AND THEN THERE WERE NONE(1945)
(Directed by Rene Clair)
(Written by Dudley Nichols)
(Starring Louis Hayward, June Duprez and Barry Fitzgerald)
Plot: 10 Strangers are invited to a lone mansion on an isolated island for the weekend. When the guests begin to die one by one, they quickly realize there is a killer among them.
“And Then There Were None” is my latest re-review and this was one that I was eager to return to because I am such a big fan of this movie. Yet I was dismayed that my critique didn’t hold up very well. It was written during a phase I had where I seemed to think ‘longer’ meant ‘better’, so I padded out the text with unnecessary name drops and an elaborate plot description. I would’ve hoped that back in 2010, I would’ve refrained from redundant word usage and using fancy terms I may or may not have understood…I’m pretty sure the line- “The characters and relationships are potent“- made sense to me at the time, but…but…shut up! Nevertheless, if you wish to read my original clusterfuggle in its entirety, you can find it at the bottom of the page. But obviously you want to read about my thoughts on the movie in question and not my thoughts on my thoughts on the movie in question, so let’s get to the topic at hand. “And Then There Were None” is everything I want out of a good murder mystery: Surprising twists, memorable characters, witty dialogue and a compelling story. The black comedy and my partiality towards the setting are merely icing on this already delicious cake.
I love how all of the characters stand out, each having distinct back-stories, personalities and moments to shine within the story. Despite being forced to balance screen-time amongst 10 different strangers (some having approaching expiration dates), all of them were fully explored and in some cases they even experienced character development. They all have different reactions to the situation at hand, which speaks volumes about their characterizations. I also thought the actors and actresses wonderfully conveyed distrust, which only continues to grow every time someone gets murdered. Eventually they start breaking down psychologically because of this. Yet the characters retrain a certain amount of sophistication, never ceasing in delivering witty lines, which makes the interactions compelling. You have the Judge (Barry Fitzgerald) and the Doctor (Walter Huston) trying to be the men of reason and their efforts uncover plenty of clues. Yet the viewer suspects them just as they suspect each-other, which generates tension. The Detective (Roland Young) believes the mysterious and handsome Lombard (Louis Hayward) to be the killer and is trying to prove it while Lombard is wooing the lovely Vera (June Duprez), who for some reason wishes to spend time with the aged and half crazed General (C. Aubrey Smith). It’s a complicated web, but all of these subplots are interesting and give the film a much needed depth. The actors are also very charming and it’s easy to forget that these characters are guilty of some serious shit. They might not be good people, but they’re entertaining…
Even though this is a murder mystery, “And Then There Were None” shouldn’t be categorized as a horror or even a thriller, although it shares elements of both. I was never frightened, although there are a still a handful of chilling moments. As this was a 1940’s production, you have to expect lots of old fashioned scare tactics, such as lightning flashing at a dramatic reveal. While some viewers might consider this to be tacky, I personally enjoy that kind of atmosphere. The exaggerated thunder sound effects and the heavy rain provide a rather menacing mood, which is kind of funny as “And There Were None” can technically be described as a black comedy…starring a bunch of white dudes… There is a significant amount of humor, which often comes at the expense of someone dying. While I felt the ending was a bit too light hearted in its delivery, I usually laughed at the jokes. Yet the sense of danger is always present. I loved the directors use of lighting, empowering angles and fourth wall shots, which helped magnify the suspense. But generally the director just lets his actors carry the picture. This can be a downside as even though I thought the cast did remarkably well, I have to once again point out at this is a 1945 film. Back then, the acting tended to be broader and if you aren’t used to this, it might take you out of the action. But as someone who has never read the book or watched any of the other direct adaptations, I was thrown off guard by the big twist and some of the revelations. I failed to solve whodunit, which is impressive considering its time. But second and third viewings are welcome because “And There Were None” becomes much funnier in retrospect, once you do know who the killer is. Many have complained about the ending, but I thought the resolution fit better with the tone. From what I hear, “10 Little Indians” (the book) is much bleaker than “And There Were None“. This is a suspenseful murder mystery/black comedy and the ending- which actually came from the stage play- felt more comfortable here.
Unfortunately, there are some noticeable flaws which keep “And There Were None” from reaching its time capsuled perfection. I don’t mind the obsolete styles of scares or acting, but I do take issue with how stupid the characters can be in order to advance the story. You’d think after a certain point, the characters would figure out that the best way to survive is to not go their separate directions, which is even more glaring as the writers seem to be somewhat aware of this issue. If you don’t want to die, just ensure that everyone remain in the same room all of the time…preferably where the 10 little Indian figurines are. Seriously, why didn’t anyone think to guard those? I can accept that the killer is very intelligent and has clearly been planning this scenario out for quite some time, but he/she also leaves a lot to chance. If a character just didn’t happen to walk outside in the right spot so the killer could drop something on their head, then everything would likely be finished. The killer would’ve been deprived of a corpse or the nursery rhyme tie-in would’ve failed. I’m not sure whether Agatha Christie or Dudley Nichols is at fault (maybe both), but while “And There Were None” had plenty of crafty and inspired writing, it isn’t above making mistakes. These flaws are prevalent within the genre though, so they didn’t effect my enjoyment that much. If I wasn’t pretending to be a critic, I might’ve condensed this into a single sentence or two with a reference about how the characters occasionally become victims to plot induced stupidity. But since I am writing a review, I feel like I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t elaborate.
But I love “And Then There Were None“, even if much of it stems from my adoration for these kinds of movies. I’m a sucker for murder mysteries which take place in a big house on a deserted island. Why? I suppose it’s the blend of isolation and sophistication with paranoia and class- which “And Then There None” delivers in copious amounts. I’ve seen good variations of this formula (“Identity“) and even more bad ones (“Five Dolls for an August Moon“), with some some bizarre twists on the old formula as well (“The Beast Must Die“). Yet none of them had such rich character writing like this one. As evil as these people could be, I didn’t want to see them die…and I had no idea which of them was the antagonist. Their actions and interactions were compelling and provided both suspense and humor, sometimes at the same time. Even its dumb moments fail to convince me that “And There Were None” isn’t intelligent. It’s an exceptional murder mystery that everyone should watch, as long as you can stomach a film produced in 1945. Yikes, they don’t make these kinds of flicks anymore. If there was a remake, it would probably be firmly secured as a horror or thriller feature. I’m perfectly cool with that, but this brand of whodunit died years ago and this was a pleasant trip down nostalgia lane.
Violence: Mostly implied.
Overall: “And Then There Were None” is a must see if you’re into classic murder mysteries.
DISCARDED MATERIAL: The original review.
Before I get into the review, I want to say this: I LOVE “10 Little Indians” knock-offs, even though I haven’t read “10 Little Indians” yet. I am enthralled by movies that take place in a mansion on a deserted island. Why? I suppose it’s the blend of isolation and sophistication with paranoia and class. Yet most of these movies aren’t very good. Sure, I liked the slasher-satire, “April Fools Day”. But most of the others tend to be disappointments. I mean, Mario Bava directed “Five Dolls on an August Moon” which was pretty much the same thing, and that ended up being one of his weakest movies. Plus, it takes a mundane movie like “Howling 5: Rebirth” to somehow ruin it despite having a werewolf twist. Why do most of these movies suck? I don’t know, but “And Then There Were None” is probably the best of them.
Eight strangers are invited to a private island where they will stay the weekend at a lovely mansion. They all have diverse lives and occupations, but get along well enough. Their host is strangely absent and the only other two people there are the servants, who have just been hired. They begin to enjoy the festivities when the male servant, Rogers(Richard Haydn), puts on a record. Instead of playing music, it plays a recording of their so called host, telling them of their dark pasts. Before they can consider it, a guest drops dead. Soon, more guests begin to die and the group slowly begins to turn on each other. The boat won’t return until the end of the weekend, so they are stuck there. Meanwhile, 10 little Indian figures that are positioned on the dining table are being broken every time a guest dies.
“And Then There Were None” isn’t scary, although it does have a few chilling moments(like when the feet of a body is seen in the foreground). It does have lots of suspense, however, and I found myself glued to the screen. I consider myself pretty good at solving mysteries, but as I had not read the book, I had to use all of my brain power to figure it out…….Which I failed at doing so. Actually scratch that, I was sort of correct, but eventually I shifted my suspicions away from them. The mystery is strong because the characters are strong. Everyone was interesting in one way or another. Watching their paranoia and suspicions grow was quite a delight, and this lead to many nail biting moments.
Remember when I said how I liked the blend of isolation and sophistication with paranoia and class? Well, I got that in spades here thanks to the stellar cast, who fit their well-written characters perfectly. I loved everyone and they represented this to the fullest. I love how they try to be logical and retain an air of sophistication despite the fact that their fear of each other is crumbling and they find themselves becoming more illogical as their distrust and fear grows. Every actor accomplished this admirably, and were able to keep their characterizations so strong, that I was even a little surprised when they died. The relationships and characterizations were potent. You have the Judge(Barry Fitzgerald) and the Doctor(Walter Huston) trying to be the men of reason, the Detective(Roland Young) believes the mysterious and handsome Lombard(Louis Hayward) is the killer and is trying to prove it while Lombard is wooing the lovely Vera(June Duprez), who for some reason wishes to spend time with the aged and half crazed, retired General(C. Aubrey Smith). It’s a complicated web, but all of these subplots are interesting and give the film a much needed depth. The actors all get to have at least one great scene. My favorite has to be when Rogers gets drunk. That was some funny shit.
Oooooh yeah. I forgot that this movies strangest antic is that it contains a surprising amount of humor. A lot of it is surprisingly dark, but it brought chuckles from me anyway. My favorite scene has to be when like half of the guests start spying on each other in a hilarious dominos effect, and how they discover that they were spying on each other. These touches of humor do not detract from the suspense, but add much needed breaks and add to the movies charm.
That’s not to say the movie is perfect. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact I’m partial to these types of movies, I may be a lot less enthusiastic. For one, and this is a problem for all of these kinds of movies, everybody is just freaking dumb at times. This whole thing could’ve been avoided if everybody simply stayed in the same room together…preferably with the Native American figurines. In fact, once they realized the importance of those, somebody should’ve been guarding them. There are plenty of wallbanging moments in general. Somebody is killed outside on a rainy night. Wouldn’t it have been logical to search everyones room for wet clothing? Other things probably needed to be explained a lot more. The killer gets to people at times in almost impossible circumstances, and sometimes he’s/she’s downright lucky(hey, a character walked right where they need to be for you to drop a statue on their head).
But while the films flaws keep it from being perfect, they don’t really take away from the overall enjoyment of the movie. “And Then There Were None” was everything I wanted it to be: A memorable, intelligent and stunningly well made murder mystery that should keep you guessing until the very end. After watching plenty of lackluster films in the past few weeks(“Jonah Hex”, “The Breed” and more), it’s nice to get a hold of a great movie for once.