Agatha Christie on the Big and Small Screen

Even though Dame Agatha may not have enjoyed adaptations of her mysteries, audiences have been loving them for decades

(Maura McCarthy)

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Murder on the Orient Express
(Mary Evans / EMI Films / Ronald Grant / Everett Collection)
Christie was so disappointed by earlier film versions of her books that producer John Brabourne had to enlist the support of his father-in-law—and Christie acquaintance—Lord Louis Mountbatten to obtain the screen rights to this 1934 novel. Brabourne and his partner Richard Goodwin promised a first-class production, and they delivered with one of the most expensive British films of its day. Albert Finney gave an idiosyncratic turn as Hercule Poirot, a portrayal that required body padding, prosthetics for his cheeks and a false nose. Christie still complained: “It was very well made except for one mistake I cannot find in my heart to forgive,” she wrote, referring to his mustache. Among the stellar cast was an Oscar-winning performance by Ingrid Bergman as a Swedish missionary. Director Sidney Lumet took on the project because “I wanted to have fun,” but he added a lustrous style and touches like an intricate opening montage of a kidnapping that had been missing from previous Christie films. “Network would never have been as good as it was if I hadn’t done Murder on the Orient Express,” he admitted. Queen Elizabeth, a huge Christie fan, attended the film’s première. A post-screening party for Christie at the luxury hotel Claridge’s proved to be the author’s last major public event. Brabourne and Goodwin would produce two more all-star mysteries with Peter Ustinov as Poirot.

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