Sunday, December 28, 2014

And Then There Were None

I have no particular dislike of Agatha Christie's work, but at the same time I know there are people out there who are much more actively fans of her material than I am. So they'd probably be able to do a much better post on the 1945 film version of And Then There Were None, which is airing tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM on TCM.

The movie starts with several strangers all taking a boat to an isolated island, where all of them have been invited to a party at the only house on the island. The boat is also the only way to and from the island, so they're going to be stuck there for the entire weekend. Now, it transpires that none of them actually know the man who invited them there, so you have to wonder why they all agreed to come. The obvious guess is blackmail, and based on what happens the first evening they're at the place, it seems as though this is a reasonable guess.

The man who invited them to the island, a mister U. N. Owen (get it, "un-owen"?), left a phonograph record with the instructions that it be played by the two servants, who never met the guy either. On this record, Mr. Own accuses all of the assembled guests of murder, and they're all on this island for their punishment! Needless to say, the assembled houseguests are totally put off by all of this. It doesn't help that the dining room table had a centerpiece of ten little Indians, the subject of the nursery rhyme about how each of them came to an untimely end. It turns out that the guests may have been responsible for anything from wrongful death to manslaughter, but none of them has ever been punished for anything. Until now.

One of the guests, Prince Starloff (Mischa Auer), collapses and dies! Alcoholic doctor Armstrong (Walter Huston), whose crime was performing an operation while drunk, determines that Starloff was... poisoned! And one of the Indian figurines is broken! Even if you haven't read any of Agatha Christie's work, you can guess what happens next. Owen's statement that the assembled guests are going to die one by one seems to come true, as of them wind up dead and figuriens break respectively. The guests start to look for Mr. Owen and, when they can't find him, start to turn on each other, believing that one of them must be the murderer, since there's no other possibility.

Who's the murderer, and how will the last of the ten die? Heaven forfend I reveal that outcome! Now, as I said at the beginning, there are other people who know more about Agatha Christie's work than I do and who say that the ending in the film is not quite the ending in the book. I haven't read the book, so I can't comment on that, although it wouldn't surprise me if the Production Code required some changes. (From what I've read, Murder on the Orient Express couldn't be made until the 1970s because Agatha Christie's ending violated the Production Code six ways from Sunday. The ending of the movie certainly does.) That having been said, what I saw in the movie was well worth watching. There's a cast full of people who mostly didn't quite make it to A list status, but did a lot of supporting work. That works well for a movie like this where you really have an ensemble cast. Barry Fitzgerald, fresh off winning the Oscar for Going My Way, plays a judge who condemned an innocent man; Roland Young plays a police detective who gave false testimony to convict an innocent man; C. Aubrey Smith is a retired general; and Louis Heyward plays an explorer accused of killing natives. The atmosphere is excellent, with this feeling very much like a British movie of the era even though it was made in Hollywood, by a French World War II exile René Clair.

No comments: