Least effective if still moderately fun version of the Christie classic. 2.5 Stars

While it’s far from being the best film version of this classic Agatha Christie story, the 1989 film version of Ten Little Indians gives the familiar murder tale a few new wrinkles that are on full display in Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray release.

Ten Little Indians (1989)
Released: 01 Nov 1989
Rated: PG
Runtime: 98 min
Director: Alan Birkinshaw
Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Brenda Vaccaro, Frank Stallone, Herbert Lom
Writer(s): Agatha Christie (novel), Jackson Hunsicker (screenplay), Gerry O'Hara (screenplay)
Plot: Ten people are invited to go on an African safari, only to find that an unseen person is killing them one by one. Could one of them be the killer?
IMDB rating: 4.7
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: MGM
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: PG
Run Time: 1 Hr. 40 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 06/30/2020
MSRP: $24.95

The Production: 2.5/5

Agatha Christie’s brilliant 1939 whodunit And Then There Were None was made into an equally effective 1943 stage play which was then filmed two years later by Rene Clair. After its great success, the screen rights to the property were sold to producer Harry Alan Towers who proceeded to remake the film three times over a quarter-of-a-century time span. While each of the three versions, produced in 1965, 1974, and 1989 and all entitled Ten Little Indians, have their own pluses and minuses, none of them could hold a candle to the masterful original movie. The 1989 version under consideration here, this time entitled Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, is in many ways the least effective of the versions of this famous story, and yet even with its lapses in casting and direction, the movie has moments that are unique to this version of the famous tale of multiple murders being committed by person or persons unknown.

Ten people are invited, tricked, or cajoled into accepting an invitation to an African safari, most of whom are unfamiliar with one another but all of whom are guilty of one or more crimes which, up until now, had been undetected and had gone unpunished. The party’s host U. N. Owen has brought together Dr. Werner (Yehuda Efroni), private detective William Blore (Warren Berlinger), safari leader Hugh Lombard (Frank Stallone), international movie star Marion Marshall (Brenda Vaccaro), Judge Wargrave (Donald Pleasence), reckless playboy Anthony Marston (Neil McCarthy), General Romensky (Herbert Lom), secretary Vera Claythorne (Sarah Maur Thorp), and Mr. and Mrs. Rodgers (Paul L. Smith, Moira Lister) who for some reason have arrived one day before everyone else. One by one, the guests begin dying under mysterious and sometimes rather brutal circumstances until everyone realizes that the deaths are related to a children’s nursery rhyme which had been found in the camp. Eventually, the strangers sense that there is no actual Mr. Owen; one member of the safari is secretly killing each of the guests one by one.

In addition to a change of locale from the original tale (the ten people are here trapped on an African escarpment with no way down and the short wave radio destroyed), the screenplay by Jackson Hunsucker and Gerry O’Hara doesn’t do a very good job introducing our ten victims, the choice to use a rather piecemeal approach to giving us backstories on them makes us realize we know next to nothing about some of them before they meet their maker. The romance between two of the “Indians” is tamped way down in this version, a lesbian angle gets shoehorned into one of the revelations, and the climactic events and the revealing of the murderer is handled especially clumsily and is completely lacking in the irony that makes the conclusions of the three earlier versions so deliciously appropriate. Other moments which served as high suspense sequences in previous versions (the search for “Mr. Owen” as the survivors pair off and are thus separated from one another, the vote between survivors as to the identity of the killer, and the mysterious Indian centerpiece which keeps a running tally of the survivors) are likewise less effectively managed in this version. Director Alan Birkinshaw doesn’t always stage the killings in the most advantageous ways, but he does install a particularly weird vibe early-on with the clacking Africans sinisterly eyeing the strangers and isolating them on the escarpment. He gives Anthony Marston a particularly showy entrance that dwarfs his entry in the other versions, but while he botches some of the stagings of the murders, he does use jump scares three times most effectively in revealing the identities of the latest victims.

While veteran character actors like Herbert Lom, Donald Pleasence, Warren Berlinger, and Brenda Vaccaro do just fine with their paint-by-the-numbers characters (and Lom is the most touching of all the victims this time out as his military man veers into and out of rationality; he ironically played the doctor in the 1974 rendition of the movie), no one is truly dynamic in this version. Certainly lacking in dynamism are Frank Stallone and Sarah Maur Thorp who are meant to have a mutual attraction but who don’t register any combustion at all. Neil McCarthy gets to sing a chorus of Noel Coward’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” (the song serves as the movie’s theme, and we actually hear its creator sing it on an old phonograph record early in the movie and then later over the closing credits) while Yehuda Efroni, Paul L. Smith, and Moira Lister make little thespic impressions.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

After years of having only an open matte laserdisc transfer for consumption, the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is a welcome relief, now offered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Apart from a few stray dust specks and some noticeable variance in grain levels and sharpness between scenes throughout the film, the transfer offers very good image quality. Color is rich, and black levels are impressively inky. The movie has been divided into 8 chapters.

Audio: 4.5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo sound mix (called Ultra-Stereo in the liner notes) generally sounds impressively wide with dialogue occupying the center channel and the music by George Clinton and sound effects spread outwards. There are no problems at all with age-related hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter.

Special Features: 1.5/5

Theatrical Trailer (1:28, HD)

Kino Trailers: Witness for the Prosecution, Endless Night, Ordeal by Innocence, Heart of Midnight, River of Death, The Black Windmill, Murder by Decree.

Overall: 2.5/5

While it’s far from being the best film version of this classic Agatha Christie story, the 1989 film version of Ten Little Indians gives the familiar murder tale a few new wrinkles that are on full display in Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray release.

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Jeff Flugel

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Great review, Matt! Never seen this version of Dame Agatha's tale. I have a nostalgic preference for the '65 Ten Little Indians over the 1945 Rene Clair version, but both are very enjoyable films. The African setting of this one sounds interesting...but Frank Stallone is no substitute for Louis Hayward or Hugh O'Brian.
 
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I've told this story before so I apologize in advance to anyone who's heard it. I forced my friends to see this movie with me during the SINGLE week it played at the smallest auditorium in our mall multiplex back in November 1989. It seemed like YEARS before I was trusted to pick a movie after that!

DAMN you, Harry Alan Towers!
 

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I've told this story before so I apologize in advance to anyone who's heard it. I forced my friends to see this movie with me during the SINGLE week it played at the smallest auditorium in our mall multiplex back in November 1989. It seemed like YEARS before I was trusted to pick a movie after that!

DAMN you, Harry Alan Towers!
I got the same result when I recommended "Wild At Heart" to a few friends. As we exited the theater after the film, someone not in our group yelled out: "What the hell was that!"
 
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Matt Hough

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I've told this story before so I apologize in advance to anyone who's heard it. I forced my friends to see this movie with me during the SINGLE week it played at the smallest auditorium in our mall multiplex back in November 1989. It seemed like YEARS before I was trusted to pick a movie after that!

DAMN you, Harry Alan Towers!
I think we all have a similar story about one movie or another. For me, Unbreakable did me in.

If this version of Ten Little Indians played locally, it didn't run long because back then I saw just about everything, and I would have jumped at the chance to see any Agatha Christie adaptation.
 
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I don't remember this playing in New York, and I was running a movie theater back then. Anyway, if Frank Stallone was in it, I would have stayed far, far away. Though I think the version directed by Rene Clair is a masterpiece, my favorite is also the TEN LITTLE INDIANS from the 1960's with Shirley Eaton, as it not only introduced me to the book which I bought immediately after seeing the movie, but also the work of Agatha Christie. TEN LITTLE INDIANS was promoted as a horror film, with a "Whodunit Break." I was expecting something a lot scarier, and the book was way better, both a page turner as well as a fairly complex character study, a bit unusual in Dame Agatha's oeuvre. Still, for me the film is suffused with a nostalgic glow.
 

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I don't remember this playing in New York, and I was running a movie theater back then.
According to the NY Daily News Archive at Newspapers.com, it played the Selwyn on 42nd Street (now restored to a legitimate theater as the American Airlines) at the end of January 1990, right before it premiered on videocassette. In those late days of the Selwyn and the Deuce, it was hardly a prestigious venue.
 

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According to the NY Daily News Archive at Newspapers.com, it played the Selwyn on 42nd Street (now restored to a legitimate theater as the American Airlines) at the end of January 1990, right before it premiered on videocassette. In those late days of the Selwyn and the Deuce, it was hardly a prestigious venue.
Ah, the Selwyn. "Whatever happened to the Selwyn?" That's a line from "The Band Wagon", which I was watching the other night when I couldn't sleep. Next to the New Amsterdam, the Selwyn was probably the most beautiful theater on 42nd Street architecturally, though the audiences were more restless. Maybe because they booked sleazier films. I remember seeing "Last House on the Left" there--it was on a double bill with "Junior Bonner" which was the film I wanted to see--and everytime there was a scene of violence, these two guys in the row in front of me pulled out Bowie knives and starting going at each other and the whole theater emptied out. It happened three or four times during the course of the picture. I know, an early example of performance art. But it got so dangerous I stopped going there. By the 80's, the only theater I still felt semi-safe in was the New Amsterdam.
 

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Next to the New Amsterdam, the Selwyn was probably the most beautiful theater on 42nd Street architecturally
It's funny you bring up the BAND WAGON (one of my favorites) because it's interesting that Fred Astaire doesn't really seem to remember where he is in that scene. The gestures of his head seem to place the New Amsterdam and the Selwyn ("Noel and Gertie had one of their biggest hits in PRIVATE LIVES there!") on the same side of the street and he thinks the Eltinge should be about where he's standing (on the north side of the street.) In reality, the New Amsterdam and the Selwyn were on opposite sides of 42nd Street (and PRIVATE LIVES actually played at the Times Square Theatre in 1931 anyway) and the Eltinge (renamed Laffmovie at the time) was on the south side. The Eltinge was the theater that was (amazingly) picked up and moved down the block when they decided to use the building as the lobby of the AMC Empire in 2000.
 

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It's funny you bring up the BAND WAGON (one of my favorites) because it's interesting that Fred Astaire doesn't really seem to remember where he is in that scene. The gestures of his head seem to place the New Amsterdam and the Selwyn ("Noel and Gertie had one of their biggest hits in PRIVATE LIVES there!") on the same side of the street and he thinks the Eltinge should be about where he's standing (on the north side of the street.) In reality, the New Amsterdam and the Selwyn were on opposite sides of 42nd Street (and PRIVATE LIVES actually played at the Times Square Theatre in 1931 anyway) and the Eltinge (renamed Laffmovie at the time) was on the south side. The Eltinge was the theater that was (amazingly) picked up and moved down the block when they decided to use the building as the lobby of the AMC Empire in 2000.
Well, Will, in terms of the veracity of Fred Astaire's statements in "The Band Wagon", as Alfred Hitchcock once said to his lead actress during the production of "Under Capricorn" as she had a panic attack while huge swaths of sets were being elevated, "Ingrid, it's only a movie!" Actually the New Amsterdam was on the north side of 42nd street near 7th, while the Selwyn was on the south side 2/3rds of the way down towards 8th. They did move some of those theaters around on the south side of the block in the late 80's as well as incorporate some together, the Apollo, for instance, I think might have been merged with the Lyric, where the Brandt organization, who owned many of the theaters on the block had their booking office, so I don't where the Selwyn is now. It might have been moved westward a bit to facilitate the AMC behemoth.
 

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Actually the New Amsterdam was on the north side of 42nd street near 7th, while the Selwyn was on the south side 2/3rds of the way down towards 8th. They did move some of those theaters around on the south side of the block in the late 80's as well as incorporate some together, the Apollo, for instance, I think might have been merged with the Lyric, where the Brandt organization, who owned many of the theaters on the block had their booking office, so I don't where the Selwyn is now. It might have been moved westward a bit to facilitate the AMC behemoth.
I really don't want to be contradictory, but you have that backwards. The New Amsterdam is on the south side of W 42nd Street facing north and hasn't moved. 8th Avenue is to the left if you're walking out the front door and 7th avenue is to the right. With the changeover from West/East happening at 5th Avenue that makes it the south side of the street. The Selwyn (aka The Roundabout and The American Airlines Theater) is in the same spot it always was across the street and almost next to the still "waiting for renovation" Times Square Theater. The AMC Empire 25 (or whatever it's called now) is also on the south side and across from the old Selwyn.
 
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I really don't want to be contradictory, but you have that backwards. The New Amsterdam is on the south side of W 42nd Street facing north and hasn't moved. 8th Avenue is to the left if you're walking out the front door and 7th avenue is to the right. With the changeover from West/East happening at 5th Avenue that makes it the south side of the street. The Selwyn (aka The Roundabout and The American Airlines Theater) is in the same spot it always was across the street and almost next to the still "waiting for renovation" Times Square Theater. The AMC Empire 25 (or whatever it's called now) is also on the south side and across from the old Selwyn.
Yeah. I was half asleep and my dyslexia kicked in again. As you stated, the New Amsterdam is on the south side near 7th. I meant south but wrote north by mistake. I have a tendency to reverse things when I get tired. It got people really confused when I gave directions, as occasionaly I would point to the left but say right (though I meant left). It didn't happen that often, fortunately. But wasn't the Selwyn across the street on the north side closer to 8th Avenue?

I loved the interactive audiences in the 42nd Street theaters, until they got a little too interactive. I remember going to the midnight show at the New Amsterdam for "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls." That was a wild crowd. When Marcia McBroom smoked a joint without inhaling, everyone went "Awwww!". I can't remember if I've shared this, but I went to see "Serpico" a few years later at the Lyric. At some point, a drunk in the front row woke up, said, "This movie sucks," and threw his bottle at the screen, which shredded almost immediately, so they had to shut down the house. That was probably the most cogent act of film criticism I've ever witnessed.
 

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But wasn't the Selwyn across the street on the north side closer to 8th Avenue?
Yeah it's about half way down the street and on the north side

I loved the interactive audiences in the 42nd Street theaters, until they got a little too interactive.
I must admit that I was too young to experience those audiences on my own. I didn't turn 18 until 1985 and wasn't allowed unsupervised trips to the city until college. I didn't really have an interest at that point in seeing second run stuff on 42nd street. Now I WON'T pretend that stopped my from visiting 8th Avenue, however (cough cough)
 
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Yeah it's about half way down the street and on the north side



I must admit that I was too young to experience those audiences on my own. I didn't turn 18 until 1985 and wasn't allowed unsupervised trips to the city until college. I didn't really have an interest at that point in seeing second run stuff on 42nd street. Now I WON'T pretend that stopped my from visiting 8th Avenue, however (cough cough)
I knew a woman who lived across the street on 8th Avenue from Show World. We used to sit in her window and watch the freak parade pass by. I went in there once but didn't see the point. You could see just as much skin, if not more, on the street.
 
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