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« Michael Fassbender X 2| Main| Open Thread (feat.The Gurus of Gold.) »
Friday
Aug 28 2015

Murder on the Orient Express: Ingrid Bergman steals the show - or does she?

We're near the end of Ingrid Bergman's career so here's the penultimate episode in our retrospective.Happy 100th to the superstar on August 29th.Here's Lynn Lee...

By 1974,Ingrid Bergman was agrande dameof film in the twilight of her career,with two Best Actress Oscar wins under her belt,and nothing left to prove.  Perhaps that's why she deliberately opted for such a small part in the star-studdedMurder on the Orient Express,despite director Sidney Lumet's attempts to coax her into taking a bigger one.  And yet,despite her own efforts to stay out of the spotlight,it found her anyway,with her tiny role as a mousy,middle-aged Swedish missionary netting her an unlikely third Oscar.

We don't see too many movies likeOrient Expressthese days – A-list extravaganzas where most of the stars end up with little more than glorified cameos but just seem to be in it for fun.  And to be fair,the movieisfun and directed with flair,even as it plays up the absurd theatricality of the whodunit setup – something that doesn't register as strongly when you're reading Agatha Christie's plummy prose.It's a bit much at times...

A ludicrously miscast Albert Finney hams it up so hard as supersleuth Hercule Poirot he verges on pure camp;Sean Connery throws a punch that plays like slapstick comedy;Wendy Hiller's hauteur as an elderly Russian aristocrat,the role Lumet originally wanted Bergman to take,is exceeded only by the deathly whiteness of her makeup.  (Anthony Perkins cast as another nervy bachelor with a mother fixation is also good for a laugh.)

Amid the scenery chomping,Bergman could almost slip by unnoticed except,of course,she's la Bergman.  She can't be on screen for more than a total of ten minutes,but she does establish a distinct presence right from our first glimpse of her,tremulously approaching the train in the wake of the gimlet-eyed,confidently striding Lauren Bacall.  As she pauses to search desperately for a lost St.Christopher's medal even as local peddlers offering replacements swarm about her,the two dominating notes of her character emerge almost immediately: (1) she's haunted by something,and (2) she's fervently religious.  Might the two be related?  It doesn't take a Poirot to figure that out.

Once on board,our fleeting glimpses of her mixing with the other passengers do nothing to dispel that first impression.  When she finally gets her close-up – that is,her one-on-one with Poirot,who's investigating the murder of a fellow passenger – she doubles down on it.  Her name is Greta Ohlsson,and she is a missionary to "little brown babies"in Africa.Or maybe it's India.In oddly stilted broken English,she explains that she was "born backwards"and not of religious parentage,but saw a vision of Jesus one day.But something seems to be troubling her still,as she breaks into tears on little provocation,obviously deeply distraught about something.She cheers up a little when Poirot tells her that he will contribute to her mission,and responds graciously,"God will find you a reward."


And that's it.  Greta barely appears again in the film,except for one key moment that confirms her as the most morally conflicted and guilt-racked character on board the train (and no,that's not the same as saying she's the guiltiest).

Lumet said about Bergman's role

Since her part was so small,I decided to film her one big scene,where she talks for almost five minutes,straight,all in one long take.  A lot of actresses would have hesitated over that.She loved the idea and made the most of it.  She ran the gamut of emotions.  I've never seen anything like it.

While I wouldn't go that far,there's no denying she adds a layer of emotional depth that's otherwise lacking in the movie.  But was it enough for an Oscar nod?  If you were going to nominate any of the supporting ladies from thisOrient Express,Bacall and Hiller had much meatier roles,and executed them just as competently – though I maintain Bacall,in contrast to many of her co-stars,was not over-the-topenoughfor her character.

Bergman's win is even more of a head-scratcher.  She was easily the most famous nominee in her category,but she wasn't exactly "due"for yet another Oscar.  More people to this day remember Madeline Kahn's turn inBlazing Saddles.Talia Shire's contribution to theThe Godfatherseries has more resonance in film history.Ingrid herself clearly wanted Valentina Cortese to win!(What's more: Diane Ladd's "Flo"character inAlice Doesn't Live Here Anymoreeven continued on to more awards races after the Oscars when the TV series adaptation won Golden Globe nominations for Polly Holliday who took over the role.)  Maybe the Academy felt inclined to give something to亚博主页Murder on the Orient Express?  (Thank the lord it wasn't for Finney,who was also nominated,even more inexplicably,for Best Actor.)  Whatever the reason,this award enters the annals of Oscar WTFs.  Bergman,however,remains untainted by it.  She was just trying to play a bit part in an ensemble,and happened to do it well enough to get more recognition than she deserved.

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Reader Comments (32)

The 70's were a period of many films with multiple all-star casts………….it was Hollywood's way of trying to attract the mainstream movie goer (those who weren't lined up to see One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest or Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore).
Towering Inferno,The Poseidon Adventure and Airport were this kind of formula film…maybe made for the Silent Majority.They were huge hits,much like the comic book genre of this millennium.And most of them are largely forgotten,or the parody is better remembered.(Airplane)
But Lumet,who had already directed Dog Day Afternoon and would go on to direct Network,had a fun sensibility about the project.No one dialed in their performance and Miss Bergman's scene is a treasure

August 28,2015 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie19

I just love this movie.It's perfectly executed,star-studded entertainment,with a bit of a moral conundrum in the revelation of the killer(s),which it doesn't take too seriously.It's shot and costumed masterfully -- I'd even say it's cast perfectly,with Finney bringing a necessary quirkiness to Christie's famous sleuth.His Poirot is off-putting as a kind of ongoing,diversionary method -- the detective has to disarm people by having them not take him quite seriously as they should.The scene between Finney and Bergman is acting magic.He works his way into her confidence,and without quite knowing how,she understands that she's revealed too much to him.You can see the lingering confusion on her face when it's over,while he,in his oily way,falsely assures her that all is well.

August 28,2015 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

"It's always nice to win an Oscar...please forgive me Valentina,I didn't mean to."

I will always love Ingrid Bergman for her film roles,and even more for her effortless grace and charm,as demonstrated by that clip of her winning that 3rd Oscar.
I remember watching that live,and it may puzzle some people now but I don't remember anyone really minding that Bergman won.I think the academy gave it to her because she was just that popular.

As for her role in the film,I agree with Pauline Kael that Bergman was giving a nod to her own performance as a missionary in "The Inn of Sixth Happiness".I think she gives us a campy missionary with a bit of a comic twist on her own sincerity.
The rational part of my brain would have given the Oscar to Cortese who is delightful in "Day For Night",but the right side of my brain loves Ingrid Bergman so much I wouldn't pass up a chance to reward her with another statue.

August 28,2015 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Is the link at "It's a bit much at times..."supposed to just open the full article,or was it supposed to lead to something else?

August 28,2015 | Unregistered Commenterbcarter3

This film is one of my faves.It's sumptuous entertainment--a cinematic souffle.The cast is stacked with luminaries,wearing some of the most eye-popping costumes ever seen.I must take issue with the assertions that Finney was miscast and gave a hammy performance.I have read this online before.And I disagree.He's exactly the Poirot that Christie depicted in her books.And his grandly entertaining portrayal,a technical marvel,ranks with his greatest performances.

I also am going to go out on a limb regarding Ingrid's Oscar win.While I wouldn't go so far as to say she deserved it,of the nominees,it's not a bad choice.Kahn was great but she was doing shtick,not what I would call great acting.Shire is in five minutes of a 200-minute movie.Cortese should not have been eligible,as her film Day For NIght had already won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay the year before.Ingrid's only real competition was Ladd,who would have been a worthy winner.Jennifer Jones should have won for The Towering Inferno,but she wasn't nominated.

August 28,2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Love this film,I don't know if there are enough megawatt stars of the various ages required to even make a cast like this feasible today.I can't agree about Finney,I think he's great.Poirot IS a character,a fussy Belgian fart as he was once described and Finney loads his characterization with idiosyncrasies that make Hercule memorable,exasperating and complex.

I don't think Ingrid deserved the award,like her my vote would go to Valentina Cortese in Day for Night,but far worse work has won,ie Zellweger in Cold Mountain.She would have made an interesting Princess Dragomiroff but I would guess she didn't think the role would really be a challenge for her since her regal bearing would have made it a simple case of acting haughty.Whereas Wendy Hiller was usually salt of the earth types so it worked out well for both.Lumet had originally wanted Marlene Dietrich for the role and the studio shot him down thinking the casting would be too campy.I love Hiller in the part but Dietrich would have been a wonderful treat.

If anyone should have been nominated from the film I thought it should have been Lauren Bacall's ugly American Mrs.Hubbard who is is fearlessly obnoxious,witty with a quip but once exposed shows a fragility under the braggadocio that is deeply touching.

August 28,2015 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I remember reading somewhere (perhaps Inside Oscar?) that Kahn,Ladd,and Shire were fuming that Bergman only focused on Cortese in the speech and not on all of the nominees.

August 28,2015 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Wasn't this the only performance that received 1 heart each in the Smackdown?And she won the Oscar!

In retrospect,it would have been nice if Ladd or Kahn won.

August 28,2015 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

I was in love with Bergman and felt she could do no wrong ( I still kinda do ),but she should not even have been nominated for that role let alone win an Oscar for it....

August 28,2015 | Unregistered Commenterrick

Great movie- love the opening sequence - now that is a real all star cast!

August 28,2015 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Sorr ybut MOTOE is all about Wendy Hiller.

August 28,2015 | Unregistered CommenterMARK

brookesboy - Day for Night for Best Foreign Language Film the previous year.You see,back then a film was eligible for Best Foreign Language Film the year it was released in its home country,but it wasn't eligible for any other awards until it was released in the U.S.That's what happened with Day for Night.It was released in its home country in 1973,therefore it was eligible for Best Foreign Language Film at the ceremony held in 1974 (where it won Best Foreign Language Film,it was the ceremony where The Sting won Best Picture),but because it wasn't released in the U.S.until 1974,then it wasn't eligible for any other awards until the following year's ceremony,where it was nominated for Best Original Screenplay,Best Supporting Actress and Best Director.The rules have changed since,but just so you understand why this happened with this film (which I adored when I saw it and agree Cortesse should have been the winner).For context's sake,that year's Best Picture winner was The Godfather Part II and the other Best Picture nominees were Chinatown,The Conversation,Lenny and The Towering Inferno.

August 28,2015 | Unregistered CommenterRichter Scale

The strongest supporting actress performance of the year -- the choice at both the NY Critics and NBR -- was Valerie Perrine in Lenny.But,as always during that era,there weren't enough candidates to fill the lead actress category,so Perrine was bumped up there (where she had no hope of competing with more dominant performances).

That left a motley crew of nominees -- I love Kahn,and would have voted for her the year prior,but her Blazing Saddles part was a throwaway.Shire was barely in Godfather II.Ladd was good,but totally unknown,and Alice was late to the race (a one-week qualifier in LA,it didn't even open in NY till late January).Cortese was easily the best of the group,but the chances of a not-widely-known actress winning for a foreign language film (a year-old one,at that) were slim (she's in fact the only person ever even nominated for a supporting role in a FL film).Bergman's nomination came as a surprise to me,but her film was broadly popular,and long-time affection carried the day in a race without much enthusiasm.

August 28,2015 | Unregistered CommenterTom Q

I've tried a couple of times,but I find this movie is so irritating...

August 28,2015 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Intensely love this movie!
The whole cast is simply beautiful and THAT story is just spellbinding.
To each their own,everybody got their own opinion,but I think the movie is so much fun and Finney plays the part greatly.He deserves that nom.

Meanwhile,Kahn in Blazing Saddles is also in the same vein as this character,as her key moment is that cabaret performance alone.
Shire basically did nothing in The Godfather 2.
Haven't seen Days and Night and ADLHA.

Can a woman be more graceful than Bergman really?

August 28,2015 | Unregistered Commentercraver

Tom Q-So true that had Valerie Perrine competed where she belonged,in this category,she probably would have won.The film was a critical darling and as you pointed out she had the momentum.A shame because she's a knockout in Lenny and better than all the other nominees including Cortese,who is very good indeed.

August 28,2015 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Its a sentimental win period,just like Kate's wins for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner & On Golden Pond.

If Oscar really wanna give Ingrid a 3rd Oscar,they shld've wait ano 4 yrs & award her for her superb perf in Autumn Sonata,Ingrid's big screen swansong.

August 28,2015 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

This is definitely a great movie with a rousing musical score to boot.I think I'm in agreement with the commenters that Albert Finney was fantastic as Poirot,and I'm happy he was recognized with a Best Actor nomination.What a line up that category was!(Albert Finney,Al Pacino,Dustin Hoffman,Jack Nicholson and Art Carney)

As for Ingrid,she probably didn't deserve to win because that category was stacked,too.I can see why they had room for only one of the ladies from Murder on the Orient Express.I think I'd give the Oscar to Madeline Kahn even though Bergman is my favorite actress ever.Bergman's almost-one-take performance is really satisfying.I love when great actors and actresses completely take over a movie for a moment,which happens multiple times throughout this one.

Lauren Bacall is probably second-best among the supporting characters.I'd also argue Martin Balsam could have been up for Best Supporting Actor.He's so good in everything.

August 29,2015 | Unregistered CommenterSean Troutman

I see my opinion on Finney is unpopular here,heh.But I stick to it.Maybe it's because Poirot is probably my favorite fictional detective,but I admit I've never been totally satisfied with any of his portrayals on screen (though David Suchet came closest).He's a character,yes,and plays it up strategically when it suits him,but overall I've always read him as much more quietly observant than floridly "foreign."

August 29,2015 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

I'm loving this thread!I agree with all the comments praising Finey's performance;in particular,I think San FranCinema's point about Poirot's need to be disarming is spot-on.

I do share Lynn Lee's bafflement as to whether Bergman really deserved a nod,let alone a win;I think Tom Q's reading of why Bergman won is exactly it,and much as I would think that Valerie Perrine or Valentina Cortese (or Jennifer Jones,as brookesboy says) would have perhaps deserved it more,I can't begrudge this Oscar to Bergman.And she is striking in the film.My guess is if she hadn't been nominated or won,we may be looking at the film and thinking,"I wish Bergman had been nominated or even won for her role".

And I love the film.A jam-packed,eccentric treat.When I was in my early teens I read a number of Christie novels and Murder on the Orient Express was my favourite.Paul Dehn's adaptation is very clever: he has kept all the important stuff but rearranged the order of the revelation of the backstory in a way that works really well for the film.

Finally,a shout-out to Anne V.Coates' editing,which was not among the film's six Oscar nominations but which is really nimble (see that opening sequence again,or the way she cuts the flashbacks into the denounement).

August 29,2015 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

I also love Wendy Hiller in this,an Englishwoman playing a Russian lady,and would like to give a shout out to the great underrated Rachel Roberts as Fräulein Schmidt,a Welshwoman playing a German frau.I always thought it strange that they gave all the attention to a Swedish woman playing...a Swedish woman.Maybe the deglam aspect helped.

I would support Bacall getting a nod for this,even above those I've mentioned already.

Ryan - Ingrid did indeed receive just one heart from each panellist when they did the Smackdown on Stickylulu's website and was dubbed the 'Stinktress!'

Also,as a fan of Agatha Christie,I'm not a fan of Albert Finney in this.He is playing quite close to Poirot I'll admit,but I find his accent a bit harsh and some of his line readings too aggressive,especially in the denouement.

I agree with brookesboy that Jennifer Jones should definitely have been nominated for The Towering Inferno.I've no idea why Fred Astaire managed a nod for the film and not her.

August 29,2015 | Unregistered CommenterRobMiles

I love this movie.I think a lot of the production design elements are wonderful,especially the costumes,and the score is quite strong.I think Finney is terrible (and I love Poirot stories,so that's a shame),but other than that ....That said,as much as I like and respect Bergman in almost everything else,I don't think her work can really save this character.She does what she can with the role,but Bacall should've been nominated for this,not Bergman.Actually,I think it would have been great fun and rather reasonable (though I've never seen Cortese) for Bacall to have won an Oscar for playing Mrs.Hubbard.And I'm with the others who also preferred Hiller and Roberts to Bergman,here.

August 29,2015 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

I need to finally see this,but generally find Poirot hard to deal with in most incarnations.Team Marple!

August 29,2015 | Unregistered CommenterDave S

This conversation is really making me want to rewatch this movie!I remember enjoying it the first (only?) time I saw it years ago.Interestingly,I don't remember Finney's work at all*--in fact,I'd forgotten that it was he who played Poirot--but the performances by Hiller,Roberts,Bacall,Cassell,Bergman and Bisset (in descending order of strength) remain pretty vivid in my memory.

*also don't remember Balsam,Richard Widmark,Sean Connery,Tony Perkins,Michael York or Gielgud (!)--almost all of the men.Can someone refresh my memory on how they were?

August 29,2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Personally I always thought Rachel Roberts was better in the movie.She played Wendy Hiller's maid.She attracted Oscar attention before so I don't know why this one couldn't happen.

Also totally agree with others about Jennifer Jones getting a nomination.Astaire got a nomination because he was owed a nomination and he had the best scene partner with Jones.

August 29,2015 | Unregistered Commentertom

I love The Towering Inferno but I can't get behind the Jennifer Jones nomination for her work in it,I never thought Astaire's performance should have been nominated either,enjoyable though he was in the film.Jones was fine but the role was hardly heavy lifting or even required much nuance.

More deserving complex work that should have been in competition was turned in by Jan Miner who played Lenny Bruce's mother in Lenny.Even though she garnered excellent reviews for the film I think what hurt her chances was her long standing notoriety as Madge the Manicurist in the Palmolive commercials which were still running,and would continue for years,at that time.

August 29,2015 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Paul Outlaw:
Balsam -- fine work,a functionary role
Richard Widmark -- he's the victim,not on screen long
Sean Connery -- sexy and strong,with some good surprising vengeful anger under the surface.Probably the best of the bunch here.
Tony Perkins -- twitchy and fey,but he does it so well!
Michael York -- a handsome dandy,playing Jacqueline Bisset's lover -- a pretty pair,but not much more
Gielgud -- doing his thing well.

Lesser knows Colin Blakely and Jean-Pierre Cassels are really good in small roles.

But you're right -- it's the women who steal the show.

August 29,2015 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

San FranCinema-Michael York was Jackie Bisset's (she looks AMAZING throughout) husband,not lover which is how she became a Countess.

It was Vanessa Redgrave,who wasn't mentioned but is terrific here,loose and frisky who plays Sean Connery's secret amour but not lover as Connery makes clear in their interrogation scene.

I agree the women steal the spotlight but all the performers,save Finney and perhaps Hiller,have roles that stay close to their established screen personas out of necessity.There are so many roles that the audience's familiarity with the performer's identity helps fill in our awareness of them in a shorthand way since even with the extended running time all we get are brief notes on who the different characters are.

August 29,2015 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

There's also George Coulouris as the doctor who helps Finney & Balsam make sense of everything.He's another solid character actor and a member of Orson Welles' Mercury Theater troupe.

August 29,2015 | Unregistered CommenterSean Troutman

Thank you all for jogging my memory.I really,REALLY have to rewatch this now,if only for the fact that it contains a Vanessa Redgrave performance that for some reason seems to have made no impression on me...

August 29,2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Bergman should have played Poirot.

August 30,2015 | Unregistered CommenterSanty C.

just watched this movie and really enjoyed it;however,i was dismayed that ingrid bergman was even nominated for an academy award much less winning one for her performance which was good,though not involving much acting on her part,as opposed to her previous nominations and wins.in my opinion,lauren bacall should have been nominated instead.thank you for your constructive input so i could read everyone's ideas allowing me to resolve this movie mystery.

May 23,2018 | Unregistered Commentergraham

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