Hollywood Flashback: In 1974, an A-List Cast Boarded the 'Orient Express'

Murder on the Orient Express Still Original - Photofest - H 2017
Courtesy of Photofest

The original film adaptation of Agatha Christie's detective novel starred Albert Finney, Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud and more.

In 1974, when Agatha Christie's whodunit detective novel Murder on the Orient Express was made into a movie with an all-star cast that included Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud and — in the lead role of Hercule Poirot — Albert Finney, The Hollywood Reporter's review was upbeat but not thrilled.

Phrases such as "classy production" and "entertaining adaptation" were used to describe the Sidney Lumet-directed film. (On Nov. 2, Fox's version of Express, which Kenneth Branagh both stars in as Poirot and directs, premieres at London's Royal Albert Hall.)

THR was more enthused when the $1.4 million production ($7 million today) brought in nearly $36 million domestically ($180 million currently) and received six Oscar nominations, with a supporting actress win going to Bergman.

However, co-stars Michael York and Jacqueline Bisset both say what they remember most clearly about filming at London's Elstree Studios was lunch. "The buffets became quite famous," says York, now 75. "Everyone wanted to dine with the stars." 

Richard Widmark is said to have signed on just to meet the other actors. "Lunch was the best part of the day," says Bisset, 73, who played York's wife. "You'd have John Gielgud making the odd cryptic remark or Lauren Bacall being witty and fun."

They also agree that Finney by far had the most work to do. "He had a tremendous amount of dialogue that was all exposition — he was explaining the plot," says Bisset. "We'd be there in our seats on the train listening and waiting for lunch."

Finney had one monologue that was eight pages long. "We listened to it over and over from every angle," says York. The film's London premiere was attended by Queen Elizabeth II and Agatha Christie, who at 84 was making her last public appearance before her death 15 months later. "She was married to a famous archeologist," says York. "She said, 'It's wonderful. The older I get, the more he loves me.'"

This story first appeared in the Nov. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.