Cult Movies: And The There Were None a superior take on a much loved classic
And Then There Were None
THOSE seeking a blueprint for the classic 'whodunnit' where a collection of broadly drawn characters get bumped off one by one in mysterious circumstances need look no further than And Then There Were None.
Agatha Christie's novel, under both its original name and the alternative title of Ten Little Indians, has been treated to any number of cinematic and television adaptations since its publication in 1939, and the pawprints of legendary exploitation king Harry Alan Towers are all over three of them.
Writing as Peter Welbeck, Towers cobbled together the popular black and white adaptation from 1965 and oversaw a 1989 version with his producer's hat on.
His finest stab at those tricky little Indians with their murderous properties is arguably the take he offered in 1974. Stylish, plushly appointed and positively reeking of 1970s over-indulgence, this is the definitive version of Christie's magical mystery tome in my book, even if the screenwriter takes a few liberties with the text along the way.
Directed by Peter 'The Italian Job' Collinson and boasting a glittering international cast that includes Richard Attenborough, Oliver Reed, Elke Sommer, Herbert Lom and Charles Aznavour (yes, Gallic crooner supreme Charles Aznavour) it's a flashy and grandly staged romp that occasionally defies logic but remains hugely entertaining all the same.
The action here is relocated from an island to the vast expanse of the Iranian desert where eight guests and two staff arrive at an opulent hotel by helicopter. These colourful strangers are united by one thing: the fact that a mysterious benefactor has invited them all to this remote setting with the purpose of exposing them all for crimes they have committed in the past and apparently got away with.
Their unseen host, Mr U N Owen (voiced with typical relish by Orson Welles) has had the ghoulish children's rhyme of the Ten Little Indians stuck in the guests' bedrooms, and sure enough the visitors are bumped off one by one in keeping with the murderous words on the wall.
Surprisingly, given his often outrageous 70s antics, Reed is relatively subdued here, allowing the stately Lom, Attenborough and Gert Frobe to steal the show while Sommer mostly just screams for her country.
There is, it must be said, the odd moment, such as when Aznavour's character suddenly takes to the piano to belt out a version of his tune The Old Fashioned Ways which blatantly boasts more musical backing than a humble old Joanna could possibly muster despite a distinct lack of players being anywhere in sight, to remind you that this is a slightly camp curio as well as a posh 'whodunnit'.
Collinson frames everything with interesting angles in the confined surroundings of the hotel and the colours jump from the screen throughout. There are moments where Towers tinkers pointlessly with the story and it all feels little clunky on the dialogue front at times, but with that killer cast all sparking off each other and everything looking so lush it's hard not to be impressed by this superior take on a much loved classic.