Ten Little Indians (1965) Nov 26, 2011 13:31:37 GMT -5
Post by Eddie Love on Nov 26, 2011 13:31:37 GMT -5
And Then There Were None…, the Agatha Christie novel (that began life with another title too appalling to even allude to here) was subsequently adapted for the stage and eventually found its way onto the screen and, in 1965, as the film TEN LITTLE INDIANS. This picture – which was a beloved favorite in my home growing up – isn’t regarded as well as an earlier, more skillful 1945 take directed by Rene Clair. Theses days I think the two films are pretty neck and neck. If the earlier is more cozy, atmospheric and artful, this later version has a nastier flavor that gets a little closer to the source material. Frankly, of the two, if I have a preference, it may be for the tacky, but livelier, 60s version.
The classic story concerns a disparate band of strangers brought together at a remote location, in this case, a vast, alpine chalet. Once assembled, the group, who don’t know each other individually, piece together that none know the mystery man who’s invited them either. After dinner their first night a recording is played that brands each guest a murderer who has gotten away with a crime in their past. Justice is to visit them now and, one-by-one, they meet their grisly end -- always in the manner described by a (rather macabre) nursery rhyme about ten little Indians.
This film was made during the 60s vogue for Christie that also saw the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple films. For all the literary Dame’s reputation today as the purveyor of the cozy period mysteries seen regularly on PBS, her novels (though not especially well-written) often have a dark heart beating in their solutions. While I’d rank Dorothy L. Sayers as a better writer than Christie, there are few of her books or adaptations I can easily recall the solution to but, for Christie, almost all are memorable. She wasn’t a great stylist, and the writing may be middlebrow, but the motives underlying the crimes were distinctly compelling. That’s definitely the case here. This isn’t a tale once seen where you forget who did it.
I’m not sure if this picture in it’s original version can be said to be the first ever “slasher film” (I think that distinction should go to THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, personally) but it certainly advances a lot of the tropes of the genre. There’s a “last girl standing”, the manner of each death is foretold by a murderous conceit, and a guilty party is revealed only once they’ve been effectively eliminated from suspicion.
Like the Miss Marple films, also directed by George Pollack, this movie is beautifully shot in that crisp black and white you see in British films of the 60s. Everything is marvelously lit. Unfortunately, there are also comically overpopulated shots in the opening scenes where the entire cast is seen shoehorned into one busy frame.
There’s some really bad acting in this movie as well, and not just from the less talented members in the company. The cast is repeatedly asked to pantomime some obvious and distracting reaction shots that look silly, if not amateurish. Worst of all is the big dramatic moment when the assembled cast listens to the recording of the accusations made against them. Each is shown in close-up nonchalantly standing around until their name and crime is revealed. Seriously? They didn’t find the whole episode at all troubling or remarkable up until that point? They couldn’t have anticipated that, if everyone else were being called out, that quite possibly they might be as well? Or had they simply forgotten their own guilty secret that they’d…um…I’ don’t know…killed someone years ago?
That’s not to say that some members of the cast are simply ill served, there’re some flat out poor performances. Chief among these is one-time teen idol Fabian, not a good actor to begin with, and tasked with a showy drunk scene that he makes more irritating than it needs to be. Better, but still wanting, BitD HOFH Dahlia Lahvi shows up and she reaches for some big moments that aren’t in her grasp, at least not in English. Plus, she’s outfitted in overly busy fashions and an unappealing, dragon-lady hairstyle.
Hugh O’Brien and Shirley Eaton play the two leads and both are personable and attractive, but each is also clearly missing that “something” that keeps them from being real star material. In fact, for some reason I was constantly distracted by the notion the two seemed like actors in a porn film. Their acting is hard-working but bland and they’re sexy in a kind of obvious way.
Maybe the reason some of these young performers don’t come off that well is their being contrasted with the old hands in the cast. Actors like Wilfred Hyde-White and Stanley Holloway (reunited from MY FAIR LADY) as well as Leo Genn and Dennis Price, are all English masters of this type of drawing-room mystery and they’re deliciously dry.
The film has a tacky, if irresistible, William Castle style “Whodunit Break” where the film stops and the audience is encouraged to mull the facts and come to their own conclusion on the murder’s identity. It’s definitely fun for those of us with a fondness for gimmicks, but to be fair, Christie doesn’t really play fair as far as the solution goes. I’m not sure any sleuthing by the audience could suss out the killer based on any specific clues.
Like all versions of this novel – and there would be at least two more, one set in the Middle East with Oliver Reed and another on an African safari starring Frank Stallone (!?!) – the story is sentimentalized and made palatable for audiences.
However, if you ever read the nasty little book it’s based on, you’ll find a pretty nihilistic effort from the Grande Dame of tweedy whodunits. That mean and seedy air taints this version and enlivens the otherwise fun, if artless, proceedings.