Monday, November 14, 2011

Mystery Mondays: And Then There Were None (1945)

From Classic Film Freak

I have decided to continue featuring movies based upon mystery novels this week with "And Then There Were None" (1945).  This movie was inspired by the Agatha Christie novel and subsequent play of the same name.  The movie begins with eight people in a boat headed for a weekend on Indian Island, the guests of a wealthy but enigmatic couple, Mr. and Mrs. U. N. Owen.  When they arrive, they discover that their hosts are absent, although a servant couple is present to attend to them.  Expecting their hosts to arrive for dinner, the guests settle in to their rooms and gather for the meal, only to find that the Owens still have not appeared.  During dinner the guests discuss the rather unusual name of the island, and the ceramic figurine centerpiece of ten little Indians on the table.  One of the guests makes a remark about how this centerpiece brings to mind a childrens' rhyme about ten little Indians who perish in various ways.

Moving to the living room after dinner, the guests are startled to hear the voice of their host accusing each of them as well as the two servants of a murder for which they managed to avoid punishment.  A gramophone recording is found to be the source of this voice, started by the butler Rogers (Richard Haydn) by instruction of the mysterious Mr. Owen.  The cook, Mrs. Rogers (Queenie Leonard), becomes hysterical and is sent to bed with a sedative.  All of the accused deny any wrongdoing.  They decide to leave the island until Rogers informs them that there is no phone in the house and the boat will not be back until Monday morning.  The guests come to realize that the name of their host, U. N. Owen, could also be interpreted as "Unknown".  One of them, Prince Nikita Starloff (Mischa Auer), rather tipsily declares that he did indeed cause the death of an innocent couple, but promptly expires after singing the "Ten Little Indians" song and downing a drink which turns out to be poisoned.  Rogers then announces that one of the Indian figurines has vanished.

The next morning, the distraught Mrs. Rogers is dead and another figurine is missing.  This is followed by the stabbing death of General John Mandrake (C. Aubrey Smith) and the disappearance of yet another Indian statue.  Since a thorough search of the island uncovered no hidden murderer, the remaining seven individuals conclude that this villain must be one of them.  However, despite efforts to prevent more murders with various precautions, Rogers and then a guest named Miss Emily Brent (Judith Anderson) are killed and two more Indians are removed.  The remaining five guests, Dr. Edward Armstrong (Walter Huston), Judge Francis Quincannon (Barry Fitzgerald), Detective William Blore (Roland Young), Phillip Lombard (Louis Hayward), and Vera Claythorne (June Duprez), try desperately to stay alive until Monday morning when the boat returns, attempting if possible to identify the murderer as well.  The storyline takes some clever twists and turns, and the conclusion is rather unexpected, making this movie quite absorbing until the very end.

Several versions of this Agatha Christie tale have been filmed, but this one is the first and arguably the best of the bunch.  The ending is similar to that of the play, although the original novel has a very different finish indeed!  A few touches of humor in the movie only add to the appeal, contrasting as they do with the rather grim happenings on the island.  Watch this one first if you want to see a film version.  You can watch it for free here.

Interesting Fact: This film won Best Picture at the Locarno International Film Festival.  The film's director, René Clair, directed two films which won this award, making him the only director to achieve this honor.

Scene from "And Then There Were None" (from Fine Movies Online)

The nursery rhyme upon which Agatha Christie based her story (from Wikipedia):

Ten little Soldier boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine little Soldier boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.
Eight little Soldier boys traveling in Devon;
One said he'd stay there and then there were seven.
Seven little Soldier boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.
Six little Soldier boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.
Five little Soldier boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.
Four little Soldier boys going out to sea;
red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
Three little Soldier boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
Two Little Soldier boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one.
One little Soldier boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.

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