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DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Ten Little Indians

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, Mar 22, 2006.

  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

    May 7, 2001
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    Ten Little Indians

    Studio: Warner Brothers
    Year: 1965
    Rated: Not Rated
    Film Length: 90 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Enhanced Widescreen
    Audio: DD Monaural
    Color/B&W: B&W
    Languages: English
    Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
    MSRP: $19.98
    Package: Single disc/Keepcase

    The Feature:
    Directed by George Pollock, Ten Little Indians was the third film version of Agatha Christie's marvelous mystery thriller, which was first published in Great Britain in 1939. Four years later, it was adapted for the stage by the author making its debut at London's St. James Theatre in November 1943. It had been previously filmed in Hollywood in 1945 as And Then There Were None (Directed by Rene Clair) and featured an all-star cast for the time, which included Barry Fitzgerald and Walter Huston. In 1949, the BBC produced a TV version starring Bruce Belfrage and Campbell Singer. The 1965 version made a few notable changes, the most significant being the change of setting from an old house on a remote Devonshire island to a mansion on top of the Austrian Alps.

    The film was produced by Harry Alan Towers whom at this time was enjoying success with The Face Of Fu Manchu, which starred Christopher Lee. Interestingly, it was Lee who provided the disembodied voice of Mr. Owen on the tape recording heard at the beginning of the film. Towers would subsequently go on to film the story again on two more occasions. First as And Then There Were None (Directed by Peter Collinson 1975), in which the setting was changed yet again to a luxury hotel in the Iranian desert and the second time in 1989 with the drama unfolding from a big game African safari.

    The storyline is rather simple and involves ten strangers who are lured to a remote mansion on the Austrian Alps in the middle of winter. They have nothing in common except that each of them harbors a guilty secret and that they have all been invited by a mysterious host (whom none of them has met) called Mr. Owen. The guests are Judge Arthur Cannon (played by Wilfrid Hyde-White), Harley Street practitioner Dr. Armstrong (played by Dennis Price), private eye William Henry Blore (played by Stanley Holloway), actress Ilona Bergen (played by Daliah Lavi), pop star Mike Raven (played by Fabian), retired army officer Sir General John Mandrake (played by Leo Genn), engineer Hugh Lombard (played by Hugh O' Brien), secretary Ann Clyde (played by Shirley Eaton) and housekeepers Joseph and Elsa Grohmann (played by Mario Adorf & Marrianne Hoppe).

    Curious and slightly annoyed that their host isn't there to greet them, after dinner and cocktails, a tape recorder bursts into life and the voice of their host accuses each of them of a past crime. Initially, they treat it as a sick joke in the poorest taste. But after Mike Raven drunkenly sings a rendition of the Ten Little Indians nursery rhyme on the piano, he confesses to a crime before choking on his drink and falling down dead. The others realize that this isn't a joke and that their host is a psychopath delivering retribution for their sins and even more disturbingly, their killer is one of them. In addition, there is a collection of ten figurines on the dining room table, and as each of the guests are murdered one by one (in ways that parallel the old nursery rhyme) the killer removes one figurine from the centre piece at a time.

    All in all, Ten Little Indians is quite a good film. The script, penned by Towers as (Peter Welbeck) does reasonable justice to Christie's wonderful source novel and the change of locale does it no harm at all. A marvelous cast was chosen for the film with Wilfred Hyde-White perfectly cast as the intelligent and resourceful Judge Cannon while Dennis Price offers a fine portrayal as the upper class Dr. Armstrong. Leo Genn gives just the right amount of authority to the role of General Sir John Mandrake and Hugh O' Brien is suitably smooth as Lombard and works well with Shirley Eaton's Ann Clyde, the picture's love interest. The only real note of criticism in terms of performances, comes from American pop singer Fabian, in his portrayal of Mike Raven, an updated version of Christie's original character, Anthony Marston. The character wasn't a pop star in the book at all, but he still resembles the way that Christie described him, irresponsible, and whose only interest in life was "for kicks" as the film puts it.

    Unlike the 1945 version, the film lacks the same tension and the sense of menace due mainly to the unsuitable jazz score as the "swinging sixties" music, typically brash jazz, is unsuited to Agatha Christie's macabre story. Director George Pollock (fresh from shooting the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple films) shows a steady hand at the helm of the picture and brings the storyline together well but he doesn't bring the same level of charm and well-meshed humor and mystery, which he brought to the Marple series. Another slight disappointment is the climax, which resembles the happy and romantic stage play version. There is no sense of relief at all and as a result the film isn't as dark and surprising as it could have been - as was the case in the 1945 version.

    The Feature: 3.5/5

    This 1.85:1 widescreen transfer (presumably of the original AR of 1.66:1) is fair however, not up to Warner's recent efforts of other B&W catalogue titles. Contrast as well as grayscale are two of the highlights of the film - both equally impressive. Blacks were very dark and inky. Image definition was impressive, not only on close-ups but on wider and longer shots. There were signs of shimmer and jitter but this wasn't bothersome. A moderate amount a fine film-grain is present and welcomed.

    Although the authoring seems to have been handled well (no signs of compression errors or edge enhancement etc), it is clear there was little - if any, work done here. There are a significant number of marks and blemishes as well as extended vertical scratches that appear throughout the film. Various reels show wear more than others, but clearly the elements used have seen better days. This is by no means a bad transfer, it's just not quite what we've come to expect from Warner with regards to their catalogue titles. Funny thing is, given the contrast and grayscale evident, this would have been an amazing looking B&W release had some restoration work been afforded it. Realistically, this is a not a title that's likely to garner huge sales so it's not surprising that little effort or expense went into any sort of cleanup.

    Video: 3/5

    Not much to speak here in the audio department. This monaural soundtrack does a fine job at handling the audio portion of the film. There is virtually no hiss to speak of and the track is clean and free of any other noisy distractions. Fidelity seems to be natural and un-tampered with.

    Dialogue was always crystal clear and bold - always intelligible (aside from the thick Brit accents) and never in competition with the odd and jazzy music used to score the film (really, one of the low points of the film). Nothing to speak of in terms of heft or dynamics as the track is pretty basic, albeit, trouble free.

    Audio: 3.5/5

    Special Features:
    Only two special features accompany this film. They are:
    [*] A collection of Theatrical Trailers. Considering this title was released the same day as the Miss Marple Collection, the following trailers have been included: Murder She Said, Murder at the Gallop, Murder Ahoy and Murder Most Foul. The trailer for the featured film is also included. These can be played individually or as a group by using the “play all” feature. All of these appear to be in fine shape. Duration: 11:10 minutes total.
    [*] The only other inclusion is a Whodunit Break. When Ten Little Indians originally debuted in theaters, it had a peculiar gimmick; the "Whodunit Break." Just before the killer's identity was revealed, the film stopped, and a narrator invited viewers to debate among themselves who they think did it. 60 seconds is counted down by a clock on screen, and then, the movie resumes. Purists might be upset that this is not part of the main film, however it's inclusion here is a welcomed one. Obviously seemless branching here would have been the ticket. One can't help but think how this "interruption" might have changed the theatrical feel and flow of the film. Great to have it here, however. Duration: 3:15 minutes.

    Special Features: 2.5/5

    **Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**

    Final Thoughts:
    Agatha Christie's oft-filmed whodunit, gets an updating here to the mid 1960's with a pretty odd international cast selection and a slightly less skillful presentation than in the first adaptation, 1945's And Then There Were None directed by Rene Clair. First published in 1939 under the dreadful title, Ten Little Niggers, Christie's story is a model of mystery story construction, and widely considered one of the best murder mysteries ever written. So it's no wonder the book's popularity has led to numerous filmed adaptations. This version takes enormous liberties with the source material, such as new characters and a completely different setting, but Christie's basic concept remains, and it's the most potent element here even though much of the wonderfully sly wit is noticeably absent this time around.

    Even though Warner's transfer isn't quite on par with many of their recent catalogue releases, Ten Little Indians, should serve fans of the famed whodunit film. The special features are sparse however, the inclusion of the "whodunit break" makes up for the lack of other supplements. While this is a fine film, those unfamiliar with it would be wise to at least start with the 1945 version - then check out the more contemporary version. Even forty years ago, they didn't quite make 'em like they used to...

    Overall Rating: 3/5 (not an average)

    Release Date: March 14th, 2006
  2. Steve...O

    Steve...O Producer

    Dec 31, 2003
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    Thanks Herb. Well written as usual.

    I watched the DVD tonight and generally agree with your comments. The film is a lot of fun to watch with the veteran actors stealing the show from the younger leads. Shirley Eaton is quite easy on the eyes though [​IMG]

    Thankfully most of the parts of the print that were problematic seemed to be concentrated in one reel. It is only because Warners has raised the bar so high that I'd even notice it. I was more than pleased with the A/V quality of this DVD.

    I'll probably get shot for this, but this film probably would've worked better had it been shot oriignally in the academy ratio. Some of the shots looked cramped. Then again, there's something about seeing a B&W in WS that just doesn't seem right.

    On a related note...I am two films into the accompanying Miss Marple collection and am extremely pleased with that set thus far. Great transfers plus the films are delightful from start to finish. Although made in the 60s, these films have all the appeal of the 40s mystery series.

    Thanks to Warners for putting these Christie films out.

  3. Mark-P

    Mark-P Producer

    Sep 26, 2005
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    Camas, WA
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    Mark Probst

    I LOVE black & white widescreen. Some of my favorite movies are those shot in CinemaScope and Black & White: "The Longest Day" "Hud" "The Diary of Anne Frank"
    to name a few.

    But on the topic of Agatha Christie, I bought the Miss Marple collection and the transfers are beautiful. Warner is simply top dog these days. I want to get "Ten Little Indians" but decided to wait until it goes on sale for under $10.
  4. TonyDale

    TonyDale Second Unit

    May 3, 2003
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    Try Otto Preminger's BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING.

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