Murder on the Orient Express 1974 ***


Albert Finney was an unlikely choice to play diminutive Belgian detective Hercule Poirot for Sidney Lumet’s 1974 all-star re-enactment of Agatha Christie’s famous who-dunnit, but he makes a decent fist of the role in the heavily-padded style of Brando in The Godfather. Paul Dehn’s screenplay features the murder of Richard Widmark’s Ratchett played out over and over again, allowing each of the stars to been seen holding the knife. Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Rachel Roberts and Jacqueline Bisset are amongst the suspects, and the resolution is strongly delivered through a lengthy exposition by Poirot. Lumet handles his cast well, and Richard Rodney Bennett contributes a notable score; while the mystery isn’t hard to solve, the trappings on this murder mystery make it worth returning to; even Agatha Christie was happy with the result.

The Public Eye 1971 ***


Sir Carol Reed’s last film, after his famous musical Oliver!, was an gossamer-light adaptation of Peter (Amadeus, Equus) Shaffer’s hit play, with Michael Jayston as Charles, a British accountant who suspects his American wife (Mia Farrow) is having an affair. Charles hires unconventional detective Julian (Topol) to investigate, and part of the charm is seeing Julian follow her through the bust streets of 1970 London to the tune of John Barry’s lush Follow Me. Like all of Shaffer’s work, twist and turns follow without too much contrivance, and this little-known drama has a haunting romantic feel that sits well with the smart dialogue.

The Royal Hunt of the Sun 1969 ****


Peter Schaffer’s popular plays is adapted for a surprisingly cinematic epic by Irving Lerner, following the adventures of gold-hunting explorer Pizarro (Robert Shaw) and his confrontation with the Inca people, and specifically a battle of wills with their many-feathered leader Atahualpa (Christopher Plummer). Whether Atahualpa is a god or a man is a matter of some debate, and although a deal is struck that allows Pizarro to remove the Inca gold, the friendship between the two men means that the explorer has a heavy price to pay. Disposing of some of the more symbolic production elements of the stage-play, Lerner’s film is both intellectually rigorous and visually splendid, with two very different but equally impressive performances by Shaw and Plummer, the latter throwing himself in at the deep end to create an extraordinary, memorable character.

Absolution 1981 ***


As well as creating Sleuth and The Wicker Man, Tony Shaffer provided a memorable face off between Richard Burton and Billy Connolly in this neglected 1978 thriller. Set in a Catholic boarding school, Burton plays Father Goddard, a priest torn when his favourite pupil Benjamin (Dominic Guard) makes a confession to him. Benjamin claims to have murdered a drifter called Blakey (Connolly) who has set up camp in the school grounds. His confession is false, but proves to be the first move in a deadly game. Anthony Page directs an intense and complex thriller that makes the most of the unusual setting, and features the ingenious plot twists that Shaffer built his considerable reputation on.