A Movie A Day: Quint on TEN LITTLE INDIANS (1965) ’Drop Dead!’ ‘That’s not funny…’
Published at: Nov. 12, 2008, 7:44 a.m. CST by quint
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!