|Yeah... That was my reaction too.|
The Curious Case of the Unnecessary Butchering of Murder on the Orient Express
A new post from Bill at Traditional Mysteries inspired me to dig through my old reviews and take a look at adaptations of classic detective stories that themselves fall into the “alternative classic” category. There have been many bad adaptations of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple— but I contest that none have ever approached the travesty that is Murder on the Orient Express, a 2001-TV movie starring Alfred Molina. To prove it, I’ve adapted and expanded my old review of this atrocity.
Basically, for those of you who were lucky enough not to see this version of Murder on the Orient Express, I will sum it up as best as I can. Those who have seen it won’t find anything new in this post, but you might want to read it so that you know that I feel your pain. Obviously this post contains spoilers.
Poirot comes to his hotel, and meets Wolfgang Bouc, who convinces him to take the Orient Express to London instead of a plane. Poirot accepts, and it is conveniently at this time that Mr. Ratchett gets a threatening phone call at the front desk. He throws a little temper tantrum, and life goes on.
Poirot and Bouc then board the Orient Express. The cabin reserved for Mr. Harris is given to Poirot without any issues, mainly because there are now only nine passengers on board. (There is the puzzling question of why a businessman like Ratchett would go anywhere near a train with the fast transportation aviation offers in the modern world. It’s a question this movie never attempts to answer. Maybe it's just as well. Its explanations for everything else are silly.) Ratchett gets a videotape delivered to his compartment. Meanwhile, Poirot discusses Vera with Bouc, lamenting that they are complete opposites. (And I thought the bathtub scene in The Sittaford Mystery was a bad ‘romantic’ scene!) Meanwhile, Ratchett specifically brings the videotape he received to the dining car, so that he can throw a tantrum in front of everyone. He obliterates the videotape in front of practically all the passengers, when he could’ve done it far more conveniently in the privacy of his own cabin. Funny. If I was marked down for murder I wouldn’t advertise my presence in front of everyone. But we all have our foibles.
Next, Mr. Ratchett tries hiring Poirot, who refuses. We are then confused immensely as we plunge straight into everyone’s alibi— we don’t know who half the people are. Did I mention all this is excruciatingly boring? Ratchett prepares for bed by loading a gun (Foreshadowing!). In the night, a gunshot sounds. Poirot gets up and hears an exchange between Pierre Michel and Ratchett. (But hold on! The door remained closed! It just screams “A clue, Sherlock! A clue!”) Poirot goes right back to bed. He is later woken up again, and this time speaks with Pierre, who informs him of Mrs. Hubbard’s hysterical declarations that there was a man in her room.
But hold on! The train has been stopped by a landslide! Sacré! The next morning, the obligatory corpse is found, and Poirot comes to the conclusion that the killer must be on the train. (Wonderful! Something finally happened!) The cause of Ratchett’s death: nine stab wounds (the horror!). Anyhow, there follows a conversation between Poirot and Mr. MacQueen. Afterwards, Poirot speaks with Pierre Michel, and then Mrs. Hubbard (and she gives away half the plot then and there by describing herself as an actress). She found a button! (Cue the dramatic music.)
Arbuthnot was involved in the case. He then outlines the case's other participants, clues that simply scream out the solution even to the most dim-witted viewers. Why would anyone in their right senses reveal half the solution midway through the story? This is the part where we’re not supposed to know where anything is headed!
By now, Alfred Molina realizes what a mess of a movie he’s in, and chats with MacQueen. After that, it’s a talk with Foscarelli, who has decided to go and help clear the landslide. Foscarelli is no longer a car salesman— he sells an exercise machine of sorts, and is the most stereotypical Italian you’ll ever see. Watch the actor prepare himself for about 15 seconds to do the classic “kiss the fingers saying ‘muah!’”. His accent is over the top, and he is like the rest of the characters: a bore.
Suddenly a scream rings out! Poirot and Bouc rush away from Foscarelli (who goes back to clearing the landslide instead of following them, although he’s expressed admiration of Poirot and an interest in the case) and find Mrs. Hubbard, who reached for her moisturizer and pulled out a knife. (Shocking.)
by the time you find out that a third person was connected to the Armstrong kidnapping case, the twist becomes painfully obvious. Give Christie’s original book some credit— it isn’t her finest work but at least it does a good job hiding the twist! The adaptation has taken all the shreds of cleverness and magically turned them into stupidity.
The modernisation aspects of the film are terrible. Why would Ratchett, a prominent businessman, travel aboard the Orient Express when aviation is so much faster and more convenient? Why does he advertise his presence so publicly and practically target himself for everybody? Why would Arbuthnot lend his laptop to Poirot when literally 15 seconds ago he was angry at him and refused to have anything further to do with him? Why does Poirot need to use the laptop when he remembers the entire case anyhow?
All things considered, this is one of the worst Agatha Christie adaptations of all-time. I complain frequently about the more recent adaptations, but really, we should all thank our lucky stars that none of these ever descend to the level of Murder on the Orient Express. It isn't even bad enough to fall into the "alternative classic" domain. It needed to be a lot worse to be entertaining. As it is, it's a dull, dull, dull 90 minutes.