Release Date(s)1974 (February 8, 2022)
Studio(s)EMI/GW Films Limited (Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
One of the crown jewels of the theatrically-released Agatha Christie adaptations, Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express became a trend-setter for adapting her work. Although films before it had featured large casts, this seemed to be the first time that such a lavish production with impeccable art direction and cinematography, and a cast of highly regarded actors, set the template for what would come later, particularly in the Peter Ustinov era. The film was a success and was nominated for several Academy Awards, winning one for Ingrid Berman as Best Supporting Actress. Agatha Christie herself was also pleased with the results, even attending the film’s premiere, which was not her usual style. Some have criticized Albert Finney’s portrayal of Hercule Poirot as being inauthentic, but despite any missteps, Murder on the Orient Express continues to age beautifully. This is in part due to how beautiful it looks and sounds, as well as its ongoing procession of amazing performances, Finney among them (in this reviewer’s opinion).
Hercule Poirot (Finney), a world-famous detective with obsessive-compulsive tendencies, is due to travel to London. Aiding him is his close friend Signor Bianchi (Martin Balsam), director and owner of the train line and luxury service, the Orient Express. Among the passengers traveling with them are Mrs. Hubbard (Lauren Bacall), Colonel Arbuthnott (Sean Connery), Mary Debenham (Vanessa Redgrave), Greta Ohlsson (Ingrid Bergman), Hector McQueen (Anthony Perkins), Count Andrenyi (Michael York), Countess Andrenyi (Jacqueline Bisset), Princess Dragomiroff (Wendy Hiller), Hildegarde Schmidt (Rachel Roberts), Cyrus Hardman (Colin Blakely), Pierre Paul Michel (Jean-Pierre Cassel), Antonio Foscarelli (Denis Quilley), Edward Beddors (John Gielgud), Samuel Ratchett (Richard Widmark), and Dr. Constantine (George Coulouris). They seem curious and perhaps even annoyed by Poirot’s presence, but when one of them is suddenly murdered, Bianchi charges Poirot with solving the crime before reaching Yugoslavia during a snow drift, which halts the train’s progress temporarily.
Murder on the Orient Express was shot by director of photography Geoffrey Unsworth on 35 mm film using Panavision cameras and lenses, finished photochemically, and presented theatrically in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Paramount brings the film to Blu-ray in the US for the first time with what appears to be an older master, but a very good one. As StudioCanal and Paramount control the film in different territories, it’s unclear who has access to what elements. To my eyes, this is an interpositive that’s in excellent shape, surpassing StudioCanal’s 2017 Blu-ray release in the UK. It’s presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and because of Geoffrey Unsworth’s heavy use of diffusion filters, it’s never going to appear one hundred percent crisp and sharp. It was always meant to look soft, and this new release adheres to that, perhaps to a definitive degree. The heavy grain is well managed, never appearing overly blotchy or inorganic. Minor speckling is evident, but the image is otherwise stable and clean. The biggest advantage that this new release has over the previous Region B Blu-ray is its color timing. Hues are much more natural and robust, especially skin tones, losing the blue tint of the other master. This is also a brighter presentation with more natural blacks and shadows, which were mostly crushed before. Delineation is excellent and the source appears to be in remarkably good shape. Only a 4K Ultra HD presentation from the original camera negative could improve upon this. It’s first-rate.
Audio options include English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English (Restored) 2.0 mono Dolby Digital, and French & Japanese 2.0 mono Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include English, English SDH, French, and Japanese. The 5.1 track spaces out the original mono without adding anything to it, which is ideal. Richard Rodney Bennett’s beautiful score is given the most attention in this regard, as are the sound effects of the train. It’s odd that a “restored” version of the original soundtrack is presented in lossy form on a high definition release, but in any case, dialogue is clear and discernible on both tracks.
The following extras are included:
- Agatha Christie: A Portrait by Her Grandson, Mathew Prichard (SD – 9:36)
- Making Murder on the Orient Express: All Aboard! (SD – 13:48)
- Making Murder on the Orient Express: The Ride (SD – 12:05)
- Making Murder on the Orient Express: The Passengers (SD – 9:15)
- Making Murder on the Orient Express: The End of the Line (SD – 13:23)
- Theatrical Trailer (SD – 2:38)
All of these extras are carried over from Paramount’s original DVD release of the film. Agatha Christie: A Portrait is a short featurette in which Agatha’s grandson, Mathew Prichard, touchingly speaks about his grandmother, as well as the character of Hercule Poirot. Making Murder on the Orient Express is a four part documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with various cast and crew members, including Sidney Lumet, Jacqueline Bissett, Michael York, and Sean Connery, among others. In All Aboard!, they speak about the genesis of the project. In The Ride, they talk about the production. In The Passengers, they discuss the cast. And in The End of the Line, they talk about the release and impact of the film. Last, but not least, is the original theatrical trailer. Not carried over from the StudioCanal Region B Blu-ray release is an interview with producer Richard Goodwin and a stills gallery. It’s also worth noting that all of the extras feature subtitles in English, French, and Japanese.
The disc is housed in a blue amaray case with new artwork that appears to use elements of the original US theatrical artwork, but in a new configuration. Tucked away inside is a Digital code on a paper insert.
Hopefully, a 4K Ultra HD of Murder on the Orient Express is somewhere on the horizon. But for now, this new Blu-ray release from Paramount is more than enough to satisfy with a solid presentation and a better-than-most extras package. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons