Ten Little Indians and One Little Frenchman

Rene Clair said that AND THEN THERE WERE NONE was a film which meant nothing to him, was completely impersonal. I quite like Rene Clair but I’d make a poor adherent, because ATTWN is one of my favourites of his work — I like LE MILLION and IT HAPPENED TOMORROW and LE SILENCE EST D’OR and LES BELLE DE NUIT and LA BEAUTE DU DIABLE too. The others I’m OK with, but I wouldn’t get too excited about A NOUS LA LIBERTE, personally.

Funny, I just belatedly blogged about IMPACT, which we had in our little watch party (anyone wanna join?), and then last week we ran this, which is also a Harry M. Popkin Production. One thing about Harry, he favours the starry cast — though more like, colourful character actors than big names. This one has a helluva house party, with Louis Hayward, June Duprez, Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, Roland Young, Mischa Auer, C. Aubrey Smith, Judith Anderson, Richard Haydn and Queenie Leonard. It’s really a shame to bump them off one by one, but then, it is anyway, whenever that kind of thing happens.

Maybe Clair’s disengaged attitude led him to unusual flippancy, but his camera goes pushing through outsized keyholes, and a flashback is narrated by one character, leading to a moment of post-prod ventriloquism when his VO syncs to the lip-movements of a previously slaughtered guest…

Dudley Nichols’ witty script also has the chain of characters spying or eavesdropping on one another, eventually looping back on itself, a peeping ouroboros — a gag later originated by Blake Edwards. I can imagine “Blackie” really enjoying this fairly outrageous comedy — maybe my favourite Agatha Christie screen adaptation, along with WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION. The rogue’s gallery is fab but so is Louis Hayward, whose arch amusement suggests perhaps he really was responsible for the massacre of natives in East Africa, or was it South Africa (the script is inconsistent on this point)? Not many male leads could have pulled that off in 1945, or would have wished to. Hayward had just gotten back from the war (Pacific theatre), I guess, but shows no trace of the mental scars that would haunt him.

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE stars Simon Templar; Princess; Mr. Gogarty; Mr. Scratch; Mr. Cosmo Topper; Boris Callahan; Enobarbus; Mrs. Danvers; Emperor Franz-Josef; and another Princess.


7 Responses to “Ten Little Indians and One Little Frenchman”

  1. Grant Skene Says:

    I agree. Love this film. Seen it many times, proving it is more than just the mystery. Clair gets the tone and atmosphere just right. Other versions of this tale just don’t get the balance right.

  2. bensondonald Says:

    There was a PBS show about Agatha Christie, and the talking heads pointed out how really dark this one is under the cozy surface: In the original, the setup is everybody will die, and everybody does die, and nobody can do anything about it.

    Harry Alan Towers did three remakes over the years. His first can’t hold a candle to Clair’s, but it’s fun for representing a certain kind of 60s movie on the way out (soon, color would be mandatory for slick escapism). When first released it had a quasi-William-Castle gimmick, included on the DVD as an extra (but sadly, with no option for putting it in back in the movie):

    “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” lifted the plot with a killer theming deaths to the 12 Days of Christmas. The stage musical “Something’s Afoot” was a broad spoof, inserting an old lady who, schooled by Agatha Christie novels, meddled as a booby-trapped mansion picked off most of the cast. More common was the series of murders that turned out to be linked. Robert Ebert’s book of cliches included the old group photo that included all the victims to date (Written on the back: “Me and the faculty committee after we denied Sy Kotik tenure”).

    Serials sort of anticipated Christie: A common plot was a hero after a masked villain, reporting to a committee of upright citizens with at least one oily herring (“Surely you can trust us with your secret plan.”). By the last episode the committee would be down to two or even one, each of the others (including the herring) having been bumped off just as the hero began to suspect him (“Well, now we know it wasn’t the professor.”). No deductive reasoning involved — just wait to see who’s not dead.

    A fond memory is a decades-ago community production where you could predict the murders: They went in the order of acting ability.

  3. It only just occurred to me that the whole Dr. Phibes/Theatre of Blood/Se7en thing originated with Dame Agatha’s song lyric slayings here.

  4. Is that open invitation for watch parties still up? :)

  5. Yes — are we friends on Facebook? All the commentary is delivered via chat there.

  6. Barry Lane Says:

    Regarding Louis Hayward, I knew him well and worked with him for years; no mental or emotional scars from the war, he had Malaria. At one point in the mid-sixties, he said to em, being in the service was the best experience of his life. He also produced and directed a short documentary, With The Marines at Tarawa, which won the academy award for its category.

  7. Thank you! Good to know.

    Yes, that documentary captures the ONLY footage of Japanese soldiers in action.

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