recent revamp of the above title, which he has directed and in which he stars, is to my mind another pointless exercise. I understand this new version is attracting substantial box office, but from the reviews I've read, I am in no hurry whatsoever to view his magnum opus. However I thought it might be a good idea to refresh my memory by re-watching the original 1974 version to determine whether an update really is in order.

The answer is an emphatic 'NO'. Directed by Sidney Lumet and boasting an incredible all-star cast of Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Widmark, Anthony Perkins, Rachel Roberts, Martin Balsam, Jean-Pierre Cassel, and George Coulouris (many of whom are sadly no longer available), the A-listers in Branagh's version are not really in the same galaxy. Since the tale's 'big twist' is probably well-known to most viewers, the film must stand or fall on the quality of the performances. While the 2017 version boasts some big names from Judi Dench downwards -- and I gather some overpowering special effects -- I fear that it will never be held in the same affection.

The original is a fun watch and even if it is a little leisurely at times, there are many compensations, starting with the fine cinematography and the snappy script and of course giving us another chance to view so many fabled actors in one place. Finney disappears into the role of Hercule Poirot with all his fussy mannerisms and is nearly unrecognizable. While Branagh is also a fine actor, I suspect that his penchant for hamminess and his apparent need to be centre-stage at all times (to say nothing of the ridiculous moustache he is sporting) will overpower the other 'name' performances. Pppatty being Pppatty, I will of course see the new version in due course, but I very much doubt that my overall suspicions will alter.

People say that the l974 version was the template for the further all-star adaptations of Agatha Christie stories which followed, but it seems to me that they have forgotten about the wonderful 1945 version of "And Then There Were None" and Billy Wilder's version of "Witness for the Prosecution" with its knock-out cast of Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power, and Marlene Dietrich. However I must add that I did enjoy seeing the movie again and being reminded how much I miss certain actors. An example: John Gielgud's snooty butler is forced to share a rail compartment with a low-caste Italo-American car salesman. Trying to strike up a conversation the latter asks John-baby what he is reading. Having been told the title, he then asks 'what's it about?' 'It's about l0.30' retorts Gielgud.

As the saying goes, they don't make them like that anymore!

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