Monday, November 1, 2021

Ten Little Indians x Five!

Agatha Christie's classic 1939 mystery novel Ten Little Indians (the original title is best forgotten) has been adapted multiple times in multiple languages for the big and small screens. Below are the five best-known versions ranked--according to the Café staff--from best to worst.

Shirley Eaton.
1. Ten Little Indians (1965) - This one is the first, and best, of three adaptations produced and co-written by Harry Alan Towers. It shifts the location from an island to a snowy retreat which becomes isolated when the only cable car is sabotaged. The theatrical version features a sixty-second Whodunit Break which stops the action near the climax to "refresh your memory with a few clues." The cast includes great character actors such as Wilfrid Hyde-White, Stanley Holloway, Dennis Price, and Leo Genn (plus Christopher Lee as the voice of Mr. U. N. Owen). However, the film belongs to Shirley Eaton, who turns the female protagonist into a cool beauty who just might be capable of murder! Alas, there's also Fabian who is hopelessly miscast...but at least, his demise comes quickly. The setting, the supporting cast, and Ms. Eaton elevate the 1965 Ten Little Indians to our top spot over other versions.

Walter Huston, Louis Hayward & Roland Young.
2. And Then There Were None (1945) - This adaptation written by Dudley Nichols opts for the happy ending from Agatha Christie's 1943 stage play as opposed to the downbeat one in her novel. It's a practice that most other screen versions would mimic. It also uses the title of the U.S. publication of the book and changes some of the characters' names. Otherwise, it's a pretty faithful adaptation set on an isolated island and blessed with a strong cast of veteran performers such as C. Aubrey Smith, Judith Anderson, Walter Huston, and Barry Fitzgerald. None of the murders are explicitly shown. Director Rene Clair even adds a touch of macabre humor to the proceedings--although that also lessens the suspense. Incredibly, 20th Century-Fox allowed the copyright to expire, so beware of poor public domain prints. You can view all the murders in this compilation clip on our YouTube channel (just beware of spoilers!).

3. And There There Were None (2015) - This is the first of several Agatha Christie television adaptations written by Sarah Phelps. The first-rate cast features Sam Neill, Miranda Richardson, Toby Stephens, and Aidan Turner. Christie purists can rejoice that it retains the island setting, restores the original ending from the novel, and features a dark, menacing atmosphere. At times, though, it's almost too grim and its three-hour length feels too bloated for the plot. 

Elke Sommer and Oliver Reed.
4. Ten Little Indians (aka And Then There Were None) (1974) - Harry Alan Towers' second adaptation exists in two versions: a 109-minute film with a subplot about spies and a more widely available 98-minute cut that is almost a scene-for-scene remake of Towers' 1965 film. Both versions are notable for their color photography (the '45 and '65 films were in B&W) and for relocating the the mystery plot to an abandoned luxurious hotel in the middle of an Iranian desert. I've only seen the shorter print, a color-by-numbers exercise that fails to do justice to Christie's ingenious premise. The international cast never quite meshes together, though it's still fun to see the suspects played by the likes of Oliver Reed, Elke Sommer, Charles Aznavour, Adolfo Celi, Richard Attenborough, Gert Fröbe, and Herbert Lom. Interestingly, Celi and Fröbe played James Bond villains in, respectively, Thunderball and Goldfinger. In the latter film, Fröbe's Goldfinger painted Shirley Eaton's character with gold paint; as noted above, Eaton starred in the '65 Ten Little Indians. 

Sarah Maur Thorp.
5. Ten Little Indians (1989) - Towers intended his third adaptation to be more faithful to the source novel. However, budget constraints led him to set the film in Africa, with the suspects living in tents! Actually, this setting works surprisingly well as it seems more plausible for a killer to sneak around a safari camp without being seen. The cast features a handful of respectable performances, notably Donald Pleasance, newcomer Sarah Maur Thorp, and Herbert Lom (who appeared in the '74 version as a different character). However, Frank Stallone (Sly's brother) makes a wooden "hero" and Brenda Vaccaro nibbles on the scenery far too often. Although the running time is similar to Towers' earlier endeavors, this perfunctory version turns into a snooze fest long before the climax.

7 comments:

  1. 1945 and 1965 are the only two versions I have under my belt. It looks like I have a lot of catching up to do.

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  2. I didn’t realize there so many…

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  3. Fun Fact:

    In 1959, NBC (with the resources of David Susskind) mounted a live-on-tape one-hour version of Ten Little Indians - and I've got it on a DVD!
    Trying to smoosh the Christie plot into a '50s TV hour (something like 50 minutes, give or take) was a fool's errand, though it must be said that everybody was game.
    The top-billed stars here were Nina Foch and Kenneth Haigh; everybody else was from the stage, most of whom you probably wouldn't know unless you were a devotee.
    I watched the DVD once, a while back; knowing the story, the super-condensation was a bit wince-inducing (I mean, only one set?).
    "It probably seemed like a good idea at the time ..."
    I think I'll look at it again - maybe back-to-back with one or more of the better ones ...
    s

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    1. That version was on Amazon Prime for a while and I kept putting off watching it. Now, it's "temporarily unavailable." Hopefully, it will be available again.

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  4. I saw a community theater version back in the '80s that was exceptionally well done. I liked your top-ranked film, but stage versions of certain stories are just wonderful fits.

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  5. The 2015 version is the only one I've seen so far, and you're right about it being bloated. Beautiful technical values, and a good cast, but little else to recommend it, in my opinion.

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  6. I never realized five versions were made! I grew up watching the 1945 film but then in my teens, discovered the 1965 version and enjoyed it a lot. Both are equally good....but honestly, none of the films are as entertaining as Christie's book.

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