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The working title of this film was Ten Little Indians. Agatha Christie's novel, which was published in the United States as And Then There Were None, was also serialized in Saturday Evening Post (20 May-1 July 1939). Christie's play, Ten Little Niggers, was based on the book and opened in London on November 17, 1943. Retitled Ten Little Indians for the United States, the play opened in New York City on June 27, 1944. The play marked the first time that Christie adapted one of her books for the stage.
The following information about the production comes from the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library and contemporary news items: In 1941, RKO became the first studio to obtain the rights to Christie's novel. RKO later assigned its rights to Select Operating Corp., which apparently consisted of theatrical producers J. J. and Lee Shubert and director Albert P. DeCourville, who staged Christie's play in New York. In July 1944, independent film producer Samuel Bronston entered into an agreement with the Shuberts and DeCourville to purchase the rights to the novel and the play. Christie retained the rights to the title Ten Little Indians, however, and to the changes in the original story that she made for the play version. Bronston began pre-production plans, including hiring director Ren Clair (whose onscreen credit reads Rene) and writer Dudley Nichols, assembling the cast and entering into agreements with Samuel Goldwyn to provide studio space and with United Artists to distribute the completed film.
According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Bronston encountered problems obtaining funding when Christie threatened to file suit over the use of the title Ten Little Indians. In December 1945, the Shuberts and DeCourville withdrew the rights from Bronston and instead made a final sale to Popular Pictures, Inc., which was headed by Harry Popkin and Edward J. Peskay and received its production funds from a loan from Bank of America. The new company then purchased Nichols' completed screenplay and signed its own contract with Clair to direct. United Artists, which had agreed to distribute the picture as a Bronston production, decided not to sign a similar deal with Popkin and Peskay, and in January 1945, Twentieth Century-Fox agreed to distribute the picture. Popkin, a New York movie theater owner, and Peskay, a legal representative, made their producing debuts with And Then There Were None.
In April 1947, Bronston filed suit against Peskay, whom he had hired in 1944 to help conduct negotiations for the rights to Christie's novel and play. Bronston alleged that while he was ill, Peskay took advantage of his absence during pre-production preparations to obtain the rights for himself. The disposition of Bronston's suit has not been determined.
According to a August 2, 1944 Hollywood Reporter news item, Bronston was interested in using "some or all" of the original New York stage cast for the film. In mid-August 1944, ZaSu Pitts was signed for the film, and other actresses considered for roles included Andrea Leeds and Sheila Stuart, according to Hollywood Reporter. In late November 1944, Hollywood Reporter announced that John Ireland had been cast in the picture. Barry Fitzgerald was borrowed from Paramount for the production, which was the final Hollywood studio film made by director Clair. Several Hollywood Reporter news items noted that Clair was interested in changing the ending of the book and play "in order to maintain suspense" for audience members familiar with those versions. In Christie's book, all ten of the characters are guilty of the crimes of which they are accused, and "Vera" shoots "Philip" in the end, after which she hangs herself, and the judge, called Justice Wargrave, commits suicide in a manner that suggests murder. In the play, "Vera" and "Philip" are innocent of their crimes, but Vera believes that Philip is the killer and shoots at him. She misses, however, and Philip shoots Wargrave before he can hang Vera.
According to modern sources, Christie changed the novel's ending to make it more suitable to the stage, but still remained faithful to an alternate ending of the "Ten Little Indians" rhyme, which states: "One little Indian livin' all alone/He got married and then there were none." Although an November 8, 1944 Hollywood Reporter item stated that Clair was forbidden by the PCA to keep the two sweethearts alive at the end of the film, because they were also killers (as they are in the book), there is no mention of that prohibition in the PCA file on the film. The PCA did instruct, however, that "Judge Quincannon" could not commit suicide at the end in order to evade justice for his crimes. His suicide was approved only when it was made clear that he was doing so in order to incriminate Vera. The file also notes that the picture was rejected for distribution in British Columbia, although no reason was given other than that the film was "not suitable."
In 1965 Tenlit Films produced another film version of Christie's novel and play, entitled Ten Little Indians. The 1965 version was directed by George Pollock and starred Hugh O'Brian and Shirley Eaton. In 1975, EMI/Filibuster produced Ten Little Indians, which was released in the United States as And Then There Were None. Peter Collinson was the director of the 1975 version, which starred Oliver Reed, Elke Sommer and Richard Attenborough.