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A Movie A Day: Quint on TEN LITTLE INDIANS (1965)
’Drop Dead!’ ‘That’s not funny…’

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.] The connection from yesterday’s JUDGE PRIEST to today’s is a tad bit of a stretch, but still there. Dudley Nichols wrote the screenplay for the 1934 movie we covered yesterday and he also gets a credit on this film, 1965’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s TEN LITTLE NIGGERS, which, understandably, was changed to TEN LITTLE INDIANS. But Nichols didn’t write the adaptation for this film, but rather he wrote the adaptation for a 1945 version called AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. If I had that particular version on DVD I would have viewed that as a more direct link, and probably have watched it back to back with this version, but I didn’t so I made the jump directly to TEN LITTLE INDIANS.

It’s about time I finally see some of these mysteries. I grew up loving spoofs of these movies, but haven’t seen many and my literary escapades haven’t taken me to Agatha Christie territory yet. It’s an odd thing to watch a movie like TEN LITTLE INDIANS with some childhood favorites like MURDER BY DEATH and CLUE running through my mind. Those two movies did such a good job deconstructing the Agatha Christie murder mystery formula that it puts the actual serious-in-tone mystery in jeopardy when I revisit it. But I dug the hell out of the movie, so there’s no worries. The story survived its spoofs! Plus I’m no good at guessing endings. I’ve talked about this at length before, but it’s true. It’s not hard for a movie to trick me. I don’t tend to watch movies or read stories and deconstruct them as they go, trying to figure out where they’re going to end up, so I get the benefit of being tricked by twist endings or surprise reveals most of the time. Unless the movie is just really shitty at setting these things up they can get me. So I didn’t guess the ending to this story, but I did suspect how the murderer hid him/herself for the final reveal, which is a mini-victory for me.

The setting is a remote mansion or castle… big, old house… up in the snowy peaks of a high mountain, as a group of 8 people are invited by a Mr. Owen, known only by reputation, but having never met any of the group. Each actor gets a single shot during the credits sequence, as they’re all on the lift ascending the mountaintop… I love it when movies do this, each actor getting a moment as their name pops up in the opening credits. When they get up to the mansion, they are greeted by two hired servants, a husband and wife, who are naturally newly hired and don’t know their employer. All told there are a 10. You have the servants (Marianne Hoppe and Mario Adorf), a handsome leading man type (Hugh O’Brian), a beautiful actress (Daliah Lavi), a hip musician always letting loose with ‘60s hipster slang (Fabian), a General (Leo Genn), a Doctor (Dennis Price), a Judge (Wilfred Hyde-White), a detective (Stanley Holloway) and a beautiful blonde secretary (Shriley Eaton, who you’ll remember as being the golden girl victim in GOLDFINGER). Of course we all find, via a recording from “Mr. U.N. Owen”, that they’re all accussed of murder and have been gathered for an unknown reason. Speaking of “unknown” it is pointed out that if you phonetically sound out Mr. Owen’s name, U.N. Owen, that’s exactly what it sounds like. Unknown. Mr. Unknown. In everybody’s room there is a poem posted called Ten Little Indians, each verse ending with the death of one of the little Indians. It starts: Ten Little Indians went out to dine; One choked his little self and then there were nine. It gets lower and lower until there is only one Indian left who hangs himself.

The guests start dying in the same (or at least similar) way to the poem and the survivors are left suspecting the rest and doing everything they can to figure out the mystery before they’re all dead. Knowing that this story was always cited for the paranoia of Carpenter’s THE THING and, I’d assume, the original story Who Goes There?, I was one step ahead of the film for the first half hour, waiting for the guests to stop looking for Mr. Owen and realize that Mr. Owen was one of the group. I think watching the comedy takes on mystery stories growing up also had me waiting for the movie to catch up with me, since it was always one of the group who done it. After that, I was completely into the movie, following the twists and turns and trying to fit the puzzle pieces together. I won’t spoil the ending if there are people reading who might not know the story and want to visit it, but I will say that it is a good twist and one that you can figure out, not cop-out bringing in some unknown character or something. The acting is solid all across the board, with Fabian perhaps the weakest link in the chain, but even he is perfectly fitted with this annoying, loud and too-cool-for-school hipster douchebag rock star character. He also, thankfully, is the first to go, unwittingly drinking arsenic… hence the little Indian choking and leaving nine.

And I will say the film is a lot more risqué than I was expecting, at least considering the time frame. Today it’d be PG material, but Shirley Eaton undresses and walks around in her underwear. She also sleeps with one of the other guests, which is a pretty shocking bit of free love pre-Summer of ’69. George Pollock directed the film, a veteran Christie director, having helmed the adaptations MURDER MOST FOUL, MURDER SHE SAID and MURDER AT THE GALLOP. I’ll have to seek those out. He does a good job with this one, which comes off as very theatrically staged and could have been really stiff if it weren’t for his use of widescreen to create interesting compositions. He has an eye for framing and even though there’s not much camera movement the film doesn’t feel locked down. Final Thoughts: It’s not the most exciting movie, but Agatha Christie’s story holds up even by today’s standards. The acting and envelope-pushing sexuality are more modern than expected and thus keeps the flick from feeling too locked into its era. Also, if you give it a view keep an ear out for a recording by “Mr. Owen” revealing the guests’ pasts. That voice is none other than Christopher Lee’s, who went uncredited. Interesting, no?

Here’s what we have lined up for the next week: Wednesday, November 12th: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974)

Thursday, November 13th: DANIEL (1983)

Friday, November 14th: EL DORADO (1967)

Saturday, November 15th: THE GAMBLER (1974)

Sunday, November 16th: ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984)

Monday, November 17th: SALVADOR (1986)

Tuesday, November 18th:

Hell yeah, a James Woods-a-thon coming up! Tomorrow we continue following Agatha Christie adaptations, moving to the 1974 MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS directed by Sidney Lumet and starring… pretty much everybody in the world. See you tomorrow for that one! -Quint

Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest

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