And Then There Were None (1945)
Release Date: October 31st, 1945 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Rene Clair Actors: Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, Louis Hayward, Roland Young, June Duprez, Mischa Auer, Richard Haydn
ased on Agatha Christie’s novel (originally, offensively titled “Ten Little Niggers” in the U.K.), “And Then There Were None” is a thrilling mystery that follows the old nursery rhyme “Ten Little Indians” as isolated strangers are murdered one by one. The concept of an unidentified murderer doing his dirty work while masquerading as one of the group of potential victims has been reused, readapted, and reworked countless times. The premise has surfaced in remakes of the same name (1965, 1987, 1989), to the obscure “Gumnaam” (1965), to John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982), and even to M. Night Shyamalan’s recent production “Devil” (2010).
Mr. U.N. Owen has invited a straggle of various ladies and gentlemen to a large house on Indian Island for the weekend. Despite the sizableness of the mansion, there are only two regular employees (a maid/cook and a butler) initially present to be joined by men and women of varying stature, social class, importance, and profession. One is a judge (Barry Fitzgerald), another a prince, another a general (C. Aubrey Smith), and one a detective (Roland Young). Owen himself is nowhere to be found, although it’s clear he’s orchestrated a complex plot to wickedly execute guilty parties. Each guest has been accused of committing a crime that led to death, and each has been lured to the house with money, jobs, or corresponding deception.
The gathering is isolated, as the only transportation by boat won’t return until the weekend is over. This leads to paranoia, suspicions, and dread, worsened when Prince Starloff (Mischa Auer) suddenly dies while playing the piano. The maid, Mrs. Rogers (Queenie Leonard), expires in her sleep and is discovered the following morning. Peculiarly, the invitees form opinions about Mr. Owen hiding somewhere on the island to exact revenge, but they don’t immediately panic. They set about trying to locate the elusive man, exploring the grounds outside and the many hallways and rooms in the enormous dwelling. Some spy, some arm themselves, others act inconspicuously or collude, and one even resigns to his fate. The first few bodies could be explained by accident or suicide, but it’s difficult to ignore the murderous knife sticking out of the General’s back.
“Mr. Owen is one of us!” “And Then There Were None” is one of the earliest vigilante-themed movies, shrouded by a clever murder mystery that pits the apprehensive minds of untrusting strangers against each other. It definitely keeps the audience guessing. During a particularly funny scene, the members all place anonymous votes to gauge who they believe the killer is; the butler wins and, though taken aback, refuses to point fingers in return. Uneasy alliances are formed and dissolved and uncertainty remains undiminished. As the film progresses and qualms shift, quite brilliantly the most likely suspect is the very next person to be disposed of, which makes it nearly impossible to predict the outcome. Although this film (as with almost every other adaptation) alters the original conclusion for the sake of surprise, satisfaction, and ease of translatability to the medium, it’s still masterfully constructed and highly entertaining (reading the source material provides new shocks of its own).
– Mike Massie