Ingrid Bergman as Greta Ohlsson in Murder on the Orient Express
Best Supporting Actress at the 47th Annual Oscars (1974)
“I was born backwards.”
In this Agatha Christie adaptation, off-duty private detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) boards the Orient Express, and of course, shortly finds himself solving a homicide! Honestly, if you ever see Poirot coming, run the other way, because people are always dying around that man.
Like any good Agatha Christie character, Greta is a silly weirdo with a few over-the-top traits. The first that you’ll notice is that she’s only got a tenuous grasp on the English language, being a native Swede. It’s not Swedish Chef level, but it’s definitely played for laughs – listen, maybe we should be past mocking people for their lingual abilities, but given the … ummm, dubiousness of the accent at all, I don’t feel too bad, and can enjoy Greta saying things like, “Only God can give peaceful.”
Speaking of, it’s also important that Greta is very Christian, having experienced a vision of “Yeezus” in the sky as a child. She now works as a missionary who teaches “little brown babies in Africa,” so yikes at the racism. It’s also not a spoiler to say that there’s definitely something going on with Greta: even if she’s not guilty of the murder, she’s guilty of something. Her energy is incredibly shifty, she always feels like she’s about to brim over with tears, and everything that she tells Poirot about herself seems like she’s making it up on the spot. She’s the perfect character to chuck into a murder mystery.
This is a film with an ensemble cast of potential murderers, and to be quite honest, it’s hard to say exactly how the Academy narrowed in on Bergman. That’s not meant as a diss, it’s more that the format of the film doesn’t exactly give any of the supporting characters so much of a chance to shine. If anyone stands out to me, it’s Lauren Bacall as the self-absorbed, never-shuts-up Harriet Hubbard, who swans around confidently, despite everyone’s audible groans when she walks into a room. And this is Bergman’s third Oscar, so it’s not even a case of an overdue award!
Again, it’s not that Bergman does a bad job. She has essentially one scene, in which Greta is interviewed by Hercule Poirot and gets to explain herself. It’s fun that such a glamorous movie star plays mousy and anxious, and Bergman does a good job. It’s also fun that despite being from Sweden, Bergman had been acting in English films for so long that she purportedly had to hire a dialect coach to retrain her accent for the film. And I appreciate her quiet emotion. It’s just not what I would call a star turn.
Murder on the Orient Express is such a great Agatha Christie adaptation, perfectly capturing the thrills and fun of the cozy murder genre. It’s gorgeous, campy, and classic, and makes a perfect watch on a winter night, or a rainy weekend. Albert Finney is doing a deranged, over-the-top Hercule Poirot, but it really worked for me, and the supporting cast is made up of so many icons. For once, I have no complaints!
Was the Oscar deserved?
I’ll give it to her, but you just scraped by this time, Bergman!