The plot of the novel goes like this:
Eight people arrive on a small, isolated island of the Devon coast, each having received an unexpected personal invitation. They are met by the butler and cook-housekeeper, Thomas and Ethel Rogers, who explain that their hosts, Ulick Norman Owen and Una Nancy Owen, have not yet arrived but they have left instructions. A framed copy of an old rhyme hangs in every guest’s room and on the dining room table sit ten figurines. After supper, a phonograph record is played and the recording accuses each visitor and Mr. and Mrs. Rogers of having committed murder, then asks if any of the “prisoners at the bar” wishes to offer a defense.
The 10 main characters of the story are:
Once the charges have been read aloud the guests start perishing one after the other and all according to the macabre nursery rhyme displayed in every room. Who will be left to face his or her accuser and what exactly is Mr. Owen’s ultimate plan?
Review: And Then There Were None (1945)
|Review||And Then There Were None (1945)||Director||René Clair|
|Writer||Dudley Nichols (Screenplay)|
|Cast||Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, Louis Hayward, Roland Young, June Duprez, Mischa Auer, C. Aubrey Smith, Judith Anderson, Richard Haydn and Queenie Leonard|
“Silence please! Ladies and gentlemen, this is your host Mr. Owen speaking. You are charged with the following crimes…” – U.N. Owen
The first film version is very faithful to the stage play as penned by Christie. The setting is Indian island, in a mansion that is the only living quarters on the island. The only notable difference here is the name change of Anthony Marston to Prince Nikita Starloff as the selfish playboy.
French director René Clair was obviously a good choice as the film flows remarkably well and the cast looks perfectly in sync throughout. There are some odd, but very enjoyable, stylistic choices inserted here such as when a portion of the cast introduces itself not only to each other but to the audience as well and quick cuts to expressions that look anything but natural but make sense (and are fairly revealing) when all is said and done. There are some great visuals aided in no small part by wonderful cinematography and set design that really class up the film. The sly humor inserts at various places (and some you have to look for) really add up to the film’s overall value and the jovial tone that’s more or less present throughout is somehow balanced well enough so as not to undermine the serious nature of the story. No matter how many times I watch the film I’m always amazed at this feat; how the tone can remain so light and yet so sinister at the same time.
The film is also fairly nasty on multiple occasions. Of course nothing disturbing is ever present on the screen but the highly suggestive nature of some of the kills and the frank dialog surrounding them must have been hair raising in 1945. It’s also very moody with stormy weather and very dark in places and the isolation of Indian island really dawns on the viewer. This is simply a very well realized film and a definite trend setter in many ways.
The cast is also wonderful. Particularly good here are Huston as Doctor Armstrong, Young as Inspector Blore, Hayward as Lombard, Haydn as Rogers the butler and Anderson as the spinster Brent. Completely on the same page with terrific interplay; it’s played to perfection. The screenplay by Dudley Nichols deserves praise as well as there’s some very witty wordplay scattered about and the story moves along perfectly. The music score by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco is also really good and effective.
I do realize that realism does not factor in here much; such mannerisms as the remaining guests (as few as four left) cordially say goodnight and retire to their bedrooms in their most proper attire are fairly ludicrous but this is simply a sign of the times and should be regarded as such. The happy ending (of sorts) is in keeping with the tone but, to the film’s endless credit, the macabre nature of the storyline and it’s nihilistic expression of true justice gets across very nicely.
Review: Ten Little Indians (1965)
|Review||Ten Little Indians (1965)||Director||George Pollock|
|Writer||Peter Yeldham & Harry Alan Towers (Screenplay)|
|Cast||Hugh O’Brian, Shirley Eaton, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Dennis Price, Stanley Holloway, Daliah Lavi, Leo Genn, Mario Adorf, Marianne Hoppe and Fabian|
“U.N. Owen. Well, by a small stretch of the imagination, “U.N. Owen” might stand for “Unknown”.” – Dr. Armstrong
The setting is now a mansion on a mountain top, presumably in the Swiss Alps but it’s never disclosed. A few changes have been made to some of the characters, their names and also the crimes some are accused of. The most significant change is the deletion of Emily Brent’s spinster character and being replaced by an actress named Ilona Bergen (Lavi) who also has some past history with the General (Genn).
The good news here is that the setting works wonderfully. The mansion looks very ominous and interiors look swell. New locations such as a huge cellar provides for at least one good set-piece and the exteriors on the mountain provide for two variations of kill scenes that are quite effective. Most of the cast acquit themselves well enough and put their stamp on the characters; particularly Adorf as the butler, Holloway as Blore, Genn as the General, Eaton as Ann Clyde (Miss Claythorne in the earlier version) and I do like Fabian here quite a lot even though his death scene is awfully clumsy. Once the final act kicks in and the mansion is completely dark do we get a flash of some stylistic lighting and framing reminiscent of the ’45 version.
But up until the final act this version pales visually compared to the original. The sets are good but it’s a very static and workmanlike shooting with little to no stylistic flourishes. The deletion of Emily Brent’s character is a big miss as her replacement is a rather uninteresting actress who makes very little impression and her past association with the General sort of negates the whole “Ten strangers” set-up.
The character of Lombard is also a bit mishandled. His hero status is massively elevated and he’s even given a wildly out-of-place fistfight with the butler to show off his strength and it’s simply not right for this story. O’Brian is a fine actor but his Lombard sometimes looks like he wandered in from another project. Hyde-White, while a decent performer, is also quite lackluster as the Judge.
Overall though this is a solid rendition of the story. The tone of the film is a bit more serious than in the previous with the humorous aspect that featured prominently almost nonexistent. The change in setting works well and while some changes story wise don’t pan out too well it’s nothing that ruins the entire experience. The ensemble is decent though not up to scratch to the original film’s cast. Director Pollock was already quite the veteran of bringing Agatha Christie to the screen having already helmed the four Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple films between 1961-1964 but I can’t help thinking that a bit more adventurous director would have delivered a more rewarding film; at least visually speaking.
Review: Ten Little Indians (1974)
|Review||Ten Little Indians (1974)||Director||Peter Collinson|
|Writer||Peter Welbeck (according to IMDB it’s actually producer Harry Alan Towers)|
|Cast||Oliver Reed, Elke Sommer, Richard Attenborough, Herbert Lom, Stéphane Audran, Gert Fröbe, Adolfo Celi, Alberto De Mendoza, Maria Rohm and Charles Aznavour|
“I’m afraid we have to face the fact that Mr. Owen is one of us” – Judge Cannon
The setting now is a big hotel in the Iranian desert, 200 miles from the nearest town. The script from the 1965 version seems to be re-used as the lines are nearly identical, the name changes are nearly the same and the crimes perpetrated are very nearly the same. Ilona the actress is present here instead of Emily Brent.
This could have been alright but ends up being quite a mess. The setting is obviously quite weird but it’s never visualized in any imaginative way either indoors or outdoors. Director Collinson was probably not the best choice for a movie that really could have used something different in it’s approach as the film is very static and workmanlike; not dissimilar to the approach by director Pollock on the previous version. The ingredients are there; an art-deco hotel with garish color schemes inside the rooms, a very international cast with German (Sommer, Fröbe,), Austrian (Lom, Rohm), Italian (Celi), Argentinian (de Mendoza) and French (Audran, Aznabour) performers alongside British class acts such as Attenborough and Reed and a superlative music score by regular giallo composer Bruno Nicolai. In fact there is a sort of giallo undercurrent here that’s very appealing but nothing really comes of it.
The film feels lazy in it’s execution. In fact; two of the set-pieces, or kill scenes, are so badly done that it looks like the filmmakers didn’t bother putting any effort into them. The scene where victim nr. 2 is dispatched of is so poorly staged that it immediately clears three people of any suspicion and that clearly was never the intention of the story. The music is intrusive, appearing at odd moments like when the charges are being read (on tape this time – not a record…and by Orson Welles no less) but it’s a wonderful theme song, as I doubt Nicolai has a bad score to his credit, and it’s actually moments like this that give this version a bit of peculiar character. Overall the film goes through basically the exact same motions as the ’65 version but with less enthusiasm.
The ensemble is overall quite good. The European talent is fairly lively though Fröbe comes off pretty badly with rather shoddy dubbing damaging his performance even more. While Reed was a terrific actor he looks very disinterested here and couldn’t be bothered to give his all. Lom, as Dr. Armstrong, and particularly Attenborough, as the Judge, really shine and since most of their scenes are together they are often the highlights of the film.
By no means a bad film but so far the least enjoyable version of the story.
Review: Ten Little Indians (1989)
|Review||Ten Little Indians (1989)||Director||Alan Birkinshaw|
|Writer||Jackson Hunsicker & Gerry O´Hara (screenplay)|
|Cast||Donald Pleasence, Frank Stallone, Sara Maur Thorp, Warren Berlinger, Brenda Vaccaro, Yehuda Efroni, Moira Lister, Paul L. Smith, Neil McCarthy and Herbert Lom|
“None of us are going to leave. That is the plan. You know if, of course. You will be glad too, when the end comes” – General Romensky
The setting this time is in a safari camp in remote Africa. Two of the characters have had their proper names from the novel restored; here’s Justice Wargrave (Pleasence) and Vera Claythorne (Maur Thorp) who’s actually accused of the same crime as in the novel for the first time on film. Dr. Armstrong here becomes Dr. Werner (Israeli actor Efroni), the actress Marion Marshall (Vaccaro) is present instead of spinster Brent, The General is named Romensky (Lom), the name Anthony Marston (McCarthy) makes it’s first appearance and the Rodgers’s (Lister & Smith) are not butlers but the winners of a prize that lands them on this safari trip. Lombard (Stallone) is simply called Captain so we don’t know whether he’s a Hugh or a Philip. Although it’s never specified the time frame appears to be around the same time of the novel, ca. 1940.
Although it’s to be applauded that the same script wasn’t used the third time around (and the story here even brings back a key scene from the ’45 version that the other two omitted) this version, however, is the worst offender based on Christie’s ingenious novel. The African setting, though quite the novelty, is preposterous in regards to how the events unfold and looks rather cheap. The introductions of the characters is so haphazardly thrown together in a series of short sequences that it’s like the film already assumes everyone knows who they are and can’t be bothered with a proper setup.
The Rodgers’s are a ludicrous duo in the hands of Smith and Lister; complete caricatures compared to their earlier incarnations. But top honour in the worst performance in the whole enterprise goes to Efroni as Dr. Werner; a completely clueless performance in the former juicy part and thanks to his reduced importance in the plot he serves literally no function in the proceedings. There are several short-cuts here to some key happenings that damage the formerly clever set-ups and the special relationship that develops between Vera and Lombard is badly realised thanks to rather poor performances (and dialog as supplied by the writers) by Maur Thorp and Stallone.
But not all is bad here. Old pro Pleasence gives the Judge quite a bit of character and looks like he’s having a good time. McCarthy is likeable in the role of Marston, Vaccaro shows some class as the actress, Berlinger is fine as a very boozy Blore (with an uncanny resemblance to Orson Welles in his later years) and Lom is marvellous as the General. His role here is also a bit more interesting with different emphasis on the character than in the previous two outings and Lom is game for it, also delivering some unexpected and quite funny lines. The denouement is also fairly well handled in more realistic fashion as to how the executioner might hope to leave things.
On the whole:
There’s simply no contest here; René Clair’s 1945 version is the best. I do like revisiting the others regularly as these are all films I enjoy to an extent. The plot is so enjoyable and the mystery so well constructed. The different settings, the different interpretations of the characters and the overall different vibe of these films is something that is fun to watch and compare.
There’s really only one English language version that follows the novel faithfully and it is the 2015 BBC production of “And Then There Were None” directed by Craig Viveiros. It’s a bit too updated with PC in places and inserts homophobia, implied lesbianism and some none too subtle women empowerment not present in the original text but it’s a really good adaptation that captures the nihilistic tone of the novel very well.
Then there’s also a Russian version of the story in the 1987 film “Desyat negrityat” which has glowing reviews on IMDB and I hope it will receive a decent physical release in the near future. That film, I gather, follows the novel very closely too.
I thought that as a novelty I’d close my review with my assessment of who were the best actors to portray these lovable, and resilient, characters in the four films reviewed.
Anthony Marston: Fabian (1943 - )
Sixties heartthrob and crooner Fabian portrayed the playboy in the 1965 version. Called here Mike Raven and presented as a popular singer; Fabian has the looks and the charms to make an impression here. This is a small role but he makes the most of it and also provides the best musical interpretation of the nursery rhyme.
Ethel Rogers: Marianne Hoppe (1909 -2002)
This is probably the least interesting role of the 10 main ones but I’ll go with Hoppe since her character, in the ’65 version, has the most gruesome death scene and it’s realised wonderfully. It deviates significantly from the novel as Mrs. Rogers dies in her sleep.
General John McArthur: Herbert Lom (1917 - 2012)
The General in the ’45 version is closest to Christie’s conception but after the two previous major changes to the character in the ’65 and ’74 versions the one depicted in the ’89 version harkens a little back to the original. Lom does a great job here portraying a man with many regrets who has had a difficult time to ease his conscience and welcomes whatever fate has in store for him. The movie and some of his co-stars let him down but he exudes class in his scenes.
Thomas Rodgers: Richard Haydn (1905 – 1985)
Rogers is a very different character in all four films. He is written as a butler and in the ’45 version he’s the most convincing of the bunch. Haydn plays him as a relative simpleton but with plenty of backbone when called upon and his comedic timing and line delivery is spot on. All others frankly pale in comparison though Mario Adorf is certainly a bit forceful in the ’65 version.
Emily Brent: Judith Anderson (1897 – 1992)
Actresses Ilona in the ’65 and ’74 versions are uninteresting concoctions that replaced the spinster Brent and unfortunately the ’89 version continued that trend with another actress character. Emily Brent is a wonderful character in the ’45 version played to perfection by Anderson. Completely oblivious to her to own faults and even welcoming the hard judgement on those who are guilty; her biggest shock came when she finally realised she was one of the guilty ones.
Judge Lawrence Wargrave: Richard Attenborough (1923 – 2014)
A good character that’s well represented in all versions except I kinda’ feel Hyde-White missed the mark slightly. Attenborough is thoroughly commanding in all his scenes and delivers the dialog perfectly and with conviction. He’s aided heavily in being in many scenes with Herbert Lom who does well as Dr. Armstrong and their scenes are the highlight of the ’74 version. The closing scenes with him are particularly effective.
Dr. Edward Armstrong: Walter Huston (1883 – 1950)
As fine as Lom is in the ’74 version; Walter Huston is my favourite Dr. Armstrong. A bravura performance that captures the pomposity, the nervousness and the hypocrisy of the character along with excellent comedic timing and great facial expressions; Huston really nails the part.
Det. William Henry Blore: Roland Young (1887 – 1953)
Blore is a fine character in all versions but without a doubt the most memorable characterization is by Young. He’s a bit over the top but he gels so well with his co-stars and is a frequent scene-stealer with his observations and many (in his head) deductions that are continually wrong…until he finally “get’s it” – a bit too late.
Philip Lombard: Louis Hayward (1909 – 1985)
Stallone is pretty bad in the ’89 version, Reed looks disinterested in the ’74 version and O’Brian is made way too heroic in the ’65 version. Hayward therefore takes the cake with a suave and elegant portrayal of the mysterious Mr. Lombard. Of course the character is nothing like the one in the novel and was a new conception by Christie for the stage play adaptation. Hayward plays well with Duprez as Vera and has great interactions with Young as Blore and, in the end, comes off best as the character.
Vera Claythorne: Shirley Eaton (1937 - )
Vera Claythorne is a multifaceted character in the novel and one who’s brilliantly realised in the 2015 BBC production. In all versions here she’s fairly one-dimensional and annoyingly reliant on Mr. Lombard to take care of things. Eaton fares best in the ’65 version in what is essentially a very close call between her and June Duprez in the ’45 version. She is the other character that is most altered by Christie for the stage adaptation and she suffers for it more than Lombard.