An international co-production of one of Agatha Christie’s most famous stories, Ten Little Indians while not as adept as earlier filmed versions of the tale offers its own unique pleasures despite some definite weaknesses.
The Production: 3/5
One of the true masterpieces of mystery fiction and unquestionably one of the half dozen greatest novels ever penned by Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None has received four feature film English-language adaptations, three of them produced by the same man – Harry Alan Towers – who seemed to pull out his old, reliable script every decade or so with a few suitable updates and tweaks to fit the international casts and locations which were part and parcel of each version. The 1974 rendition entitled Ten Little Indians was its first in color, and it’s also the first which goes for more of a mood of sinister shock rather than for whimsical mystery. While it can’t hold a candle to Rene Clair’s 1945 masterpiece And Then There Were None, there is some genuine merit in this attempt even with some offbeat murder variations which veer from the nursery rhyme that serves as the heart of the story.
Ten people are lured to an abandoned hotel in a remote desert of Iran under one pretext or other, most of whom are unfamiliar with one another but all of whom are guilty of one of more crimes which, up until now, had been undetected and had gone unpunished. The party’s host U. N. Owen (voiced by Orson Welles) has brought together Dr. Edward Armstrong (Herbert Lom), private detective Wilhelm Blore (Gert Froebe), soldier of fortune Hugh Lombard (Oliver Reed), international movie star Ilona Morgan (Stéphane Audran), Judge Arthur Cannon (Richard Attenborough), reckless cabaret artist Michel Raven (Charles Aznavour), General André Salvé (Adolfo Celi), secretary Vera Clyde (Elke Sommer), and house servants Otto Martino (Alberto de Mendoza) and his wife Elsa (Maria Rohm). One by one, the guests begin dying under mysterious and rather brutal circumstances until everyone realizes that the deaths are related to a children’s nursery rhyme framed on the walls of each of their rooms. Eventually, the strangers sense that there is no actual Mr. Owen; one of the house party is secretly killing each of the guests one by one.
The basic plot of Dame Agatha’s 1943 stage adaptation of her work, the basis of all four of the feature films and which changed the book’s ending making the fates of some of the central characters something much less sinister and blood curdling than were contained in the original tome, holds up beautifully even with a change of setting and the nationalities of some of the inhabitants of this famous tale. Producer Harry Alan Towne, writing under the pseudonym Peter Wellbeck, recycles his 1965 script hewing very closely to the dialogue though some of the methods of murder are altered to fit into the desert setting rather than the snowy chalet of the 1965 version (dying of thirst in the desert rather than falling off an icy Alp, a poisonous snake bite instead of a poisonous injection from a syringe, plunged from a roof rather than being crushed by a falling statue). It’s not as tight or as foolproof as in the original book and film (the second murder here, for instance, couldn’t possibly have happened in this version and not have been seen by three other characters who had the victim in view). For his part, director Peter Collinson is going more for shuddery terror in this rendition filming many scenes from a low angle with an arid atmosphere only occasionally punctuated by spiky music intrusions on the soundtrack. The search of the hotel basement is handled with more astute suspense here than in the 1965 version with murky shadows abounding and the vicious stabbing murder of victim number three captured in silhouette on one of the wide columns holding up the ceiling.
The romantic leads of the story Oliver Reed and Elke Sommer don’t have great chemistry (though not for his lack of trying; he’s pecking her on the cheek much more quickly in this version than actors who play Lombard do in the other versions), and their face-off near the end isn’t as suspenseful as it should have been. Reliable character actors like Herbert Lom, Richard Attenborough, Gert Froebe, and Adolfo Celi go through their paces well enough without investing any kind of eccentricities into their characters to make them really stand out (Lom and particularly Attenborough seem a trifle bored through much of the movie) though to be fair Robert Rietty dubs the voices of both Froebe and Celi on the soundtrack limiting any vocal nuances the actual actors may have wished to interject. Cabaret star Charles Aznavour does get a chance to warble his hit song “The Old Fashioned Way” before departing, and both Alberto de Mendoza and Maria Rohm as the servants seem younger and sexier than their counterparts in other versions of the story.
3D Rating: NA
Though the liner notes state the aspect ratio as 1.78:1, it’s actually a 1.66:1 transfer resulting in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Through much of the film, sharpness is very good and color is quite luscious, but there are some odd soft shots with a decidedly dated appearance, and the establishing desert shots are softer and grainier than the remainder of the movie. There are curious blips and specks in the frame, and there is a black or white scratch or two. Black levels are okay but not exemplary. The movie has been divided into 15 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is a fairly undistinguished track. Dialogue has not been particularly well recorded with actors sometimes barely being heard due to either poor miking or their own mumbling without the benefit of post dubbing. The odd, atonal background score by Carlo Rustichelli is threaded at odd times through the movie but only occasionally achieves effectiveness with the tone of the moment. Atmospheric effects (wind, crashing thunder, numerous “bumps in the night”) are all fine. There is a bit of age-related crackle to be heard on a couple of occasions.
Special Features: 2.5/5
Audio Commentary: film historians Nathaniel Thompson and Howard Berger offer background on the original book and all of the various film and TV versions along with mentions of some of the casts’ claims to fame and information on the career of director Peter Collinson.
Italian Credits (2:52, HD): the opening credit sequence from the Italian version of the film.
Theatrical Trailers (2:38, 0:39, SD): a trailer and a spot ad which play one after the other.
Promo Trailers: City on Fire. Barbarosa, Saint Jack, Steaming, Killer Force.
Reversible Cover Art
An international co-production of one of Agatha Christie’s most famous stories, Ten Little Indians while not as adept as earlier filmed versions of the tale offers its own unique perspective despite some definite weaknesses. It’s a pleasure to finally have a decent-looking high definition release of this rendition of the story after so many years of unavailability.