The concept is pretty simple. Eight complete strangers are invited to a mysterious island home, by a host that none of them know, a Mr. U.N. Owen. Once there, they are met by two servants, who had just arrived themselves, and have instructions to make the guests feel welcome. After a dinner, conducted with a still absent host, all ten of them are accused of murders, that for whatever reason, the courts could not touch, murders their host feels they should be punished for. What follows is a twisted little game, following the lyrics of a children's nursery rhyme, resulting in them being killed, one by one.
The source material for this movie, Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, has always been my absolute favorite mystery from her, or anyone else. When I was a kid, the book was still being called Ten Little Indians, which was an improvement over it's original title. I don't believe I ever saw a movie adaptation of this until a few years ago, when I happened to stumble upon a DVD of this one. Much like I did with The Bat, it was one of those cheaper DVDs that used to sit at the checkout counter of big box stores, but regardless of who released it, I knew I had to own it.
Directed in 1945, by Rene Clair for 20th Century Fox, this was the first film adaptation of the book. And in my humble opinion, it's still the best. Now like all of them, except for a Russian adaptation, it follows the ending that Christie wrote for the stage play, not for the novel. Honestly, I'm of two minds on that. I love the book ending, it's perfect, it wraps everything up, and justice is served all around. But the hopeless romantic in me, the guy who always roots for a happy ending, loves the way it ends. I would love to see them redo this one at some point in time, with the book ending, just to see what I think of it.
Two other points on the differences between the movie and the books, one some of the names are changed, though I can really find no reason for that. Maybe it was done to match the names in the play, but not sure if they were any different from the movie version. The other change, and the one I find the most interesting, is in the crimes three of the guests are accused of.
Two of them involved the death of children, and one, of the suicide of a unwed, teenage girl. In the book, Vera Claythorne is accused of allowing her boyfriend's nephew to drown. Because she was jealous of the kid, she allowed and encouraged him, to swim out past his abilities, and didn't do anything to save him. In the movie it's her sister's fiance she is accused of bumping off, though no motive is given. In the movie, Prince Nikita Starloff is accused of running a couple over, simply by going too fast and not paying attention. In the book, it's Anthony Marston who is accused of doing the same thing, but this time, mowing down two children. Neither men were able to show any sort of regret for the deaths, other than for losing their driver's licenses. Emily Brent, is accused of turning away her young problem of a nephew, which resulted in his death. In the book, she turns out her maid, who became pregnant, out of marriage of course. In both cases her rigid morality would not allow her to show any symphony. Because those cases dealt with child murder, and unwed pregnancy, it was determined that they would not live up to the Motion Picture Production Code, which ruled Hollywood at the time. Apparently the public could not be exposed to such horrors.
Ten little Indian boys went out to dine;One choked his little self and then there were nine.Nine little Indian boys sat up very late;One overslept himself and then there were eight.Eight little Indian boys travelling in Devon;One said he'd stay there and then there were seven.Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks;One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.Six little Indian boys playing with a hive;A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.Five little Indian boys going in for law;One got in Chancery and then there were four.Four little Indian boys going out to sea;A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.Three little Indian boys walking in the zoo;A big bear hugged one and then there were two.Two little Indian boys playing in the sun;One got all frizzled up and then there was one.One little Indian boy left all alone;He went out and hanged himself and then there were none
The host of this little party, U.N. Owen, has gathered together a stellar cast of some of the best character actors of all time; C. Aubrey Smith, Queenie Leonard, Walter Huston, Barry Fitzgerald, Mischa Auer, Richard Haydn, Roland Young, June Duprez, Judith Anderson, and Louis Hayward (who I have always had a slight crush on). Every single one of these actors, regardless of how much screen time they are given, the order in which they die determines that, embody their characters to the nth degree. I won't tell you which two of them manage to escape the island, but you can probably guess that I'm happy about one of them.