Finney's Poirot is off the rails

Teri Fitsell

NOTHING wrong with a lavish Agatha Christie whodunit to liven up a generally poor week's viewing. Murder on the Orient Express (World 9.30pm, Original Running Time 127 mins) is an elegant production, set in the 30s and with a big-star cast list that's longer than the train itself.

Albert Finney is virtually unrecognisable, shamelessly hamming it up as Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot. (He was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his OTT efforts but lost out to Art Carney for Harry and Tonto ).

The rest of the passengers - and suspects - include Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role), Sean Connery and John Gielgud. The ''murderee'' is played by Richard Widmark.

Sidney Lumet was the director charged with controlling this formidable team, and while the express moves far too slowly at times (and whodunit is disappointingly clear) it gets there in the end. The action begins when Widmark's corpse is discovered stabbed 12 times. Railway exec Bianchi (Martin Balsam) persuades Poirot to solve the case, which is the supersleuth's cue to stage an elaborate recreation of the crime, et voila, all becomes clear.

The success of Murder on the Orient Express - which picked up six Oscars - launched a series of lavish Christie productions, the next being Death on the Nile.

DESPITE repeated forays into a variety of disparate roles, Christopher Reeve just can't seem to make movie magic without donning Superman's red knickers. He made The Aviator (Pearl 9.30pm, ORT 98 mins) in 1985, between Supermans II and III, and the film barely made it to the cinemas.

Reeve is a pioneer pilot who crash lands in 1928 in the middle of nowhere. His passenger is horribly spoiled little rich girl Rosanna Arquette (New York Stories ) who does nothing but whinge and play the first class pain in the neck.

Our hero finds time - in between manfully foraging for food and warding off bears - to fall in love with her. It would have been more appropriate to feed her objectionable character to the bear instead, but then that's not lurve in Hollywood.

YEEHAWWW. Country music lovers can don the stetson and boots and mosey on down to the lounge to watch Entertainment Tonight (Pearl 6.55pm) get the hoedown, sorry lowdown, on country king Randy Travis.

Travis's debut album Storms of Life went platinum within a year of its release and earned him a saddlebag full of music awards. He's credited with reviving America's interest in the genre and paving the way for a new generation of stars including k.d. lang, Wynonna Judd and Billy Ray Cyrus. ET catches up with Travis filming his first TV special, Wind in the Wire.

And if you think country music is best left in the cowshed, don't worry. All the ET regular features will be there with the latest in films, TV and leisure.

TONIGHT'S double-whammy of wildlife kicks off with Walk on the Wild Side (Pearl 8.30pm) which looks at the devious means to which animals resort in order to survive and ensure the continuation of the species.

Male spiders must be particularly resourceful about mating, otherwise they're likely to end up the lunch rather than the lover. One species has ingeniously come up with the idea of offering the female a gift - a nice, dead fly, say - before moving on to more pressing business. In Hong Kong, it would have to be a designer fly.

THAT'S followed by Living Dangerously (Pearl 9pm) and a trip to the steamy jungle of Queensland, Australia. The programme looks at the battle for The Daintree rainforest, a magnificent area where forest meets coral reef, which is also the target for greedy politicians and developers.