Dame Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime, is coming to theaters this November with Murder on the Orient Express directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot with an all star cast. The novel, published in 1934, was first brought to the screen in 1974, starring Albert Finney as Poirot, and winning an Oscar for Ingrid Bergman. While getting ready to take in this 2017 holiday treat, let’s consider some of the other Christie inspired screen offerings.
Witness for the Prosecution (1957) This classic courtroom drama is based on the play of the same name by Agatha Christie-which was based on the short story by the same name. Billy Wilder (The Apartment, Double Indemnity) co-adapted and directed. Charles Laughton (Island of Lost Souls, Spartacus) plays Sir Wilfrid Robarts a renowned barrister in poor health who takes on the case of Leonard Vole (famed swashbuckling star Tyrone Power in what his last screen role) accused of the brutal murder of a wealthy widow. His alibi is his cold, German wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich) but who is called as a witness to the prosecution. It tripled its production budget in receipts, was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director and holds a 100% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
Death On the Nile (1978) Based on the 1937 novel by the same name. A Nile cruise for honeymooning couple Simon Doyle (Simon MacCorkindale of Falcon Crest) and American heiress Linnet (former Bond girl Lois Chiles) is plagued by Simon’s jealous ex-lover Jackie (Mia Farrow of Rosemary’s Baby). When things turn deadly it is up to everyone’s favorite Belgian Hercule Poirot (played here by Peter Ustinov) to find the truth. The all star supporting cast includes Angela Lansbury, Bette Davis, David Niven, Maggie Smith, Jack Warden, and George Kennedy. It won an Academy Award for Best Costume Design, was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, and Ustinov was nominated for a BAFTA and won the Evening Standard British Film Award.
Agatha (1979) This particular drama thriller (directed by Michael Apted of The World is Not Enough) is a little different; rather than being based on a story by Christie, it’s based on a story about Christie namely her infamous 11 day disappearance in 1926. Famed journalist Kathleen Tynan co-wrote the screenplay. Vanessa Redgrave stars in the title role alongside Timothy Dalton as Christie’s unfaithful husband and Dustin Hoffman as an American journalist. It currently holds an over 80% rating on the Tomatometer.
The Mirror Crack’d (1980) Based on the Christie Miss Marple novel The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side. In 1953, St. Mary Mead is visited by a big Hollywood production company arriving to do a costume drama about Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I with two famous film stars Marina Rudd (Elizabeth Taylor) and Lola Brewster (Kim Novak). At a reception a cocktail intended for Marina kills an bystander and it’s up to Jane Marple (played by Angela Lansbury) to find out who. Also starring Rock Hudson, Geraldine Chaplin, and Tony Curtis.
And Then There Were None (2015) This BBC mini-series adaption made to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Agatha Christie’s birth boasted top end production values. It was filmed in Cornwall with historic Harefield House used to fill in for the island mansion. Best of all it had a dream cast; Sam Neill, Charles Dance, Miranda Richardsen, Toby Stephen, Douglas Booth, Aidan Turner, Noah Taylor, Anna Maxwell Martin, and welcome Australian newcomer Maeve Dermody. Small wonder it got rave reviews and its high ratings sparked a whole new batch of Christie adaptions.
Top photo of Kenneth Branagh courtesy of 20th Century Fox