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As cinematic adaptation of Agatha Christie mysteries go, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS ($15) is certainly one of the best (if not the best) ever produced. Directed by Sidney Lumet, this stylishly mounted production offers a perfect recreation of the period in which the film takes place, which only serves intensify one’s enjoyment of the film as the mystery unspools. Also adding to one’s enjoyment is the film’s all-star cast, featuring many stage and screen legends, who bring their characters to life in rich, vivid detail. Leading the film’s outstanding cast is Albert Finney as Christie’s most famous creation- Hercule Poirot. Finney is absolutely marvelous as the meticulous, cerebral, Belgian detective, who finds himself facing one of his most perplexing mysteries of his career in this highly entertaining film.

Opening with a montage of images from the kidnapping and murder of a child in 1930, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS then flashes forward five years where we find Hercule Poirot in Istanbul, where boards the famous train of the film’s title on his return trip to London. Although it is December, the train proves to be unusually crowded with passengers, which even makes it difficult for the intrepid Belgian detective to find accommodations. While The Orient Express journeys to its final destination, Poirot is approached by a fellow passenger named Ratchett (Richard Widmark), who wants to hire the detective to serve as a bodyguard, in light of a series of death threats that the mysterious businessman has received.

However, the morning after Poirot turns down the job offer, Ratchett is found murdered in his compartment, just as The Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by an impassible snowdrift. As expected, Poirot is tapped to solve the murder before the authorities can arrive and free the snowbound train. The wonderful cast of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS also features Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Rachel Roberts, Michael York, Colin Blakely, George Coulouris, Denis Quilley and Ingrid Bergman, who took home an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her memorable portrayal.

Paramount Home Entertainment has made MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. This is a very fine rendering of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS and certainly the best that the film has looked on any home medium. Geoffrey Unsworth’s stylized cinematography really sparkles, which really brings out the beauty of the film’s period sets and lavish costumes. The image generally appears sharp, although some fog and diffusion is applied to the photography, which does soften things up a bit. Colors appear saturated at a relatively natural level, without any noise or discernable fuzziness. Blacks are inky, whites are clean and contrast is quite good. The film elements used for the transfer displays a few more blemishes than I would have liked to seen on this thirty-year-old movie, which leaves me wishing a bit more digital clean up could have been applied to the transfer. A grain structure is somewhat noticeable throughout the course of the movie, but is never excessive. Digital compression artifacts are well contained throughout.

For this release, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS has been upgraded to a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel sound mix. Considering that MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS was originally presented in monaural, the remix does a good job of spreading the sound throughout the soundstage, without pushing the material to the point that it sounds artificial. Richard Rodney Bennett’s delightful score gets the biggest push in 5.1; demonstrating a great deal of musical presence and relatively good fidelity. There are some nice active sound effects that make use of the outlying channels, but there are limitations in the original sound design that keep such opportunities somewhat low. Dialogue is well reproduced and maintains complete intelligibility. Most instances of background hiss and other audible anomalies have been cleaned up in the mastering process, leaving the track with a smooth sonic quality. English and French monaural tracks have also been encoded onto the DVD, as have English subtitles.

The basic interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few very nice supplemental features. Agatha Christie: A Portrait is a nine-minute program that profiles the famous mystery author, as well as looking at her book Murder On The Orient Express, its inspirations and her popular character Hercule Poirot. Making Murder On The Orient Express is a four-part program; running runs forty-eight minutes in total that chronicles the film’s production in extensive detail. Featuring new interviews with director Sidney Lumet, producers Richard Goodwin and John Brabourne, production/costume designer Tony Walton, composer Richard Rodney Bennett, plus actors Sean Connery, Jacqueline Bisset, Michael York, as well as additional comments from Nicholas Meyer, Making Murder On The Orient Express provides fans with a wealth of production details, as well as a series of amusing anecdotes. A theatrical trailer closes out the supplements.

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is a personal favorite and just about the best cinematic adaptation of an Agatha Christie mystery. Paramount has done a very nice job with the DVD, offering the best looking home presentation of the film, as well as some great supplements. If you’re a mystery fan or a movie buff, then you’ll want to add MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS to your collection. Highly recommended.



Murder on the Orient Express (1974)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2004 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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