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The Hollywood Royalty of Agatha Christie Adaptations

Hollywood’s best love a good whodunnit.
Agatha Christie Adaptations Witness Dietrich
United Artists
By  · Published on November 7th, 2017

The first adaptation of bestselling crime author Agatha Christie in decades doesn’t disappoint in its star-studded ensemble cast. The 2017 version of Murder on the Orient Express uses Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daisy Ridley to bring Christie’s suspects to life. Adaptations of Christie’s work have long attracted Hollywood stars. Let’s look at some of the most memorable.

Marlene Dietrich in Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

Even late in her career, Marlene Dietrich is marvelous as the calloused wife of a man being tried for murder in Witness for the Prosecution. Christie’s stories require deception, and Dietrich delivers with mystery throughout the movie, all building up to her final monologue. According to director Billy Wilder in Conversations with Wilder, she enjoyed playing “a murderess.” In the famous clip below, Dietrich puts on a show for the prosecution, which we later find out wasn’t entirely the truth.

Lauren Bacall in Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Lauren Bacall’s effortless grace lends perfectly to her portrayal of sassy socialite Harriet Belinda Hubbard in Sidney Lumet’s 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express. This performance is proof that her take-no-shit-attitude only got better with age. Her character’s talkative nature brings a little humor to the clue-puzzle film.

Walter Huston in And Then There Were None (1945)

Walter Huston plays a doctor invited to a dinner party in And Then There Were None, but it’s soon clear that this is far from an ordinary dinner party. On an island, each one of the shady guests is killed off one by one. Huston’s rough voice and classic look fit perfectly within the glamorous and suspenseful adaptation. At the beginning of this clip, we find out that Huston’s character isn’t an innocent man and neither are the other dinner party guests.

Angela Lansbury in The Mirror Crack’d (1980)

Miss Marple is Christie’s famous village sleuth. The cynical old woman turned detective benefits from the spunk that Angela Lansbury brings to every role. She delivers Marple’s theories with ease and occasional humor that’s exactly how I pictured Miss Marple as I read Christie’s novels. You can see her work in the clip from The Mirror Crack’d below.

Mia Farrow in Death on the Nile (1978)

Everyone on the SS Karnak has a motive to kill Linnet, but Mia Farrow’s Jacqueline de Bellefort stands out amongst the group of suspects in Death on the Nile. Thanks to her dainty appearance and emotional performance, Farrow makes the heartbroken best friend of the victim uniquely interesting. At the end of this clip, she walks in on her fiancee and her best friend dancing together.

Sylvia Sidney in Love From a Stranger (1947)

Albeit not the best adaptation of Christie’s work, Love From a Stranger is loosely based on her short story “Philomel Cottage.” Sylvia Sidney brings an edge and allure to a character suspecting her husband of murder. Despite the melodramatic tone of the film, Sidney brings her unique style to a suspenseful story.

Ingrid Bergman in Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

As does Bacall, Ingrid Bergman uses her stardom to bring elegance to an already sophisticated story in Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express. Her passionate performance as a missionary returning from Africa adds to the mystery around the case. She won Best Supporting Actress at the 1975 Oscars for the role and her acceptance speech can be seen below.

Elizabeth Taylor in The Mirror Crack’d (1980)

Elizabeth Taylor’s onscreen intensity has made for some other memorable performances, but her role as Marina Rudd in The Mirror Crack’d is one of her craziest. At the heart of the crime that Marple investigates, Taylor’s dramatic character makes the story exciting.

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Emily Kubincanek is a Senior Contributor for Film School Rejects and resident classic Hollywood fan. When she's not writing about old films, she works as a librarian and film archivist. You can find her tweeting about Cary Grant and hockey here: @emilykub_