A psychological thriller based on the novel by Agatha Christie. Ten strangers are forced to come face to face with their dark pasts after receiving invitation to an isolated island off the coast of England.
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>
The falling cablecar is clearly empty, when it should contain a body. See more »
I'm Ann Clyde, Mrs. Owen's new secretary. I expect she's told you?
No, miss. We haven't been told anything. We did not know we were to expect to be caring for such a large house with so many guests.
That is hardly of our concern. Ann, shall we join the others?
I trust I'll be in trouble with her ladyship before the weekend is out.
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Films, like the book, unable to fully realize idea as a story
The 1965 film is enjoyable and entertaining, but it is worse in some respects and better in some respects than the book and 1945 film. They are all best discussed together. Unfortunately, neither Christie nor the filmmakers succeeded in turning this captivating but confining plot idea into a truly fulfilling story.
Once the book establishes its clever, imaginative premise, the story becomes thin and formulaic. The characters are superficial, and there is no lead character to care about. There are only two real plot twists. One creates a major logical problem, which the book acknowledges and tries to overcome by weakly suggesting that the ploy would trick or "rattle" the murderer. Neither the book nor the films has anything serious to say about the powerful themes of survival, justice, and criminality that are at the heart of the story.
The 1945 film, and to a lesser extent the 1965 film, develop the plot better in some ways than the book. While as tightly written, the 1945 film is richer than the book in deductive theories, in taking stock at each stage of the story, and in survival techniques. Its dialogue seems sharper than the book's and provides some memorable lines. Both films play the Ten Little Indians nursery rhyme on the piano, which brings it to life and sets the stage for what is to come.
Both films have strong casts. In the 1945 version, many characters seem as smart, strong, or distinctive as in the book, or more so. They are more entertaining. Generally, the films do a better job than the book of showing the characters interact. Except for the 1989 movie, the films make more of an effort to explain the relationship that develops between two characters.
In the 1965 film, the characters are also well-cast, especially the doctor, judge, Blore, and general. Some are more feisty than in the book or other films, like the maid, butler, and conceited actress Ilona. Only in this film are the maid and butler convincingly menacing. Fabian is obnoxious as a re-named Marston, but he is supposed to be. The film places the character in a dissolute career, and he gives the best piano rendition of Ten Little Indians.
The 1965 film livens up the methods and depictions of the murders. It changes some words of the nursery rhyme, but it closely adheres to its own version, right down to a bear statute toppled onto one character. Interactions between the characters are more heated and less restrained than in 1945, and should be, given the events.
However, the 1965 film is not as tightly and richly told, nor as well-acted as the 1945 version. Hugh O'Brian and Shirley Eaton are appealing and have strong screen presence. But their Lombard and Vera seem relatively superficial and wooden. He does not give as smart and layered a performance as Louis Hayward, nor is she as strong as June Duprez. Dennis Price and
Wilfrid Hyde-White each strike a better balance between seriousness and playfulness in their roles than did Walter Huston and Barry Fitzgerald, but are not as vigorous, commanding, and entertaining. Ilona is amusing, but exaggerated, and displaces the spinster Brent, a distinctive character.
The 1965 film tries to show the killings on screen in a visually interesting way. This can be dramatic and vividly convey murderous host Owen's malice. But it can also make the murders seem implausible, as when Owen brandishes a hypodermic needle from across a room at one fully aware victim, who simply sits there, mouth gaping.
The book sketches the guests' past crimes in summary fashion. They vary widely in originality, depth, and genuineness. The films handle the crimes even less effectively. The 1945 movie presents the general and his past crime in an obscure, lifeless way; even the weak 1989 film does better. The 1945 version waters down Brent's past crime. It makes a ludicrous change to the judge's, which is fortunately changed back in 1965. The 1965 film changes Lombard's past crime, and even more harmfully the general's, to something trite and unexplained. To no effect, in 1965, Lombard is changed from explorer to engineer.
In changing the story to allow characters to survive, both the 1945 and 1965 films distort characters' identities and/or crimes in fundamental ways. In the process, they replace the book's most complex and interesting past crime with one that is bland, superficial, and false. This confuses the meaning of the host's actions, although it does suggest, but not develop, a new theme of false accusation not present in the book.
Generally, the attempts made in both early films to make the characters entertaining come at the expense of their plausibility as villains and of the story's seriousness. Characters confess their secrets and treat the horror unfolding around them as if it were a parlor game. Mischa Auer's farcical, clownish performance is a disaster. The character was poorly drawn to begin with, and the 1945 film does a particularly poor job of presenting his past crime. This is only the most extreme example of a general problem with taking such a lighthearted approach to a fundamentally serious story. Attempts to make characters comical or appealing also sap the suspense in the 1965 version.
Worst of all, in 1945, the climactic scene in which Owen's identity, means, and motives are revealed is short, sedate, droll, and unsatisfying. In 1965, the final scene has more explanation, but remains thin and undramatic. In both films, Owen has a weary, rational, amiable armchair chat with the final victim precisely when the character should come alive as someone triumphantly and credibly capable of inflicting such horror. It is left to the otherwise flawed 1974 version to capture more of the tone and intensity of the book and to the generally inept 1989 film to provide an ending that is dramatic, reflects that a deadly serious killer has been at work, conveys a sense of Owen's menace and lunacy, and most fully explains Owen's behavior.
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