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Ten Little Indians

Ten Little Indians(1966)

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Of the many nailbiters from the works of mystery fiction grand dame Agatha Christie that have been adapted to other media, perhaps the most frequently visited by filmmakers is her 1939 tale Ten Little Indians. Commencing with the release of And Then There Were None (1945), this saga of systematic slaying has been adapted a total of four times for the big screen and twice for television. The first remake, Ten Little Indians (1965), has recently surfaced on DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video, and while not in the top tier amongst Christie-based cinema, it has still retains enough to commend it as a diverting view.

The screen adaptation by Peter Yeldham, and Harry Alan Towers under the pseudonym "Peter Welbeck," eschews Christie's remote island locale for an Alpine chalet, to which an unknown host has tendered weekend invitations to eight unconnected strangers. Amongst the invitees are the American architect Hugh Lombard (Hugh O'Brien); the retired general Sir John Mandrake (Leo Genn); the dipsomaniacal doctor Edward Armstrong (Richard Price); the cagey jurist Arthur Cannon (Wilfrid Hyde-White); the canny PI William Blore (Stanley Holloway); the exotic starlet Ilona Bergen (Daliah Lavi); the temp secretary Ann Clyde (Shirley Eaton); and the smug pop idol Mike Raven (Fabian). Instructed to tend to their needs are the married Austrian domestics Elsa and Joseph Grohmann (Marianne Hoppe, Mario Adorf).

As they settle in, the group becomes increasingly disconcerted regarding the absence of their host, the ever more apparent flimsiness of the pretexts that coaxed their arrivals, and the house's design motifs that evoke the titular children's rhyme. Over dinner, however, they are treated to a recorded message (voiced by an unbilled Christopher Lee) explaining the proprietor's purpose in summoning them. Each of the ten occupants, it seems, has innocent blood on their hands, and each has been free of retribution-until now. It isn't long afterwards that one of the now-horrified houseguests owns up to the accusation and is met with a bizarre end, and one of the "little-indians" figures from the dining-room centerpiece mysteriously destroyed. The air of paranoia ramps up as the group is now certain that the killer is amongst them, and the body count continues apace.

The film offers more suspense than mystery, as precious few clues (beyond the players knocked off the board) that would point out the killer are dropped, and the story is far more driven by the character interplay than by the provision of the puzzle pieces. The narrative does build to a satisfying payoff, however, and is, by and large, ably played by the performers. TV Wyatt Earp O'Brien made an effective alpha male. The script served Eaton somewhat better than fellow period pin-up Lavi, as she gave a game and intelligent performance. The Brit character vets Hyde-White, Genn, Price and Holloway were all as stalwart as can be expected. Fabian? Just accept stunt-casting for what it is and move on.

Ten Little Indians was serviceably helmed by George Pollock, the longtime AD for David Lean and other Brit filmmakers who finally received his opportunity late in life to call the shots himself. The film is the last credit on a relatively brief resume marked by the popular Margaret Rutherford Marple adaptations of the '60s. Malcolm Lockyer's brassy, of-the-moment score is obtrusive and makes the film veer dangerously close to camp for the contemporary viewer.

While the mastering job on the DVD (in the original theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio) is very clear, the quality of the source print is less pristine than you'd come to expect from Warner. There're more than a few mars, and even the occasional tear. The Dolby Mono soundtrack is clean, though.

The most noteworthy extra is the minute-long "Whodunit Break" that was cropped from the film after its initial theatrical run. Inserted at the juncture when the guest list was down to the final two, the action froze as a narrator exhorted the audience to review the evidence as a 60-second countdown clock ticked away. The remainder of the extras package includes the theatrical trailers for the four aforementioned Rutherford vehicles, concurrently released on DVD by Warner as The Agatha Christie Miss Marple Collection.

For more information about Ten Little Indians, visit Warner Video. To order Ten Little Indians, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jay S. Steinberg