Sunday, January 4, 2015

And Then There Were None (Great Britain, 1965)

So, anyone remember Ten Little Niggers?
If you're from the States, probably not. In that racially sensitive land, where everyone is always treated like an equal, even by cops, the tune we were raised with had the at-the-time more politically correct title Ten Little Indians — dunno what it's called now, in these even more (supposedly) enlightened times.
In turn, in regard to the classic Agatha Christie novel that carried the more, let's say, "Colonialist" title, the book was always entitled And Then There Were None in the US, ever since it was first published there in 1939. Not so in Great Britain, where the novel kept its Ten Little Niggers title well into the 1980s — or, for that matter, the Netherlands, where the happy cheese-eaters* kept the N-title until 1994, and places such as (among others) Spain, Greece, Serbia, Romania, France and Hungary, which still use the original title today because, well, racism is OK there and, you know, conservatism means to conserve the good.
* Oh! Was that P.I.? So Sorry. Don't take it personal. Some of my best friends are Dutch. And had I a daughter, I wouldn't mind her marrying a Dutchman, either.
Ten Little N-Word Boys:
Ms. Christie, who surely was neither at all racist nor harbored any outdated Colonialist ideas in any way, was kind enough to change the title completely when she converted her best seller — the novel is the best-selling mystery ever and, currently [04.01.15], only six places behind that other famous work of fiction, The Holy Bible, as the best-selling book ever — into a play in 1943, taking on the title already known in the US: And Then There Were None. And that, in turn, is the usual title of the first film version of the tale, filmed in 1945 by René Clair, which has long since entered the public domain. (Clair's movie was, however, given the N-title when released in England, and the two now possibly lost TV versions made in Great Britain that followed Clair's movie, in 1949 and 1959 respectively, supposedly also both retained the N-title.)
Full Movie —
Rene Clair's Ten Little Indians (1945):

Clair's film, in any event, used the ending not from the novel, but from Christie's stage adaptation, which was changed to lighten the story and also supply a relatively happy end (i.e., some survive, unlike in the novel where everyone dies). In this regard, the Soviet version from 1987, entitled Desyat Negrityat — yep, the N-word again, though in this case they use the N-word lite, "negroes" — is the only film version to date based on the book and retaining its ending.
Not like this film here, the 1965 Euro-version, which, like all feature-film adaptations since — the Brit versions And Then There Were None (1974 / trailer) and Ten Little Indians (1989 / trailer)** — turned to the stage play for its inspiration.
** We looked at the 1974 film briefly in our RIP Career Review of Herbert Lom, but skipped the second despite the fact he's in it, too. Interestingly enough, both those two versions were Harry Alan Towers productions, as was the 1965 version we're looking at here.
But enough history, let's get to the film itself: George Pollack's Ten Little Indians, from 1965, finally released on DVD in Europe a few years ago as And Then There Were None. (Oddly enough, though the film was called Ten Little Indians during its original release, when Fontana did their paperback tie-in in England, the kept the title Ten Little Niggers — as the photo above reveals.) Shot, for the most part, in Ireland, but set in a lonely and distant castle a high atop an inaccessible mountain somewhere in Austria. A change that does make some sense, for a group of such different people — or anyone, for that matter — would be much more open to an invitation to a beautiful castle atop a mountain than a distant, rain-soaked island in the middle of a stormy sea. Indeed, the almost bucolically beautiful montage of sleighs riding through the snow and countryside, and the touristically appealing cable-car ride up the mountain, not only belies the terrible events to come but also makes the viewer think, "Hey! I'd go there, too, if invited!"
The original And Then There Were None is, of course, an ancestor of the modern body counter, and Pollack's version, as all versions, is likewise a simple body-count movie, albeit if anything but of the slasher variety. Still, the core plot events ensure that the tale cannot deny its skin color: that ten people are invited to the castle and that ten people are accused of murder is simply the MacGuffin, the true focus is the ten (or eight, as the case may be) consecutive murders of the characters who all die one by one. And, yes, they do always manage to wander off alone...
Needless to say, though a body counter, it is not in the least a bloody one, even if the 1965 version is far less sedate and demure than the first one. Gone is the spinster headmistress of 1945 (the great Judith Anderson of Laura [1944 / trailer] and Inn of the Damned [1975 / trailer]), replaced by a glamorous starlet Ilona (an underused Daliah Lavi of The Whip and the Body [1963 / Italo trailer]) modeled after Sophia Loren and/or Gina Lollobrigida; gone is the dull Prince Nikita Starloff (Mischa Auer of The Drums of Jeopardy [1931 / full movie], The Monster Walks [1932 / full movie], Murder at Dawn [1932 / full movie], the unjustly forgotten Condemned to Live [1935 / full movie], Hellzapoppin [1941 / dance scene] and Mr. Arkadin [1955 / Trailer from Hell]), replaced by a pop singer (Fabian, seen below showing his bush in a 1973 Playgirl pictorial, of Maryjane [1968 / trailer] and Disco Fever [1978 / trailer] and Kiss Daddy Goodbye [1981 / hilarious scene]) — and what do you know: not only do we get demure semi-nudity by both the starlet Ilona and the secretary Ann Clyde (Shirley Eaton of What a Carve Up! [1961 / full movie], The Million Eyes of Su-Muru [1967 / German trailer] and The Blood of Fu Manchu [1968 / trailer]) as well as a muscular, hairy-chested and shirtless Hugh Lombard/Charles Morley (Hugh O'Brian of Rocketship X-M [1950 / full movie]), but the latter two beautiful people even get it on. (Tastefully, of course.)
Yep, the filmmakers did indeed try to update the movie to the times, but needless to say by now it is as quaint as Rene Clair's version was in 1965, particularly since the 1965 version is also in B&W.  But age has been kind to the film, for although it surely must have also been a bit staid and stolid in its day despite the light modernization, it now has that nostalgic sheen that old movies often have. Thus, though the direction is hardly invigorating or overly exciting — even the fist fight, so out of place and obviously tossed in just so the manly man could be, well, manly, is oddly old fashioned — and although the acting is sometimes rather flat, And Then There Were None is nevertheless nostalgically enjoyable and enthralling, and always good for a smile.
Personally, we find it hard to believe that the movie was ever found nerve-racking or all that suspenseful by anyone. For one, the tale is simply too well-known, and secondly it all transpires much too properly and a bit too upper-crust. More than anything, the film is simply fun for the eclectic but familiar faces, the beautiful setting, the stark B&W photography and the convincing production design. Most of the murders really aren't that scary or shocking, though the demises of Elsa Grohmann (Marianne Hoppe of Die seltsame Gräfin [1961 / trailer]) and Joseph Grohmann (Mario Adorf of Deadlock [1970 / trailer] and Short Night of Glass Dolls [1972 / trailer]) are both rather spectacular. The best actors all tend to be the old English ones, particularly the always enjoyable Wilfrid Hyde-White (of The Third Man [1949 / trailer] and The Cat and the Canary [1979 / trailer]) and the convincing milquetoast Dennis Price, the latter of whom was just entering his "I'll take any part offered me" phase. The worst thespians are Fabian and the women, the latter of which are nevertheless thoroughly enjoyable because they, unlike Fabian, are both pure eye candy.
In the end, we rather enjoyed And Then There Were None for what it has become: a creaky but well-made bodycounter for kiddies. Approach it with that in mind, and you might enjoy it, too — especially if you happen to be one of the few, the rare, who don't already know who the killer is. 
Our DVD release, at least and luckily, lacks the William Castle-inspired gimmick of the original release: a "Whodunnit Break" just prior to the climax during which the film is stopped, a ticking clock superimposed, and an off-screen voice breaks the forth wall to ask if the audience knows who the killer is. A stupid idea best forgotten; the film is definitely better without it.

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