Welcome back to the second day of my reviews of adaptations of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Yesterday, we saw the film that started it all. Today, I check out the 1965 movie, which takes the same script and lets it fly free…
Film review: “Ten Little Indians” (1965)
written by Peter Yeldham and Peter Welbeck (from Dudley Nichols’ 1945 script)
directed by George Pollock
Well, if the original film was dutifully 1940s, this film becomes very 1960s. I love that each of these movies is a portrait of its time, and that’s never more so than here, with boy-band crooners and an alpine chalet rather than the island location of the novel.
Ten Little Indians opens with our octet of guests heading up in the lift, with a wonderfully fluid camera that moves around and credits everyone as they appear onscreen – very television, but very eye-catching. There’s a lot to like here, but also a few elements that really stick in my craw, where the new screenwriters throw in some elements that are style with no substance, so I’ll document my thoughts in roughly chronological order:
Mike Raven, a typical ’60s crooner, is played by… Fabian, a typical ’60s crooner. I’m not sure he’s the strongest actor, and some of his ‘youth speak’ dialogue is a bit iffy, but he’s damn authentic! More to the point, this character – originally reckless dandy Anthony Marston – is one of those who changes with each film to remind us of the era we’re in. Just as Mischa Auer played a kind of foppish Liberace, here we have a young rocker whose performance of the title song on piano is his most exquisite moment: Fabian’s pop voice sounds great with the inane nursery rhyme, and he (perhaps unintentionally) conveys perfectly the bemusement of a young person messing around with a song for children, but in such an unusual context.
Unfortunately, the script at times veers away from logic into utter silliness. First, the cook Elsa Grohmann (Marianne Hoppe) decides to leave rather than oversleep herself, whereupon the cable car’s wire is frayed and she crashes to the slopes below, simultaneously cutting the remaining eight off from the outside world. In itself that’s a clever and necessary way of isolating the chalet, but – unfortunately – it rather takes the agency away from the murderer, doesn’t it? How on Earth could the murderer have guessed that one person, and just one, would leave that way? Surely someone this demented isn’t going to let his crucial nursery rhyme be perverted… This plays out far worse in the death of the General (Leo Genn), who is stabbed after a cat jumps out at him. The reason? This film’s version of the nursery rhyme tells us that “one found a pussycat and then there were seven”. Are you seriously telling me that, as all of the suspects searched the basement, there was time to keep a cat quiet, put it in place, and ask it to play along? This is all style, no substance. As the General, Genn doesn’t get much to do, but he makes an effectively Colonel Kurtz-like leader for the atmospheric foray into the bowels of the chalet.
(Incidentally, that’s Christopher Lee making a cameo as the voice of Mr. Owen on the record player.)
The murderer continues to play it risky with the death of Grohmann (Mario Adorf) the servant, where – again – the victims seem to be caught at unlikely moments, as opposed to the sleek, predatory nature of the original. A lot of these changes to the original script seem to be poorly thought-out, and I can’t approve. And again, Adorf is perfectly fine in the role but he isn’t given much to distinguish himself. Still, on the plus side, the film makes great use of its location shooting and revised scope, allowing further red herrings, such as when the film star Ilona Bergen (Daliah Lavi) becomes the popular suspect, and we keep seeing her in the aftermath of murders. Ilona is the film’s biggest step away from its source material, as we lose the great, spiteful Emily Brent in favour of a dry-witted femme fatale actress. Lavi isn’t going to have Helen Mirren shaking in her boots any time soon, but she’s a decent actress with an effortless beauty, and she gives the character more credibility than I at first suspected. Her secret past slowly coming to light is one of the more acceptable changes made by this writing team.
None of this is to fault George Pollock‘s direction, which makes the most of the brooding atmosphere, as the survivors further discuss the fact that they are being hunted, and ponder such respectable questions as how their killer will get out once the murders have all been carried out. Pollock also makes the film’s action sequences come alive, particularly an early, emotionally-charged fight between Lombard and Grohmann.
Sadly, the remaining innocent cast members get comparatively little to do also! Dennis Price is stoic as Dr. Armstrong, and Stanley Holloway gives his earnest heart to the role of Blore, but neither of them receives one whit of characterisation. Hugh O’Brian‘s turn as Lombard is less chic than his ’40s counterpart, but shows how the role of Lombard is the one that best defines the era. Whereas Louis Hayward was charismatic but quite effete, O’Brian is convincingly an army vet, striking me as similar to the lead actor of most alien invasion/horror films of the era. Given that – as with the ’40s film – he’s innocent, though, Lombard is by his nature a rather cardboard character: a moral man who will protect his dame.
As Ann Clyde – renamed from Vera because she’s American, I guess? – Shirley Eaton is the film’s standout who, with her looks and wry smile, proves why she was a ’60s Golden girl, but also prefigures somewhat the naturalistic acting style that broke out as the ’60s progressed. However, I don’t think that we could ever suspect Ann, as even from the start she’s clearly our eyes and ears for this world. The problem with this role, of course, is that the script removes her psychologically damaged nature, and thus her impetus for acting the way she does, leaving Eaton to play the outspoken innocent, rather than anything more twisted. (June Duprez, who played the role in the ’45 film, had clearly read the novel and added an extra layer to the scripted words; Eaton is being asked to be the blonde ingenue, so doesn’t even get that challenge.)
Truthfully, this is still a very enjoyable movie. The chalet, with its labyrinthine basement and bleak, rocky expanses, becomes a claustrophobic death-trap, and – aside from the obnoxious additions by the writers – the film holds its own, even if the characters are less well-rounded than their 1940s counterparts. Aside from an unfortunate seduction sequence, in which a lecherous saxophone plays as Ann and Lombard get nekkid, the score is quite lovely, and Pollock’s direction amps up the tension with each passing death, so that that final night when the four survivors wait in their locked rooms is nail-bitingly uncomfortable. As the judge, Wilfrid Hyde-White is perfectly cast. He’s far less outwardly nutty than his ’45 predecessor, and there’s a glint in his eye which makes us aware of just how he can get Dr. Armstrong to trust him, even as we see the chinks in his armour. (His final sequence, though, wherein he strokes a cat while explaining his plan, is a little bit Blofeld for my liking, particularly as this was only two years after From Russia With Love! Incidentally, the first Blofeld – Donald Pleasance – would be the final Judge Wargrave on screen, in the 1989 film.)
All in all, it’s not quite as iconic as the 1945 And Then There Were None, but the 1965 version is still an enjoyable little thriller, if you can get past the useless inclusion of pussycats!
Tomorrow, we journey forward to 1974 for the next, incredibly international, version.