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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Just Don't Tell How It Ends ...


And Then There Were None (1945) Is Murder As Parlor Frolic

Light soufflé of a murder mystery directed by Rene Clair, recognized early on as a devilishly clever conceit to baffle readers (Agatha Christie wrote it), playgoers (adapted for Broadway), and finally movies, desire to film the yarn being immediate. There had been mysteries, plenty if not an excess of routine ones, but Christie's was a puzzle sure to fascinate viewers who'd not be as patient with Charlie Chan or Boston Blackie's latest case. It was this specialness that lured top names to casting: Walter Huston, Barry Fitzgerald, Judith Anderson ... each to be offed until a last one standing would be revealed as the killer, that the expected pattern but for Christie having thrown her curve to separate And Then There Were None from whodunits that went before. Producing was Harry Popkin, one-time theatre man, who took over the project from Samuel Bronston --- this was a project many hands dipped in, possibly in recognition that a half-competent result would galvanize patronage as the property had in/on print/stage. Then as now, it all came down to story, and hopefully, a stinger that folks would remember and talk about ... a Please Don't Tell Your Friends The Ending sort of buzz.




Code strictures meant that grimmer elements, particularly as regards the final act, would have to be changed, and maybe that disappointed more in 1945, but today the piece plays well, our having forgot, or caring less, about Christie's original intent. Same gymnastics affected Billy Wilder's later go at Christie, Witness For The Prosecution; in that case, the director's own brilliant rewrite of the stage property made Witness a far better screen bet than if Christie had been adapted to the letter. And Then There Were None has a body count higher than norm, there being ten little Indians after all, so director Clair underplays the carnage and sidesteps gore. Enough comedy is sprinkled to offset menace, but not so much as to dilute danger afoot. The Blu-Ray from VCI gets by, elements a mite rough, the pic having been got from Popkin's estate, and who knows what was left to work with? 20th Fox distributed in '45, realizing $1.2 million in domestic rentals and $903K foreign, certainly better money than boilerplate mysteries could be expected to earn, but they had not the pedigree of And Then There Were None.

6 Comments:

Blogger Mike Cline said...

Love this movie.

And the original British title will make you sit up and take notice.

I haven't upgraded to Blu-Ray on this one, but the British title sequence is included as an extra on the first DVD release of some twenty years ago.

7:29 AM  
Blogger Boppa said...

Once you get past the titles, the Image DVD looks quite nice. Some even say it’s superior to the blu-ray, which I haven’t seen. I’d be curious to see your opinion of the tacky-but-enjoyable remake from 1961.

7:30 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Great post! Have not seen this one in years... will have to revisit. By chance, Jean and I finally caught up with the 2017 redo of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS two nights ago. With the famous 1974 version and at least two made for TV remakes still available, we were pondering if any of the presumed audience for such high profile Christie classics (mystery buffs of, shall we say, a certain age) don't already know who done it as soon as they sit down to such warhorses.

I saw the 60's remake TEN LITTLE INDIANS in a theater in first release, and like Boppa, rather liked it! That one can be lumped together with the Margaret Rutherford/Miss Marple movies, also directed by George Pollock and Tashlin's ALPHABET MURDERS... stuff that drove Christie purists (and, it is said, Christie herself) nuts, but continues to entertain in unpretentious fashion.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Donald Benson said...

Again, it's interesting how few of the classic mysteries movies live or die by their puzzles. Even the definitive fair-play challenge AND THEN THERE WERE NONE invites repeat visits just to see a stellar cast at play. If you remember the solution you now can try to catch the movie slipping clues by you.

The '74 MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS was mainly an excuse for a literal carload of star turns, wrapped in period splendor and topped by a flashy Albert Finney. As for the solution, the MAD satire gave it away and it read as one more joke. I was a little shocked to finally catch the movie and see MAD 's answer was the real one.

The silent THE CAT AND THE CANARY delivers chills and laughs that make the solution almost irrelevant. In the Bob Hope remake -- and in other comedian-driven mysteries -- puzzles are not there for the audience to solve; they're there to keep a comedian in motion.

5:42 PM  
Blogger Dr. OTR said...

I just watched this a few days ago, having taped it off TCM some time back. Enjoyed it more than the 60s remake, in part because the cast was more interesting and the atmosphere better done. I'd re-read the Christie novel last year, so was aware that the ending had changed -- but in the Code era, how could it not? It's still loads of fun.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Enjoyed this movie a lot, partly because it didn't look or feel like a studio picture. A high class indie, rare but welcome for the times.

5:16 PM  

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