Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ten Little Indians (1965)

...aka: Agatha Christie's 'Ten Little Indians'
...aka: And Then There Were None

Directed by:
George Pollock

The second big screen version of Agatha Christie's famous tale follows the popular 1943 stage play, René Clair's classic 1945 film version (AND THEN THERE WERE NONE), as well as several TV adaptations. While not as good as Clair's version, and almost completely missing that film's wit and subtlety, this one is still miles better than most of the later films based on the same novel. Producer/writer Harry Alan Towers would back no less than three of these, including versions in 1974 (which takes place at a Middle Eastern hotel) and 1989 (which takes place during an African safari). This one also has a location change, a few character alterations and a different ending, but at least two of these changes work fairly well, and the cast is full of talented and familiar veteran character actors who keep the film highly watchable despite the flaws. Ten people are invited to a dinner party by Mr. U.N. Owen, who lives atop a mountain in a huge mansion accessible only by cable car. Once they arrive and start settling in, they discover that none of them has actually met their mysterious unseen host before. However, an audio tape (voiced by an unbilled Christopher Lee) is played during dinner accusing each and every one of the ten guests of being a murderer, rightfully so in most cases, and from then on out the guest start dropping like flies in a variety of different ways.

Everyone's a suspect. Hugh Lombard (Hugh O'Brien) is an engineer who caused the death of a pregnant former lover. Ann Clyde (Shirley Eaton), lured under the auspices of a secretarial position, killed her sister's fiancé. Obnoxious young singer Michael Raven (Fabian) killed someone during a drunk driving accident. Glamorous actress Ilona Bergen's (Daliah Lavi) heartless behavior led a former husband's suicide. Gen. John Mandrake (Leo Genn) took an undeserved promotion after accidentally getting five men killed. Det. William Henry Blore's (Stanley Holloway) testimony sent an innocent man to prison, where he was later murdered. Judge Arthur Cannon (Wilfrid Hyde-White) sentenced an innocent man to death. Dr. Edward Armstrong (Dennis Price) killed a patient while operating on her drunk. Hell, even the hired help; Joseph (Mario Adorf) and Elsa Grohmann (Marianne Hoppe) had previously killed a wealthy, elderly employer. Any of these people might be the killer and the only way to really check any of them off your list is when they turn up dead. And even that's a maybe.

Speaking of turning up dead, this version (unlike the Clair version) actually visualizes most of the murders. The real standouts are two excellent set pieces that both take place outdoors. The first involves a cable car falling and crashing over a cliff. The second involves one of the characters attempting to climb down the mountain, having their rope cut and then tumbling down a rocky embankment. Other murders are committed with a knife, a gun, a syringe and poison. How each of the victims find themselves alone long enough to be murdered (as well as how the killer manages to frequently sneak off to actually murder them) relies on a high amount of sheer luck and it's this ridiculous level of coincidence that hampers the film the most. I also didn't care much for the music score, which seemed too lightweight and elevator-esquire for this material.

Cast-wise, the old pros on the roster (Genn, Price, Hyde-White and Holloway) clearly provide the best moments in this film, while the younger cast are around solely to inject some sex/youth appeal into the proceedings, as clearly evidenced by Eaton's frequent clothes changing scenes. Since he does both in this film, Fabian proves he was just as awful as singer in one fell swoop, but he's really not around long enough to cause any major damage. The rest of the actors was adequate, if not good, in their roles. So for the cast, the setting and some good set-pieces (plus an effective surprise ending), this is worth a look. It's nicely shot in black-and-white, too.


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