Up to a house high on a mountain top have been invited ten people who are strangers to each other. When they are all gathered, they hear from their host that each one of them has in someway caused the death of an innocent person and that justice had not be served in their cases. There are eight guests and two servants there for the weekend, but one by one, they are being knocked off according to the poem of "Ten Little Indians". As the number of survivors decreases, they begin to believe that the killer is one of the group, but are unable to decide on which one he or she may be. Written by
Tony Fontana <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"Don't miss a film with screen greats Wilfrid Hyde-White & Stanley Holloway together - not in a million years!"
Ten strangers are lured to a remote mansion on the Austrian Alps in the middle of winter. They have nothing in common except that each of them harbours a guilty secret and that they have all been invited by a mysterious host (whom none of them has met) called Mr U.N Owen. The guests are Judge Arthur Cannon (Wilfrid Hyde-White), Harley Street practitioner Dr Armstrong (Dennis Price), private eye William Henry Blore (Stanley Holloway), actress Ilona Bergen (Daliah Lavi), pop star Mike Raven (Fabian), retired army officer General Sir John Mandrake (Leo Genn), engineer Hugh Lombard (Hugh O' Brien), secretary Ann Clyde (Shirley Eaton) and housekeepers Joseph and Elsa Grohmann (Mario Adorf & Marrianne Hoppe). They are curious and slightly annoyed that their host isn't their to greet them. However, after dinner and cocktails, a tape recorder bursts into life and the disembodied voice of their host accuses each of them of a past crime. Initially, they treat it as a sick joke in the poorest taste. But after Mike Raven has drunkenly sang a rendition of the Ten Little Indians nursery rhyme on the piano, he confesses to a crime before choking on his drink and falling down dead. The others realise that this isn't a joke and that their host is a psychopath delivering retribution for their sins and even more disturbingly, their killer is one of them. In addition, there is a centerpiece on the dining room table, which contains ten figurines and as they are murdered one by one in ways parallel to the old nursery rhyme, the killer removes one figurine from the center piece at a time.
Ten Little Indians was the third film version of Agatha Christie's marvelous mystery thriller, which was first published in Great Britain in 1939. Four years later, it was adapted for the stage by the author making its debut at London's St James Theatre in November 1943. It had been previously filmed in Hollywood in 1945 as And Then There Were None (Dir: Rene Clair) and featured an all-star cast (for the time) including Barry Fitzgerald and Walter Huston and in 1949, the BBC produced a TV version starring Bruce Belfrage and Campbell Singer. The 1965 version made a few notable changes, the most significant being the change of setting from an old house on a remote Devonshire island to a mansion on top of the Austrian Alps. The picture was actually shot in an empty mansion in Rush near Dublin, Southern Ireland. The film was produced by Harry Alan Towers whom at this time was enjoying success with the splendid schoolboy's adventure yarn The Face Of Fu Manchu, which starred Christopher Lee as Sax Rohmer's fiendish Oriental mastermind. Interestingly, it was Lee who provided the disembodied voice of U.N Owen on the tape recording heard at the beginning of the film. Towers would subsequently go on to film the story again on two more occasions. First as And Then There Were None (Dir: Peter Collinson 1975), in which the setting was changed yet again to a luxury hotel in the Iranian desert and the second time in 1989 with the drama unfolding from a big game African safari.
All in all, Ten Little Indians is quite a good film. The script penned by Towers as Peter Welbeck does reasonable justice to Christie's wonderful source novel and the change of locale does it no harm at all. A marvelous cast was chosen for the film with Wilfrid Hyde-White perfectly cast as the intelligent and resourceful Judge Cannon while Dennis Price offers a fine portrayal as the upper class Dr Armstrong. Leo Genn gives just the right amount of authority to the role of General Sir John Mandrake and Hugh O' Brien is suitably smooth as Lombard and works well with Shirley Eaton's Ann Clyde, the picture's love interest. Also of note is American pop singer Fabian who does well in portraying Mike Raven an updated version of Christie's original character called Anthony Marston in the book. The character wasn't a pop star in the book at all, but he still resembles the way that Christie described him, irresponsible, and whose only interest in life was "for kicks" as the film puts it.
On the downside, the film lacks the tension and the sense of menace that I was expecting mainly due to an unsuitable jazz style music score and while the black and white camera-work is good, I couldn't help but think that a few more shadows would have helped here and there. Director George Pollock (fresh from shooting the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple films) shows a steady hand at the helm of the picture and brings the storyline together beautifully but he doesn't bring the same level of charm and well-meshed humor and mystery, which he brought to the Marple series here. Another slight disappointment is the climax, which resembles the happy and romantic one from the stage play. In the novel (I won't give it away for those who haven't seen the film or read the book) but there is no sense of relief at all and as a result the film isn't as dark and surprising as I was hoping it would be. I also felt that the 60-second whodunit break just prior to the ending didn't really fit in the with the general aura of the movie and seemed to be nothing more than a gimmick. Overall, however, this is still the film which I return to of one of my all time favorite mysteries because the cast play it straight here whereas in the 1945 version, they overplayed the comedy meaning that it sat uneasily with the plot and a lot of the film's thrills took place off screen which isn't the case here. And finally, I cannot resist a picture that brings such wonderful actors as Wilfrid Hyde-White and Stanley Holloway together -not in a million years!
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