Saturday, September 12, 2009

Christie adapation that's a true classic

And Then There Were None (1945)
Starring: Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, Roland Young, Louis Hayward and June Deprez
Director: Rene Clair
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

Ten strangers are invited to a manor house on an uninhabited island. They quickly learn that each of them have a dark secret in their past... and soon after that, an unseen killer delivers the ultimate punishment for their crimes, killing them one by one.

"And Then There Were None" is perhaps the best adaptation so far of this often-adapted Agatha Christie tale. Like most of them, it's not based on the novel, but rather on the play that Christie herself wrote from the novel. The play has a breezier pace, a less downbeat ending, and simply lends itself better to being filmed (which shouldn't be a surprise to anyone).

This version of "And Then There Were None" is full of expertly shot scenes, and there isn't a scrap of padding to be found. From the moment the ten guests arrive at the house and meet the two live-in servants, it's apparent something's amiss, and as the dead bodies start piling up and the survivors recognize the killer is hiding among them, the director uses lighting, camera angles, and expert editing and pacing to drive the tension even higher as he underscores the building mutual suspicion among those who remain. (The fact that the story is driven by a children's song about ten Indians that one by one come to a terrible end until there are none of them left also keeps the story moving--the audience knows it's only a matter of time before the killer strikes again.)

The only flaw I see with this film is one that I've always had with this story. I simply don't buy the method by which the killer hid, nor do I buy that no one thought to check on the cover that was being used. (I'm being vague here, because I don't want to spoil the film for those who may be unfamiliar with it.) That said, one of my favorite moments comes when a character who SHOULD have figured out what was going on finally does... only to die after a rather suspenseful build-up. Another cool moment is when the characters follow an unraveled ball of yarn and a playful kitten to find another dead body.

"And Then There Was None" is a true classic, based on one of the great "whodunnits" (even if some aspects of the mystery don't sit well with me, I can't deny it's a great work), and I think it's a film and a story that modern writers who think they're coming up with clever twists would do well to study. Here's a film and a story that actually IS clever and features well-executed and grounded twists.

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