AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, the 1945 production of Agatha Christie’s mystery classic, is the best-regarded of the numerous film versions done from her 1939 novel and her play that followed. The original book title was/is racist (sadly conventional at the time) so this first, American-made venture decided to go with the last line in the rhyme that spins the plot. Using different titles, numerous succeeding versions came from various countries, 1965’s Ten Little Indians being the best. Nowadays, the treatments go by “Ten Little Soldiers”. *
Dame Agatha’s decimation fancy has eight strangers invited to a mansion on an isolated island (English, naturally) by a mystery host: two servants await them, also new to the locale. The host, via a recording, lets the guests and their help know that he’s aware of murders they’ve all committed. A centerpiece featuring figurines of Indians keys in, with the guests being made aware of its link to the nursery rhyme “Ten Little Indians” and its associated dispatching, by various means, of the ten. Justice will be served.
Macabre on the light side, played tongue-in-cheek (and broadly) by a cast of character aces. To be judged: Barry Fitzgerald (voice of semi-reason), Walter Huston (hamming it like vaudeville), Louis Hayward (oily suave), June Duprez (playing it straight to good effect), Roland Young (sneaky), (Judith Anderson (“Very stupid to kill the only servant in the house. Now we don’t even know where to find the marmalade“), Richard Haydn (at his most exaggerated), Mischa Auer (ditto), C. Aubrey Smith (bring the pomp) and Queenie Leonard (too shrill to last long).
WW2 exile René Clair directed (the last of his five US-made pictures before returning to France), Hollywood veteran Dudley Nichols wrote the script (he knocked off The Bells Of St. Mary’s and Scarlet Street that same year). Made for $1,000,000, the gross of $2,800,000 placed it 100th in the harvest of ’45.
Whimsically scored by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Moody cinematography courtesy of Lucien Andriot (The Big Trail, Bird Of Paradise, The Southerner). With Harry Thurston (#11, the contented boatman). 98 minutes.
* By whichever name, Christie’s book has sold a staggering 100,000,000 copies. Her #1 title is the top-selling mystery ever, and one of the best-sellers (ranked #5 in 2021) of all time. Whoever said “crime doesn’t pay” was (insert your own rejoinder).