Wednesday, February 11, 2009

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Casting Coup Month: Murder on the Orient Express

Busy couple of days. Sorry about missing the last two, maybe I'll make them up this weekend. Maybe tonight. Maybe. But don't push the maybe, baby.

Speaking of babies, it was the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's that led to the film being cast today. (How's that for a segue?) At the center of Agatha Christie's most famous whodunnit is the kidnapping and murder of an aviator's daughter, an event that destroyed both her parents and the people around them. The man responsible gets away with it, flees the United States, changes his name....and winds up stabbed to death in his compartment. Fortunately, Poirot happens to be traveling on the very same train.

Hollywood has always had a weird relationship with Agatha Christie. No matter how well she does (Witness for the Prosecution, Margaret Rutherford's Miss Marple films, etc.), they are still reluctant to adapt her work. It doesn't help, of course, that so many filmmakers either camp it up (The Mirror Crack'd) or stay too deadly serious (And Then There Were None, 70s edition), but when done right, Christie is thrilling and amazing.

This is one of those films that was "done right", allegedly the only film adapted from her work that she herself liked. Sidney Lumet found just the right tone. It wasn't camp, but it wasn't exactly straightforward. He didn't want a train, he wanted SETS. He didn't want the actors to wear clothes, he wanted COSTUMES. He didn't even want actors, he wanted STARS and FACES. And honey, when Sidney Lumet wants FACES, he gets FACES.


Though the highest-grossing British-produced film (at that time), though nominated for six Academy Awards, Murder on the Orient Express has since gotten an unfair reputation. There are those who claim the solution is ridiculous, while the characters are, at best, caricatures. That the acting is atrocious and too broad. That the lighting is overdramatic. That the final sequence goes on for much too long, and is too confusing. Balderdash, I say! Lumet delivers an old-school, all-star production that greatly honors the original text. Perhaps it was overshadowed by the Oscar Titan of 1974: The Godfather: Part II.

It won only one of its six nominations. Richard Rodney Bennett's score lost out to The Godfather: Part II's, composed by Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola. Toni Walton's costume design lost out to another period piece: The Great Gatsby, with designs by Theoni V. Aldredge. Geoffrey Unsworth's cinematography lost to the tag team of Fred J. Koenekamp and Joseph F. Biroc, who worked on The Towering Inferno (seriously?). Paul Dehn's adapted screenplay lost to The Godfather: Part II, written by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo. And 35-year-old Albert Finney lost to 56-year-old Art Carney for Harry and Tonto.

Ah, but history was made. Ingrid Bergman was the first to tie with Katharine Hepburn as the winningest actress in Academy Awards history. Though Hepburn would go on to win another Oscar (she collected them like some collect spoons), no actress has yet to tie Ingrid for second place. Not even Meryl. Nominated for Best Supporting Actress for a 15-minute performance, most of which relegates her to the background. While accepting her Oscar, she named competitor Valentina Cortese (Day for Night) as more deserving. Awkward. But it's a good performance, though it may not be the best one on the film.

Still, it was the second time an Agatha Christie movie would be recognized at the Oscars. Death on the Nile won Costume in 1978, and then nothing. Nobody cared.

Except me.

The Victim
SAMUEL RATCHETT
Who is He: Ratchett is the man who organized the kidnapping and murder of little Daisy Armstrong, but six years old. He has a private compartment on the Orient Express, between Poirot's and Mrs. Hubbard's. Tagging along with him are his valet and secretary, plus his gun. He tries to hire Poirot to protect him, but he winds up stabbed to death anyway.

Quote:
RATCHETT: Mr. Poirot, I am a rich man. Rich men inevitably make enemies. I have an enemy.
POIROT: Just the one?

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Kiss of Death), Golden Globe Winner for Most Promising Male Newcomer (Kiss of Death)

Richard Widmark (How the West Was Won, motherfuckin' The Swarm)

My Choice: Academy Award Winner for Best Actor (Raging Bull) and Best Supporting Actor (The Godfather: Part II), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actor (Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, Goodfellas) and Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles (The Godfather: Part II), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor in a Drama (Raging Bull), Razzie Award Nominee for Worst Screen Couple (Show Time, with Eddie Murphy), SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Marvin's Room)

Robert De Niro (Analyze This, Stardust)
Picture it: One of the most respected actors of a generation. A living legend who can still sell tickets. Once again, he's an amoral, vicious gangster. But you kill him a quarter of the way through the film. Such a risk would win him some respect, I'm sure, but it would also be surprising and entertaining.


The Professionals
M. BOUC
Who is He: Director of the Compagnie Wagon Lits, he is in charge of the Orient Express. he also happens to be an old friend of Poirot's. Confused and frustrated, he asks Poirot to solve the case. Called Signor Bianchi in the original film.

Quote:
BIANCHI: Who is next?
CONSTANTINE: Mrs. Hubbard.
BIANCHI: Oh God.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (A Thousand Clowns), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, All the President's Men), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams)

Martin Balsam (Psycho [1960], Breakfast at Tiffany's)

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor (Eastern Promises), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actor (Eastern Promises), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor (Eastern Promises), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)

Viggo Mortensen (Psycho [1998], A History of Violence)
It's not the Psycho connection that made me think it. I just thought of character actors that would be great in the role. And his face just popped up, and it made sense. Look at that 'stache, for God's sakes! Besides, Mortensen is, surprisingly enough, the right age for this role. I would love to hear his take on a Flemish accent. It would be awesome, I am sure.


DR. CONSTANTINE
Who is He: He just happens to be on board, and just happens to have had no opportunity to commit the murder. He becomes third wheel to Bouc and Poirot after examing the body. Serves as coroner.

Quote: "In my professional opinion, the murderer is with us now."

Originally played by:

George Coulouris (Citizen Kane, Papillon)

My Choice: SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (My Big Fat Greek Wedding)

Michael Constantine (Don't Drink the Water, Thinner)
Yes, Constantine as Constantine. But Michael Constantine is a great character actor who knows when to take center stage and when to back off. He has a stern, professional look about him (not pictured), but has the humor the good doctor needs.


PIERRE MICHEL
Who is He: Conductor of the Orient Express, he is stationed in the Calais coach. The very coach, that is, where Ratchett is murdered.

Quote: "Eh bien, M. Ratchett. Please to have pleasant dreams."

Originally played by:

Jean-Perre Cassel (Ready to Wear, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)

My Choice:

Jean Reno (Leon: The Professional, The Da Vinci Code)
Reno is one my favorite French actors, as well as one of the most recognizable. Reno, to me, looks like the working everyman, the blue collar type. Reno also possesses a ceratin amount of gravitas. His Pierre Michel would be human and sympathetic.


The Passengers
COUNT ANDRENYI
Who is He: A Hungarian aristocrat and diplomat. Young, protective of his wife, looks great in a tux.

Originally played by:

Michael York (Romeo and Juliet, Cabaret)

My Choice:

Rodrigo Santoro (300, Love Actually)
This Brazilian actor has played Americans, Persians, Frenchies. Playing the young, sophisticated, fashionable Hungarian diplomat would be cool. He would get to do more than what American cinema has let him do thus far. Plus, imagine him sharing scenes with the next actor....


COUNTESS ANDRENYI
Who is She: The Count's beautiful wife, widely known for both her wonderful figure and her fashion sense.

Originally played by: Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy (Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?), Best Supporting Actress (Under the Volcano) and Most Promising Female Newcomer (The Sweet Ride)

Jacqueline Bisset (Casino Royale, Domino)

My Choice: Academy Award Winner for Best Actress (Monster), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actress (Monster, North Country), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress in a Drama (Monster), Razzie Award Nominee for Worst Actress (Sweet November), SAG Award Winner for Best Actress (Monster)

Charlize Theron (In the Valley of Elah, Hancock)
Though born in South Africa, we have seen Theron play American (The Cider House Rules), English (Arrested Development) and Swedish (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers). She is unquestionably beautiful, and that body -- DAMN! Why, she even played a supermodel in Woody Allen's Celebrity. There's this sad look about her sometimes, too, one that would be a great asset to this role.


COLONEL ARBUTHNOT
Who is He: A very English Englishman, reserved and stern. Yet he seems to be very familiar with Miss Debenham, calling her by her first name upon first seeing her, although he denies knowing her when questioned.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (The Untouchables), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Actor (The Name of the Rose), Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actor (The Untouchables), Razzie Award Nominee for Worst Supporting Actor (The Avengers) and Worst Screen Couple (Entrapment, with Catherine Zeta-Jones)

Sean Connery (Goldfinger, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor (The English Patient) and Best Supporting Actor (Schindler's List), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Schindler's List), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor in a Drama (The English Patient) and Best Supporting Actor (Schindler's List, The Duchess), Razzie Award Nominee for Worst Actor (The Avengers) and Worst Screen Couple (The Avengers, with Uma Thurman), SAG Award Nominee for Best Actor and Best Ensemble (The English Patient), Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (The Duchess)

Ralph Fiennes (Wallace and Gromit in: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Red Dragon)
Fiennes is considered sexy, so he could play that dashing aspect of the Colonel. For rest assured, the Colonel must be dashing. James Bond played him, after all. But, as seen in The Duchess, he can play up that British reserve (stiff upper lip and all that). Between you and me, I also believe he could add a touch of humor to the proceedings, very subtly. He's certainly done so in every movie I've ever seen him in.


MARY DEBENHAM
Who is She: Coming back from some secretarial work somewhere, Miss Debenham is pretty bad-ass. She is never ruffled, not even by Poirot's cleverness. When the Colonel calls her by her first name, she gets him to calm down. A mystery she is, this Miss Debenham.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Julia), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best British Actress (Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment) and Best Supporting Actress (Prick Up Your Ears), Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Julia)

Vanessa Redgrave (Howards End, Atonement)

My Choice: Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (The Constant Gardener), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actress (The Constant Gardener), Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actress (The Constant Gardener), SAG Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (The Constant Gardener)

Rachel Weisz (Runaway Jury, Envy)
Weisz can be cool and reserved. She has that mischeivous grin, though, that hints at a darker side. Seeing her stay calm while Poirot tries to spin circles 'round her would be mesmerizing.


PRINCESS DRAGOMIROFF
Who is She: An unsociable, ancient Russian princess. She is the godmother of Sophie Armstrong, mother of the dead daughter, Daisy. Her best friend is stage actress Linda Arden.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Separate Tables), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best British Actress (Sons and Lovers), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Separate Tables, Toys in the Attic)

Wendy Hiller (Pygmalion, A Man for All Seasons)

My Choice:

Danielle Darrieux (Persepolis, 8 Women)
I wish I had gotten a more regal picture, for she is rather royal-looking. Rightly so, too, given that she is one of France's greatest actresses. Now, they got an English broad to play a Russian, so I find nothing wrong in my finding a Frenchie for my version. Especially since, in the novel, she and Poirot converse in French. Darrieux is a great actress, and when I saw 8 Women, I knew she was a formidable presence, one who never lost sight of implications both tragic and humorous in a single line reading.


ANTONIO FOSCARELLI
Who is He: An Italian car salesman, vulgar and loud.

Originally played by:

Denis Quilley (Anne of the Thousand Days, Evil Under the Sun)

My Choice: Academy Award Winner for Best Actor (Life is Beautiful), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Actor (Life is Beautiful), DGA Award Nominee for Best Director (Life is Beautiful), Razzie Award Winner for Worst Actor (Pinocchio), SAG Award Winner for Best Actor (Life is Beautiful)

Roberto Benigni (Son of the Pink Panther, Coffee and Cigarettes)
It is time for his American comeback. I am serious. I love Life is Beautiful and think Benigni is able to capture something quite human within all his odd clowning around. As Foscarelli, his caricature would be his strength.


CYRUS HARDMAN
Who is He: An undercover detective working for Pinkerton's, he claims to also be working for Mr. Ratchett. Despite this guy, in addition to Poirot, the valet, and the secretary, Ratchett still gets it. You can't get good help these days.

Originally played by: BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Equus)

Colin Blakely (The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Evil Under the Sun)

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor (The People vs. Larry Flynt), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor in a Drama (The People vs. Larry Flynt), Razzie Award Winner for Worst Supporting Actor (Indecent Proposal), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (No Country for Old Men)

Woody Harrelson (A Prairie Home Companion, Anger Management)
Woody Harrelson is a good ol' boy. And Hardman is a laid-back, plain-speaking American. Look, they're een making the same face. I think, though, that harrelson could add a bit of smarminess to the role, something to pep it up a bit.


MRS. HUBBARD
Who is She: Your typical American tourist: loud, easily shocked, demanding, full of stories about her children.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (The Mirror Has Two Faces), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actress (The Shootist) and Best Supporting Actress (The Mirror Has Two Faces), Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actress (The Mirror Has Two Faces), SAG Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (The Mirror Has Two Faces)

Lauren Bacall (To Have and Have Not, Dogville)

My Choice: Academy Award Winner for Best Actress (Sophie's Choice) and Best Supporting Actress (Kramer vs. Kramer), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Actress (The French Lieutenant's Woman), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress in a Drama (The French Lieutenant's Woman, Sophie's Choice), Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy (The Devil Wears Prada) and Best Supporting Actress (Kramer vs. Kramer, Adaptation.), SAG Award Winner for Best Actress (Doubt), Hollmann Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (A Prairie Home Companion)

Meryl Streep (Death Becomes Her, The River Wild)
I DO NOT NEED A REASON SHE IS AWESOME


HECTOR MACQUEEN
Who is He: Ratchett's secretary, he speaks French. He shares a compartment with Poirot the first night, but Poirot is moved to his own the next night. You know, that of the murder.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Friendly Persuasion), Golden Globe Winner for Most Promising Male Newcomer

Anthony Perkins (Psycho [1960], The Matchmaker)

My Choice:

Chris Messina (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Humboldt County)
A nice, unassuming fellow. Very professional, looks a little on edge. Yeah, he could play Hector. He's also young and trusting and American, so that helps.


EDWARD MASTERMAN
Who is He: Ratchett's valet. The proper English servant, he shows little surprise in learning his late master's true identity. Indeed, he shows little surprise at anything. The film named him Beddoes.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Arthur), BAFTA Award Winner for Best British Actor (Julius Caesar) and Best Supporting Actor (Murder on the Orient Express), Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Arthur), SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Shine)

John Gielgud (Elizabeth, Gandhi)

My Choice: SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (Gosford Park)

Charles Dance (Michael Collins, Ali G Indahouse)
Dance is a solid enough actor that he would approach this methodically and wonderfully. But he is also such a chameleon that he could disappear, just as a proper servant should. It helps that few in America really know who he is.


GRETA OHLSSON
Who is She: A high-strung, religious Swedish nurse. She is very nervous and superstitious.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Actress (Gaslight, Anastasia) and Best Supporting Actress (Murder on the Orient Express), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Murder on the Orient Express), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress (Gaslight, The Bells of St. Mary's, Anastasia)

Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca, Cactus Flower)

My Choice:

Maia Morgenstern (The Passion of the Christ, Orient Express [but not this one])
Morgenstern was amazing in Mel Gibson's Jesus flick. She has such sad eyes. The terror of the interrogation. The strictness of the religion. Perhaps the only thing that could be said against this casting is that Morgenstern is almost breathtakingly beautiful. of course, so was Ingrid Bergman, so slap some makeup on 'er, and she's good to go.


HILDEGARDE SCHMIDT
Who is She: Princess Dragomiroff's strict, humorless German lady's-maid.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Actress (This Sporting Life), BAFTA Award Winner for Best British Actress (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, This Sporting Life) and Best Supporting Actress (Yanks), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress in a Drama (This Sporting Life)

Rachel Roberts (A Flea in Her Ear, O Lucky Man)

My Choice:

Suzanne von Borsody (Run Lola Run, Joy Division)


HERCULE POIROT
Who is He: Master detective. According to Sparknotes: "A retired Belgian police officer. Poirot is Christie's most famous detective and is known for his short stature and long, curly moustache. Poirot is very intelligent, extremely aware and instinctual and is a brilliant detective."

Orginally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor (Tom Jones, Murder on the Orient Express, The Dresser, Under the Volcano) and Best Supporting Actor (Erin Brockovich), BAFTA Award Winner for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy (Scrooge) and Most Promising Male Newcomer (Tom Jones), SAG Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Erin Brockovich) and Best Ensemble (Traffic)

Albert Finney (Big Fish, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead)

My Choice: Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy (Yentl)

Mandy Patinkin (The Princess Bride, The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland)
I'm just gonna say this: mustache. End of story.

2 comments:

Caleb said...

I'm a little obsessed with this cast...

Harrison Grant said...

I have a very different outlook on things:

Rachett- Tommy Lee Jones
Paul Michel- Jean Reno
Cyrus Hardman- Peter Krause
Tony Forscerelli- Danny Nucci
Hector McQueen- Channing Tatum
Edward Masterman- Anthony Hopkins
Hildegarde Schmit- Tilda Swinton
Princess Dragmiroff- Honor Blackman
Greta Olhsson- Meryl Streep
Count Andrenyi- Henry Cavill
Countess Andrenyi- Keira Knightley
Colonel Arbuthnot- Hugh Jackman
Mary Debehman- Kate Winslet
Harriett Hubbard- Michelle Pfeiffer
Dr. Consantine- Paul Freeman
M. Bounc- Willem Dafoe
and
Poirot- Sharlto Copley

Thats my cast, like it or not. I think these actors/actresses can bring what the book brought.