Another Murder On The Orient Express

Orient ExpressNews has reached the ears of Puzzle Doctor (via the mainstream media, not due to any particular contacts) that there’s an Agatha Christie movie in the works, with Kenneth Branagh attached to direct. And that film is… well, the title of the blog post gives it away. It’s Murder On The Orient Express.

Now this isn’t the worst Christie rumour that I’ve heard – that was this (which never got the green light, by the way) – but the question that springs to mind is, why?

I think it’s safe to say that, with the possible exception of The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd, this has the best known solution of all of the Poirot mysteries, not least because of the 1974 Oscar winning version, but also because you can sum it up in one sentence. People know the solution to this that haven’t read the book – and because it sounds (and, let’s face it, is) so stupid, it’ll stop people from reading it. I haven’t re-read this one for years and I’m in no rush to. The uniqueness of the solution is the reason that it remains one of her most popular books, but it’s a long way from being her best.

So why remake it? Well, it’s an excuse to get lots of stars in the same film, I guess. It’d be a quick shoot, based in a couple of sets, so more of a chance of really big names being free, and I suppose people will go and see some actors in almost anything they do. That’s probably true of me for a couple of performers as well. But it’s hardly a great introduction to Dame Agatha – but that’s unlikely to be what the producers are aiming for, unless a Poirot franchise is on the cards.

Obviously, the “whose going to play Poirot” speculation has started – my favourite suggesting it should be a Belgian, namely Jean-Claude Van Damme – but I imagine that Branagh probably needs to look no further than the nearest mirror to find someone. I’ve no problem with that, btw, I love Branagh’s work. Just with the choice of text. I just don’t see how someone can do anything original with it.

Surely The ABC Murders has more cinematic potential? A serial killer, a tighter cast, a sense of urgency? Or… do you know what, I can’t think of any other Poirot mystery that has the oomph to carry off a big screen adaptation. Maybe Hercule Poirot’s Christmas or Hallowe’en Party have enough of the gothic atmosphere about them, but that’s about it.

Obviously it’s early days, but are you looking forward to another trip on the legendary train? Or which Poirot novels would you like to see on the big screen – if any?

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22 comments

  1. I would like to see “And Then There Were None” without the “happy ending” variation (like the Russian film Desyat Negrityat (1987) )

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    • Not a Poirot, but yes, good idea. Even knowing the basic idea of the ending wouldn’t give the game away and it wouldn’t take much tweaking to change enough to fool people who’ve read it.

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    • “And Then There Were None” could be a great movie, but being faithful to the book, and doing it without a happy ending would be a hard sell. I can imagine the producers, marketing people etc interfering with that. I do remember seeing a movie version in the 70s, in which they MILD SPOILER REMOVED JUST IN CASE.

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      • There are 4 English film adaptations (1945, 1965,1974,1989). Also some TV adaptations. All of them have the “happy ending”. The only film adaptation faithful to the book is the Russian one (1987). In fact, it is so faithful to the original book that it uses the offensive word !
        BBC One is expected to release a new TV adaptation this year. I am curious to see what the ending will be.

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  2. Well, it’s been remade for TV several times of course and in one case, the modernised version with Alfred Molina, the results were quite gobsmackingly awful (to give you an idea – they gave Poirot a girlfriend, and not that, but a belly dancer …). In actual fact to film this sort of thing successfully would be the opposite of a quick shoot as confined spaces are a bloody nightmare as you have to start again for each set-up because you can’t shoot using multiple cameras usually and have to work twice as hard to not make everything seem static (which even the enjoyable 1974 version could;t disguise – they pad out the opening section enormously just to provide a contrast to the bulk of the story, which very repetitive and confined). I would argue that to people like us the solution would be well-known, but to most cinema viewers this is just not the case – and it didn’t stop them making 4 cinema version of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (let alone the forthcoming BBC mini-series based on the book). Could be good and I agree, Branagh is a terrific actor and director.

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  3. I agree. Murder on the Orient Express is a failed experiment. There’s too much backstory, too much talking and the solution is so obvious that anyone who doesn’t get it early on is likely to feel cheated by how ridiculous it is.

    I just don’t see how it can be successfully adapted. I’m someone who’s happy for adaptations to play fast and loose with the source material, provided the thematic core is preserved, but here the thematic core is the problem, for the very banal reason that it means the story has far too many characters. There need to be at least 16 fully fleshed out characters on the train for it to work, and there just isn’t space (or time) for that kind of cast. There wasn’t in the book, and there certainly isn’t on screen.

    (A few adaptations have tried to trim down the cast, but then you have to chuck all the symbolism out the window. And without that, it’s even more pointless a story than it already is. The Alfred Molina version managed to sail straight past “so bad it’s good” to “so bad it’s depressing that people get paid for this kind of project.”)

    What Poirots deserve a full screen adaptation? ABC Murders, perhaps, but the problem there is all the copycats have ruined the original. I don’t see how you can make that plot feel exciting or original now that every over the top crime procedural has done a version of it.

    Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is another good choice, although I’d ditch some of the characters and the stupid stuff like the murder attempt towards the end. But the stakes are probably far too low for a modern crime film.

    Of the exotic ones, unless you’re going to do Death on the Nile again, Murder in Mesopotamia may be the best choice. I know it’s ridiculous, but I think it’s salvageable with some extreme changes, although at that point you might as well just write a new one.

    Personally, I’d adapt Ackroyd, make the middle sections much less cosy, and use Pierre Bayard’s suggested ending (without the psychobabble). I think that could work well on screen. But people REALLY don’t like major changes to the source material in mysteries.

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      • Ha ha! Yeah. And a lot of people would throw a major strop, given the general reaction to quite sensible changes to classic mysteries (like the ones in the ITV adaptation of The Body in the Library). And I’m afraid I’m petty enough for that to amuse me…

        But I wouldn’t only do it to annoy purists. I think it makes a lot of sense. Being as elliptical as possible, you just can’t adapt Ackroyd and achieve Christie’s intended effect. Look at the David Suchet version. But you have to do something to elevate it above a standard village whodunnit… Bayard’s idea is a good one, conceptually, and I can’t think of another story where it’s been used. It doesn’t actually work as an alternative solution to the book, which is one of the reasons why HIS book is a bit rubbish. But that’s the beauty of adapting for the screen: you could change everything that needed to be changed for it to make sense, and a lot of viewers familiar with the original wouldn’t notice what was going on.

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      • I’m one of the minority who doesn’t mind the plot changes that happen with the TV versions as long as the story makes sense. Means I get caught out on occasion.

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  4. A Japanese two-part TV adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express from early this year added something interesting to the formula. The first episode was the story as we all know it, but the second episode was actually an inverted varation, starting with the motive to how the scheme was planned and excuted. Perfect, it was not, but it did add something new and the concept fitted the style of the director much better than a ‘normal’ adaptation of the book (My thoughts on it: http://ho-lingnojikenbo.blogspot.nl/2015/01/end-of-line.html).

    I’d actually love to see a straight adaptation of The Big Four. Sure, it might not be Christie’s best (ha!), but I’ve always liked the silliness and adventurous aspects of the (patchwork) plot (I feel the same about The Secret Adversary, by the way).

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    • That’s an interesting approach, and perhaps similar to the Sherlock Holmes novels, where the solution comes halfway through and then the second half fills in he back story. But I think I’d agree with your assessment that the stakes are seriously undercut by the fact the audience already knows exactly what’s going to happen. Inevitability CAN work in mysteries and thrillers, but it takes a lot of skill to pull it off.

      I sort of agree about the Big Four! It’s certainly one of the few Poirot novels that has the kind of international stakes that a modern film adaptation might require. But it’s so piecemeal and ridiculous that by the time it’s been fixed you might have well have written a new story. How did the Suchet adaptation by Mark Gatiss turn out? I’ve not seen it. I’m not a fan of Gatiss’ writing, but the Big Four does seem like the kind of thing he’d be good at adapting.

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  5. The ABC Murders was adapted as a film titled The Alphabet Murders (1965). However, it is first a comedy and then a mystery. A spoof. Hercule Poirot is shown as a buffoon though he ultimately solves the crime !

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  6. I dunno – I think I would pay to see Van Damme as Poirot. Just because.

    I know I’m in the minority in that I didn’t think much of the most popular adaptation (the ’74) one…and the Alfred Molina one should be buried under a pile of rocks…I thought the David Shuchet one was actually pretty good because they did play with the story a bit (not the big elements of it but with Poirot’s motivations for staying silent and so on). I have no desire to see that story done again though I’m sure it’ll be a hit – that’s all movies are these days – reboots, remakes and sequels.

    As for which Poirot story could do with a new adaptation I think some of the ones that I think of as the lesser books – where the storytelling could do with a bit of tightening up – so maybe Elephants Can Remember or The Clocks.

    I know it’s not a Poirot story but I recently read Crooked House and couldn’t believe there has never been a film or TV adaptation – it would be interesting to see what a decent film crew could do with that one

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    • I remember sitting down to watch the Suchet one but not making it past the hour mark because it was incredibly boring – but that is in part due to the source material. I just don’t see how to ever make this one work…

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  7. I don’t think another film of this one would work but hey, you never know. David Suchet is Poirot to me and no-one else is really good enough. I recently re-read this book, even though I knew the solution and still got a lot of enjoyment from it.

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  8. I’ve known about this for a while, and I think they’re doing it as the title is famous. That seems to be what drives a lot of so-called ‘remakes’. It all comes down to name recognition.

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