And Then There Were None

none1

Ten Little Indians went to dine…whodunit, who’ll live through it, in this classic mystery?

 

I love a good mystery in any form but when it comes to Agatha Christie I’d much rather watch than read. She specializes in having a large group of fascinating characters mingle, obfuscate and drop the smallest of clues, and I find that much easier and more enjoyable to follow with great actors filling the roles. This 1945 adaptation of her massive bestseller (one of the top 5 biggest books of all time, at about 100 million copies sold, not to mention countless movies inspired and influenced) has an all-star cast to bring these “ten little Indians” to life and keep you guessing at the killer’s identity. The story is one of the models for many decades of derivative movies in which a slasher methodically eliminates victims in isolated places: ten people are invited to stay at a fabulous island mansion and start getting themselves murdered. None of them knows exactly who the host is and why they’re there, but from a recording they learn they’ve all been summoned because at one time or another they were responsible for someone’s death. Walter Huston, Judith Anderson, Mischa Auer, Barry Fitzgerald, Roland Young, C.Aubrey Smith, Louis Hayward, June Duprez, Richard Haydn and Queenie Leonard make this wonderfully diverse cast of totally different, all appealing, and, most importantly, suspicious characters. Knowing they all may be guilty of getting away with murder, compounded by the blase manner they talk about it, makes it forgivable for a viewer to be eager about seeing their demise, while also feeling sorry for them.

none4

They soon deduce that the host, one Mr. U.N. Owen, is actually “unknown,” not an extra person on the island and therefore one of them, and as they start being killed off, the mystery becomes as much who’s doing it, as who will survive it and how? Great suspense and entertainment comes from watching them try to predict the next murder, give each other the side-eye, grab a weapon when in doubt, and form scheming alliances to suss the culprit out. There’s a lot of humour, like “Russian Prince” Auer banging on the piano while performing his interpretation of the nursery rhyme Ten Little Indians, a song whose lyrics dictate exactly the order and manner in which the ten will be eliminated, ranging from poisoning to being chopped in half, to death by bee sting. There’s Young, the supposed detective who is always way off in his deductions, has a firm grip on only the most obvious facts, and exclaims “I get it!!” before each theory — boy does he ever get it when he’s killed. There’s the sailor who’s chomping on what looks to be a smelly sandwich, thereby fully nauseating the seasick group during their intro scenes, and there’s the keyhole peeping that turns into an spectator sport with a chain of observers sneaking up behind each other. Judith Anderson is supremely aloof, and one dedicated knitter to bring in a long piece of creepy seaweed to copy for a shawl.

none3 none2

The parts where the characters introduce each other and later tell their “murder” stories by looking straight into the camera seemed out of place, but it’s nothing you can hold against a director who sets up every scene so artfully and with atmosphere galore, has the camera going through keyholes among other creative tricks, focuses on the shattered porcelain Indians in such a tense way that they become characters themselves, and who keeps the suspense ratcheted so tight for every minute of 97. Rene Clair did a fine job bringing plot, pace and people to life here. Really the only thing I can find to pick on is that June Duprez, though pretty, didn’t quite seem as ambiguous about her guilt as the story required, but she still had good chemistry with Louis Hayward and enough sass and smarts to hold her own in this cast of major leaguers.

The movie’s ending is very different from the book, and one that Christie herself rewrote when adapting this for the stage. If you haven’t read the novel let me just say that it would have made for an even more outstanding shocker of a movie, one that was probably–better to say wholly– unacceptable in ’45. So while it may not satisfy adaptation purists, as it stands And Then There Were None remains one of the best movies of its kind, enjoyable after many rewatches have made the ending familiar.

 

images

http://johnhannahs.tumblr.com/tagged/and-then-there-were-none

 

Advertisements

16 thoughts on “And Then There Were None”

      1. Fear not, friend Kristina, I know how busy you must be (being absurdly busy myself, I can relate!). I hope you’ll enjoy TotED’s take on Agatha Christie’s 1945 version — and we hope you’ll enjoy our upcoming 1966 version starring Bond Gal Shirley Eaton, Hugh O’Brien, and another fabulous all star-cast coming ever so soon! Thanks, pal! 😀

          1. Kristina, I’m afraid I haven’t seen your latest comments, even though I checked my fellow bloggers’ comments. Perhaps the devilish Mr. U.N. Owen is responsible, the fiend! We’ll get to the bottom of this mystery, my friend! 😀

  1. A great review of a favourite movie.

    There’s a Russian version from the 1980s, Desyat Negrityat (1987), which retains the original ending but also unfortunately the book’s original title, the word in question turning up throughout the (subtitled) dialogue too. If one can grit one’s teeth and get past that — which I must confess I found pretty damned hard — the movie has a lot to recommend it.

    1. Thanks, I didn’t research how many versions of this story there are but there must be a lot considering its huge success, it’s one of those basic plots every era and culture can adapt.

      1. I didn’t research how many versions of this story there are but there must be a lot

        I did research it at some point, and I think it was only about 5 or 6. As far as I can recall, the Russian one’s the only one to retain the book’s ending.

        1. I’m glad you came back with that because I was curious, especially about which one used the ending, now that’s interesting, you’d think later versions would be willing and able to get away with it.

          1. Note my “As far as I can recall” caveat! I was able to do a quick few minutes’ checking last night and it seems certainly the only cinema adaptation to be “entirely faithful to the original” (or some such wording); but that expression leaves the door open to other versions that retain the ending but make other changes.

            1. still interesting! 🙂 I think I remember reading there was a 6 hr long UK Tv version which must be something. thanks for the info!

  2. Love this film and great cast.
    Great review.
    Maybe typical of 40s Hollywood that the Christie ending was too heavy.

    1. thanks, it sure would’ve been a shocker of a movie then, had they gone with the original end. I wonder if readers were as disappointed as we tend to be today when books are changed

Comments are closed.