Year Released: 1974
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Starring: Albert Finney. Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman. Sean Connery
(PG, 127 min.)
Academy Awards (1974)
Actress in a Supporting Role: Ingrid Bergman
"Death is the only immortal that treats us all alike." Mark Twain
It’s always better when it happens on a train. Whispered words of passion muffled by clacking wheels, narrow lovemaking in the upper berth, a grisly murder behind polished mahogany. Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and that grand master Alfred Hitchcock all knew that even the mediocre was infused with drama when it rode the rails.
And what train is imbued with more romance and mystique than the exquisite Orient Express, threading its ways through dessert, mountain, and mosque-clad sunsets on its trek from Istanbul to Paris?
Director Sidney Lumet also knew that a star studded cast that included such luminaries from stage and screen as Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, and Vanessa Redgrave didn’t hurt either. And while his first and second choices for Poirot, Alec Guinness and Paul Scoffield, couldn’t be had, the “too young” third choice Albert Finney surprised many with his solid interpretation of the Belgium detective.
Just as we all have our favorite James Bond --mine is Sean Connery -- so people have a favorite Poirot. Some think Peter Ustinov is ideal, probably because they loved him so much in Death on the Nile, but if you are acquainted with Poirot through Christie’s books, then the definitive Poirot is of course, diminutive David Suchet.
Sorry, I do tend to blather on sometimes. Back to the story…
Clouds of steam flood the station, a whistle wails through the thick air, and a white haired attendant calls “All aboard.” Hercule Poirot, his mustache oiled and shaped, adjusts the carnation in his lapel and deftly steps over oily puddles to avoid soiling his spats. Just as the ancient steam engine departs, he steps aboard. Little does he suspect the grisly murder that will punctuate his journey.
Or perhaps he does. For when Poirot passes a "most respectable American gentleman," played with understated menace by Richard Widmark, he
…had a curious impression. It was as though a wild animal -- animal but savage! you understand -- had passed me by. The body -- the cage -- is everything of the most respectable -- but through the bars, the wild animal looks out.
When this same American asks Poirot to act as his bodyguard, he refuses, at first politely. "I regret that I cannot oblige you." Pushy insistence and promises of big money finally bring out a more frank reply.
"If you will forgive me for being personal -- I do no like your face, Mr. Rachett,"
Obviously there are others who share this opinion. They next day Rachett is found murdered in his bed with no less than twelve stab wounds.
But there are too many clues for Poirot. They are delivered, deposited, and literally drop down upon him -- the stopped watch in the dead man's pocket, a button from a conductor's tunic, a tunic with a missing button, and finally, a jeweled dagger with blood on it.
The passenger suspects are a varied lot. They are
The American secretary to Rachett, long-headed and sober
A swarthy Italian picking his teeth with gusto
A neat Englishman with the expressionless face of a well-trained
A big American in a loud suit
The Russian princess with a yellow, toad-like face
A woman with a long amiable face rather like a sheep
A stout, elderly woman talking in a monotone with no signs of
An English governess, tall, slim, and coolly efficient
A Colonel from India, lean of figure, brown of skin
A lady's-maid with a broad, expressionless face.
A big man, well made, of the Hungarian Embassy
His chic wife with manicured hands and deep red nails
Only Poirot comes to know what unites all twelve. They are inextricably tied to a grisly murder in American, a sensational crime that took not one, but five lives. Poirot’s solution, as well as his views on criminal justice, may surprise all but the most knowledgeable Christie fans.
Before Poirot calls them together to propose two entirely different solutions to the crime, he has time for an exquisite meal in the dining car, one that suits even his finicky tastes. Feast your eyes upon the polished silver trays, the crisp white linens, the gleaming crystal, and join him for an exquisite meal of Sole Marguery in Wine Sauce.
*A special order beverage to accompany the meal for Poirot would be a steaming cup of chamomile tea, “a beverage of which he is inordinately fond,” according to Hastings, or thick, sweet chocolate. He disdainfully refers to English coffee as “your English poison.”
The following recipe is from the chapter titled “Steam Whistles, Supper, and a Stabbing” in Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook, by your own different Drummer, Kathy Borich. If you would like to read more from the book, click on the link provided under its picture.
Sole Marguery in Wine Sauce
2 cups dry white wine
4 shallots or 1 small onion, chopped
4 large fillets of sole
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
12 cooked shrimps, shelled and deveined
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream
Scrub and wash mussels, removing beard. Steam with 1/2 cup water in a covered pot until mussels open, about 5 minutes. Discard any mussels that remain closed. Shell mussels and remove black portions. Strain and reserve stock.
Put the wine and shallots in a wide skillet with a cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Place sole fillets in the wine, season with salt and pepper, cover, and simmer gently for 5 to 7 minutes or until fish slakes when tested with a fork. Remove fish with a slotted spatula to a heated serving platter.
Add stock from mussels to sole stock and simmer briskly for 5 minutes. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a saucepan, add the flour, stir, and cook for 3 minutes. Add strained fish stock and stir until thickened. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add mussels and shrimps. Beat yolks into the cream; gradually add some sauce to cream and pour all back into saucepan on very low heat. Stir until smooth and thickened but do not boil. Remove from heat and swirl in remaining tablespoon of butter. Pour sauce over sole fillets.