Monday, June 25, 2012
And Then There Were None - 1945
“And Then There Were None” (1945) is an almost perfect blend of solid direction, crisp black and white photography, and somewhat cheeky ensemble acting -- by mostly veteran character actors. It’s also a great example of how well Dame Agatha Christie’s novels translate to the screen.
It’s one of those movies where the atmosphere created is so much a part of the storytelling. We have the remote mansion on the isolated island, the constant bashing of the waves on the rocks, and curtains of sea spray flying before our eyes, and the sound of the wind behind the dialogue.
“My Man Godfrey” -- where he plays another professional houseguest, bangs a few strains of “Dark Eyes” or Ochi Chornya on the piano).
On their first night together, they all dress for dinner (of course), where upon retiring to the parlor for bridge and cocktails, a spoken record on the gramophone accuses of them of various crimes. One has killed his wife’s lover. One has killed pedestrians by reckless driving, events from their past nobody knows but themselves. They are barraged with examples of the old nursery rhyme “Ten Little Indians”, which begins:
Ten little Indian boys going out to dine,
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Now there are nine.
And so this continues through the rest of the poem, one by one as a guest suffers a fatality based on a verse. Each time someone dies, another Indian figurine goes missing.
At one point later on, Huston describes his doctor’s work as mostly handholding to nervous patients and Fitzgerald teases him, “Don’t you believe in medicine, Doctor?” To which Huston replies, “Do you believe in justice, Judge?”
This becomes the paramount question. What is justice? Can we ever escape it? Who has the right to mete it out?
They grow suspicious of one another, and afraid to be alone with only one other person in a room. A scene as funny as it is tense occurs when Huston and Fitzgerald, companionably enjoying a game of pool, suddenly find themselves alone in the room and panic, wielding their pool cues like defensive weapons.
Director René Clair sets up some inventive shots, such as when one guest spies on another through a keyhole. The camera pans back, and we see that guest in turn being spied on through another keyhole.
I’d like to know where the location shooting was done, it’s spectacular.
Richard Haydn is comically pitiful as the beleaguered butler, who after his wife has been murdered, must still keep up with his duties, apologizing for serving cold meat for supper. When he is suspected of being the murderer, he drinks a little too much in resentment and sloppily serves or fails to serve from a silver platter. When he is told to open a door he has locked to accept a key, he replies testily, “Shove it!…under the door, Sir.”
Addendum: Thanks to Casey at Noir Girl for asking where to see this movie. I should have added this: it's currently on YouTube in it's entirety here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOXQX6OEd8M.