Remade several time, "Murder on the Orient Express" (1974) is the grand-pappy of them all. It's stylish, fun, and has a superb cast down to the smallest parts (in this case, Vernon Dobtcheff, Jeremy Lloyd and John Moffatt--barely visible here, Moffatt would later play Poirot in an excellent BBC radio adaptation of this story).
Before "Murder on the Orient Express" (1974) Agatha Christie's work had not done well on film, with the single exception of 1945's delightful "And Then There Were None." For this reason, Dame Agatha was reluctant to sign off on "Orient Express." But it's a classy vehicle (pun intended) with an all-star cast who were willing to take relatively small parts. Most of the time, they have little to do except react to Albert Finney's Poirot, though each of the stars is able to give a star turn at some point.
Topping the list is "James Bond" himself, Sean Connery, Pukka Englishman whose stiff upper lip is hidden by an impressive mustache. He and Vanessa Redgrave play covert lovers who may be hiding more than their affair, since the murder appears to be done by a man and woman in tandem.
Non-illicit lovers are the Count and Countess Andrenyi: Michael York, fresh off his star-making double-dipping "Three/Four Musketeers) and Jacqueline Bisset, looking ethereally lovely. They're a charming couple, but why does she look so nervous and why is he so defensive? Is it merely his Hungarian nature? Also nervous is stereo-typically twitchy Anthony Perkins, secretary to the victim (all-too-brief Richard Widmark).
Another odd man/woman duo is Wendy Hiller as an aging, exiled Russian Princess and her secretary (Rachel Roberts) who boasts of being strong.
Ingrid Bergman won a controversial Oscar for her Swedish missionary. This movie was made before EVERY person of faith in the movies was a weirdo, a hypocrite, a nutcase or a beast, so in 1974 she was on the cutting edge. But Bergman is able to do one thing few modern actors can, make her faith seem sincere. But her part is, like most of the others, a cameo, albeit a long one.
The two actors with the most screen time are Martin Balsam as an official of the rail line who deputizes Poirot to solve the murder; and Albert Finney's masterful job as Poirot.
While his Poirot has gotten lots of derision since, especially in light of David Suchet's television series, Finney does a superb job. He manages to look short and fat, and he seems to have taken Christie's work as his Scripture. He holds his head to one side, as Poirot is said to do. And his decor is full of oddments that make him the embodiment of Poirot. Sure, he's a lot more flamboyant than the Poirot of the page, but his mustache is a lot more believable than Suchet's.
What makes this movie so grand, however, is its look and feel. The costumes look like they've never been worn. They're 1930s glamour through and through. And, though the story centers around a murder, there's no a dark moment after the beginning (which bases itself loosely on the Lindbergh kidnapping case). Director Sidney Lumet described it as a fluffy soufflé. It's even better than that. It's fun, and funny. And scriptwriter Paul Dehn has Balsam's character have a line at the end that's even better than Christie had, as a wrap-up, about the mysterious uniform found in a suitcase.
Also fun is playing connect-the-dots with the characters. For instance, Perkins and Balsam appeared together in Hitchcock's "Psycho." Wendy Hiller played Eliza Doolittle in the movie of Shaw's "Pygmalion"--which was made into a musical starring Rex Harrison, who was married to Rachel Roberts. Train Conductor Jean-Pierre Cassel was the King Michael York's D'Artagnan served in his "Musketeers" movie. Ingrid Bergman costarred in "Casablanca" with Humphrey Bogart, husband of Lauren Bacall (Mrs. Hubbard). And so on. You can also play "Who has the best mustache?" All the stars are enjoyable (even the rising ones; Denis Quilley's reaction shots are often priceless).
With its humor, its jaunty score and its timeless "play dress-up" 1930s glamour, this "Murder on the Orient Express" is still the best.