Thursday, July 24, 2014

Another Look: TEN LITTLE INDIANS (1965 version of Christie classic)

To the best of my recollection, I've never read anything by Agatha Christie. There was a time --- when I was younger and more brash, just kicking off Hardboiled Magazine and starting out on what I laughingly call my own "writing career" --- that I made that proclamation as a sort of point of honor. I believe I also tossed in a few snide remarks about "tea cozy" mysteries and "blue-haired little old lady" readers … With the passage of years and having developed a somewhat mellower outlook on certain things, I regret spouting off the way I did back then. It was unnecessary and gained me nothing. Realizing that I may be short-changing myself as far as the range of my reading, my diet in that regard remains almost exclusively hardboiled and therefore it remains unlikely that I ever will sit down and read one of Dame Agatha's books or stories --- due simply to having so many other titles available that sound more appealing to my tastes. Nevertheless, I now consider the sheer volume and immense popularity of the Christie byline worthy of more respect than I've shown it in the past.

Having said all that, I will now move to the subject of this piece: The 1965 film version of TEN LITTLE INDIANS (written and originally published as And Then There Were None – Christie's most popular book, and widely considered to be the best-selling [over 100 million copies] mystery novel of all time). In a way, I guess I could call the film a guilty pleasure.

I first saw this movie as the bottom title in a double or maybe triple bill at a local drive-in.  I admit that the main reason I probably stuck around to watch it was the fact it had Shirley Eaton in it. What red-blooded male in the mid-60s (after GOLDFINGER) wouldn't have stuck around to further admire the, er, acting talents of Ms. Eaton?
What I found, though, was that, only a few minutes into the film, I was totally hooked by the premise and storyline and the all the rest. In addition to the aforementioned Ms. Eaton, it featured a truly accomplished international cast that included Hugh O'Brien, Stanley Holloway, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Dahlia Lavi, and even Fabian in a brief but well done performance.

The story has ten people mysteriously summoned to a remote location (in this case a secluded mountain lodge – although in the book it was an island) by a mysterious and absent host (a Mr. U.N. Owen – Mr. Unknown, get it?) and then stranded there. First --- by means of a tape recording left by their host and then played by pre-arrangement when they are gathered together for the first time --- they are each accused of past crimes with which they were never properly convicted. And then, one by one, in accordance with the old "Ten Little Indians" nursery rhyme (Ten little Indians went out to dine; one choked his little self and then there were nine, etc.), they start getting bumped off.
It is all sort of campy and a little ridiculous, yet at the same time suspenseful and increasingly spooky, thanks to the crisp direction and earnest performances. This version being done in the '60s, there is a bit of gratuitous sex that I understand is not in the book, along with some added action and several alterations to the backgrounds and alleged crimes of the characters.
It is all wrapped up with a satisfactory conclusion and a couple nifty twists.

This is the second of four movie adaptations of the And Then There Were None novel (one by that title, the others all by the alternative Indians one), along with a well-received play and several TV adaptions.
I've never seen any of the others but have watched this '65 version a number of times over the years and have highly enjoyed it each time.
It played again only recently on cable's TCM and is available via DVD.
If you get the chance and are even mildly interested, I recommend you check it out. I think you'll be glad you did.

1 comment:

Cap'n Bob said...

Not bad, but I prefer the 1945 version with Barry Fitzgerald and others. The original title of the book was the very un-pc Ten Little Niggers (which is what the British sometimes called the Indians of India). Then it became Ten Little Indians before being released as And Then There Were None.