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  And Then There Were None One By One
Year: 1945
Director: René Clair
Stars: Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, Louis Hayward, June Duprez, Roland Young, Judith Anderson, Richard Haydn, C. Aubrey Smith, Mischa Auer, Queenie Leonard, Harry Thurston
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: A group of eight passengers are taking a boat trip out to an island off the coast of Devon, England, and feeling the effects of the choppy waters and harsh winds. They exchange not a word, not even when they reach their destination and are met by the butler of the large mansion, the only house on the island. The boat returns to the mainland, and the guests are shown to their rooms, then meet in the drawing room to find out why they have been sent for. It seems that each one of them, including the butler and the maid, his wife, have received a letter from one Mr Owen, and each of them have a guilty secret - a secret that needs punishing...

This, the best adaptation of Agatha Christie's classic murder mystery, was scripted by Dudley Nichols for the light touch of René Clair, and with its cast of venerable character actors it adds up to a thriller that stands as one of the better of its era. It also served as a template for many similar works to follow, and a case could be made for it being the prototype of the slasher movies of the nineteen-seventies onwards, with its cast being assembled purely to be killed off one by one. Here, however, the film makers are curiously coy about showing dead bodies, of which feet or hands are usually seen, and that's about it.

So it's the plot which matters here, but as it's one of Christie's most straightforward the embellishments become, if anything, more important. After dinner (which is, unknown to the guests, dropped on the unswept kitchen floor!) everyone gathers in the drawing room for drinks and the butler (Richard Haydn) puts on a gramophone record, as instructed by the mysteriously absent Mr Owen. But what they hear is not music, but a voice accusing them all of murders in their shady pasts and the reaction is shocked, if not surprised as we know they're guilty really.

After playing the macabre children's song "Ten Little Indians" (if you think that's non-politically correct, you cannot be aware what the novel was originally called), Prince Nikita (Mischa Auer taking advantage of his short screen time) drinks his whisky only to collapse clutching at his throat. Yes, he's been poisoned, and he won't be the only one to die on an island where the next boat doesn't arrive until Monday - and this is Friday. Judge Quincannon (a wily, twinkly-eyed Barry Fitzgerald) quickly works out that not only are they all in danger of death, but that Mr U.N. Owen (i.e. Mr Unknown) must be one of those present.

It's almost a shame when the actors start dropping like flies, as most of them display eccentricities that lend no small measure of character to the film. Not above stooping to cliché, as when the surviving guests realise that they're all going to be killed while a thunderstorm booms outside to punctuate the conversation, And Then There Were None is a superior Old Dark House mystery played with a wink to the audience. Unfortunately, as nobody can work out who the villain is until the revelation at the very end, there isn't much progress made for much of the story's running time and you have to either spend the film guessing or simply enjoying the peformances, with Walter Huston as the alcoholic doctor and Roland Young as the snidey detective also standing out. Not quite as good as its reputation, then, but the film's sprightly presentation makes up for it. Music by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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René Clair  (1898 - 1981)

Imaginative French writer and director, a former actor, whose whimsy could be tempered with sharp wit. He gained attention in the 1920s with the classic science fiction short Paris Qui Dort, but come the sound era his musicals Le Million and A Nous La Liberté won him more and more fans. He moved to Britain for comic fantasy The Ghost Goes West, and to Hollywood for I Married A Witch, It Happened Tomorrow and classic Agatha Christie adaptation And Then There Were None. When the Second World War ended, he returned to France to make films including Les Belles de Nuit.

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