And Then There Were None
Cast & Crew
On a stormy Friday afternoon, Judge Francis J. Quincannon, Dr. Edward G. Armstrong, Philip Lombard, Vera Claythorne, General Sir John Mandrake, Emily Brent, William H. Blore and Prince Nikita Starloff are taken on a fishing boat to Indian Island, off the coast of Devon, England, for a weekend visit with the mysterious U. N. Owen. The eight passengers, who are all strangers, are greeted by butler Thomas Rogers and his wife Ethel, the cook, who reveal that they have not met their new employer. While eating in the dining room, the guests become intrigued by the centerpiece, which consists of ten figurines of Indian boys. Vera begins to recite the nursery rhyme about ten little Indian boys who are killed, and Starloff continues the rhyme in the parlor. Rogers then puts a record on the phonograph, as he was instructed to do, and the guests are astonished to hear Owen accuse them of various crimes that led to the deaths of others. The guests are shocked by the accusations, although Starloff casually admits to knocking down two pedestrians while driving. After realizing that "U. N. Owen" means "unknown," the group decides to leave the island, but Rogers informs them that the next boat will not arrive until Monday morning. The drunken Starloff collapses, and Dr. Armstrong deduces that he has been killed with poison. Rogers then shows Quincannon that one of the Indian statues has been broken, and the upset guests retire. In the morning, Ethel fails to awaken, and Armstrong realizes that she has died from a sedative overdose. With only eight people and statues remaining, the group determines to find Owen, whom they believe is hiding. After a fruitless day of searching, six of the remaining guests assemble for dinner, while Lombard looks for the missing Mandrake, who years before had caused the death of his unfaithful wife's lover. After Lombard finds Mandrake's corpse, with a knife in its back, Rogers informs the group that another statue is missing. The guests vote on who they think is guilty, and when Rogers receives two votes, the drunken, affronted butler, who confirms that he and his wife "helped" to end the suffering of their former employer, is locked in the woodshed. In the morning, the men find Rogers, who has been killed with an axe, and suspicion falls on Emily, who was walking on the beach. Emily denies their accusations, although she informs them that her nephew was killed after she sent him to a reformatory. Emily is soon found murdered with a hypodermic stolen from the doctor's bag, and the five remaining guests contemplate the five remaining statues. When the generator fails, Quincannon and Armstrong, who are alone together, decide that the incident clears them of suspicion. During dinner, the alcoholic Armstrong confesses to operating while drunk and Quincannon admits that he sentenced an innocent man to death in order to ruin the defending attorney's reputation. Blore reveals that his testimony sent an innocent man to jail, where he was killed, and Lombard carefully states that an explorer named Lombard was responsible for the death of many natives. Vera refuses to admit that she has committed a crime and rushes to her room. When she screams, Blore, Armstrong and Lombard race upstairs, only to discover that she was frightened by a piece of hanging seaweed. Upon their return to the dining room, the foursome discover that Quincannon has been shot in the head. Vera again refuses to discuss her "crime," but later that night, admits to Lombard that she took the blame when her sister killed her fiancé. Upon hearing footsteps in the hall, Lombard, Vera and Blore search the house for the missing doctor, and just as Blore sees something through his binoculars, he is crushed to death by bricks falling from the roof. When the couple then finds Armstrong's body on the beach, Lombard tells Vera that he is really Charles Morley, a friend of Lombard who came to the island to investigate after Lombard received a threatening note from Owen and committed suicide. Vera decides to trust Charles and accedes to his wish that she shoot his pistol in his direction, while he collapses. She then goes to the house, where a noose is hanging in the front hall. Quincannon greets her and reveals that he tricked Armstrong into helping him pretend to be dead, and that he committed the crimes in a search for "perfect human justice." Quincannon then states that he is dying from a serious illness, and, before swallowing a vial of poison, tells Vera to hang herself now, as she will surely be found guilty of killing him and the others. Just before Quincannon succumbs, Charles walks in, and the bitter judge observes that one should never trust a woman. Although the couple are still unsure about why they trusted each other, they happily embrace and dash toward the boat when the fisherman arrives to take them home.
Sir C. Aubrey Smith
Joseph H. Nadel
Harry M. Popkin
Leo C. Popkin
And Then There Were None - And Then There Were None
The setting is classic. Ten guests are invited to a baronial fortress of a house on an island off the coast of Devon. As a motorized skiff bears them closer to their destination, we learn that none of the ten - eight invited guests and two servants - know each other, save for the married butler and maid. When they get there, their host is nowhere to be seen. He has left a phonograph record keyed to a song based on the nursery rhyme, Ten Little Indians (the book originally was published as Ten Little Niggers). The centerpiece on the dining room table is a ring on which ten ceramic Indians stand in a circle. Hardly has the first guest (Mischa Auer's self-styled Russian prince and sponger) sipped a cocktail and played a verse and chorus of Ten Little Indians on the piano, than he keels over, dead. And one of the ceramic Indians has been smashed.
Rough seas and no means of transport mean they're stuck there until the ferry returns several days later. Then the fun begins in earnest. One by one, the guests are picked off by an unseen hand, as power outages occur, flickering candles are blown out and we realize that the oppressive old house itself is one of the characters. Many of its pieces of décor could serve as blunt instruments, and in fact one unlucky soul is dispatched when an ugly ornamental pyramid of bricks is dropped on his head from a second story window. The murder weapon of choice, however, is poison. (Christie served as a hospital volunteer during both World Wars and acquired an impressive knowledge of fatal elixirs.) Not that knives, guns and hatchets are neglected. Before long, the suspicion that their host, unseen, is the murderer shifts to the idea that one of them is the killer. Up shoots the anxiety. More ceramic Indians get shattered.
By whom, though? When Richard Haydn's butler comes under suspicion, he retaliates in cutting fashion, refusing to serve meals and letting the dwindling band of survivors shift for themselves. You'd hate to see C. Aubrey Smith's retired general bumped off too soon, if only because you want to gawp at his magnificently craggy face and film's most spectacular eyebrows as long as possible. Judith Anderson's cold-hearted dragon, on the other hand, is a character you want to see knocked off as soon as possible. And certainly it couldn't be either Louis Hayward or June Duprez, could it? They're obviously filling the love interest slot. Could it be Barry Fitzgerald, of the broguish charm, as a retired and loquacious judge? My favorite is Walter Huston, who alone among the other chess pieces in this game, brings a devilish gleam to the eye of his alcoholic surgeon. When we learn that each has a dark secret, he's the one whose guilty past surprises us least.
Christie was an ingenious plotter and puzzle-maker and Clair knows just where to go with her. He teases us to the end, when we think we finally see the killer at a billiards table, only to have the camera focus on a fringed lamp concealing his face. Before he wrote Dracula, Bram Stoker, while still a lowly drama critic, panned a failed thriller, astutely noting that suspense comes not from what happens, but from what is about to happen. Christie didn't need to be told this. They get all the mileage possible out of shadows, a hand reaching into a frame to grab a bedroom key, to say nothing of thunder and a bleak, rocky beach. The black and white photography feeds the ominous mood robustly, and the film also gains from being so clearly of its period. If you doubt it, check the 1974 color version, much vitiated. And Then There Were None was hardly the first old dark house thriller. But it represents the apex of this sub-genre. Watch it, and Colonel Mustard in the Library with the Candlestick will never be the same.
By Jay Carr
And Then There Were None - And Then There Were None
And Then There Were None on Blu-ray
With so many iterations through the years, the story of ten people isolated on an island, with each murdered in a way that matches the lyrics of an old nursery rhyme, has also been presented with different endings and solutions -- not to mention various titles. Agatha Christie's tale was originally published as an English novel in 1939 under the title Ten Little Niggers (after the British version of the nursery rhyme). For the American publication in 1940 (following a Saturday Evening Post serialization in 1939), this was changed to And Then There Were None. In 1943, Christie adapted her yarn into a West End play and changed the ending to be slightly more upbeat. On Broadway, this was staged in 1944 under the title Ten Little Indians (the American title of the nursery jingle).
Hollywood came calling early. In 1941, RKO acquired the screen rights, eventually selling them to two theatrical producers, who in turn entered into a partnership with young independent producer Samuel Bronston (who later produced epics like King of Kings  and El Cid ). Bronston hired director Rene Clair and screenwriter Dudley Nichols, and arranged distribution through United Artists, but after a legal falling-out with his partners, he was off the project and replaced by another producer, Harry Popkin. Popkin retained Nichols' script and Clair as director, but arranged new distribution through 20th Century-Fox. A topnotch, multi-star cast was assembled -- including Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, Louie Hayward, Judith Anderson, June Duprez, Roland Young and C. Aubrey Smith -- and filming got underway. The result was a truly entertaining, lightly macabre, beautifully written and directed mystery, and it has held up well. The most impressive thing about And Then There Were None is how cinematic it feels. While it's true that the screen credits say the script is based on Christie's novel, the ending comes from her stage version, and the entire concept of ten people trapped in one space trying to puzzle through a mystery primarily via dialogue is at heart a theatrical conceit. Yet Nichols' script finds fluid ways of moving the action fairly constantly to different locations around the house or on the island, and director Clair uses ingenious methods of breaking up the space cinematically in scenes that do linger in one specific space. For example, if several people are gathered in a room or hallway for several minutes, talking, Clair will use deft editing to create tension or humor and make the scene feel anything but stagy. This is very tricky business, as Clair is not cutting on action so much as using editing to create action, and turning theatrical space into cinematic space. Even though the film is not technically adapted from a play, it is still a model of how to make such an adaptation and should be studied by any filmmaker doing so today.
And throughout, Clair brings his trademark lightness of touch to a story that is, on paper, rather gruesome. He's even unafraid to use direct address, a theatrical convention if there ever was one. But for the two or three scenes in which he does use it, it comes off as a wink to the audience, as if to remind us that this really is a theatrical-like experience and not to take it all too seriously and just enjoy ourselves. (It's also a reminder that we are being asked to try and solve this mystery ourselves.) It's a quality that meshes well with the overall tone of the picture.
In the years after its release, And Then There Were None fell into the public domain, and it has been released onto DVD by various distributors. It hasn't looked pristine in a very long time, and this new release, on DVD and Blu-ray from VCI Entertainment, is no exception. This is sad news, since VCI is touting this on its artwork as "Newly Restored!" It may be newly restored, but it certainly hasn't been restored to anything resembling immaculate condition. There is graininess, unsteadiness, and most of all a general softness to the image, which looks like it may have been sourced from a 16mm print. While not a terrible transfer, the hope created by the "newly restored" verbiage on the box cover makes this a disappointing one. VCI is generally a reliable company that puts out good versions of hard-to-see classics and public domain titles, so this is an anomaly for them. But all that being said, this version is still watchable, with decent sound, and the strength of the movie itself eventually outweighs the less-than-perfect print quality, so this release is still recommended.
By Jeremy Arnold
And Then There Were None on Blu-ray
I'm afraid it's no use. The boat won't come until Monday.- Vera Claythorne
No boat will ever come. We're here forever.- General Sir John Mandrake
If I had a butler like Rogers, I'd soon get rid of him.- Emily Brent
Very stupid to kill the only servant in the house. Now we don't even know where to find the marmalade.- Emily Brent
Mr. Owen could only come to the island in one way. It's perfectly clear. Mr. Owen is one of us.- Judge Francis J. Quinncannon
Never in my life have I been accused of any crime, sir- and if that's what you think of me, I shan't serve any dinner.- Thomas Rogers
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 René 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.