Thursday 30 May 2013

Who’s in it? Ten Little Indians (1965)

Shirley Eaton and Hugh O'Brien
This is a sixties update on the classic Christie “whodunit” moving the action in place as well as time from a remote Scottish island to a mountain-locked hotel high in the alps. It’s hard to beat Rene Clair’s atmospheric 1946 version but this take has enough stars and style to engage with only the odd moment of period-cringe (take a bow Fabian!).

Directed by George Pollock, the film’s a roll-call of established and rising stars, in an attempt to appeal to as many demographics as possible but, whilst that may suggest artifice there’s an enthusiasm and wit which counter-balances the commerciality.

Who did it?
Every box is still dutifully ticked, American lead, pop-star, Bond sex kitten, music hall vet… grumpy German butler but they’re all well played and good company for an hour or so. The Christie format was already a well-honed one by 1965 and the following half century has meant we can all pretty much write them as they go… all except the endings: that still takes professional guile.

And to act these convoluted and semi-predictable tales still takes some work and it’s no surprise that only the best and most experienced tend to succeed.

High on a hill...
Here we have the great Dennis Price as the dipsomaniacal Doctor Armstrong who may or may not have killed a patient while under the influence. He is joined by the great (OK I’ll stop that…),
Wilfrid Hyde-White as Judge Cannon who may or may not (and that too…) have sent an innocent man to be hanged.

Master craftsmen...
The traditional suspects of jaded military man, General Mandrake (Leo Genn) and old, possibly bent copper William Blore (Stanley Holloway) are balanced against the new breed, glam-dram-queen Ilona Bergen (Daliah Lavi) and pop star Mike Raven (real-life poster Fabian… the only one who really grates… but then he’s probably meant to).

As the actress said to the General...
The guests are completed by the heroic Hugh Lombard (Hugh O’Brian) and the gamine Ann Clyde (Shirley Eaton) – these are the ones we most readily identify with.

Fabian meets the man who had a hit with Albert and the Lion
Arriving by cable car they are greeted by Herr und Frau Grohmann (Mario Adorf and Marianne Hoppe) who it quickly transpires have been hired just for this occasion.

The Happy Couple
None of the guests know each other (although the general alludes to previous knowledge of Miss Bergen long ago in Berlin. They eventually sit down for dinner and are stunned by a recorded message from their host, one UN Owen (an un-credited voice-role from Christopher Lee).

He accuses all of them of murder or deliberately causing the death of innocents… if you’ve not been here before, an effective scene that sets up the drama from now on. Each guest has the poem of Ten Little Indians in their room and on the table is a model of ten Indians… it’s soon as clear to the guests as it is to the audience that Mr Owen is intent on a live re-enactment of the poem as first Mike Raven sings himself to death…sorry, drinks poison and then the general gets knifed in the basement…

And then there were...
There’s no escape not by cable car nor by climb – the mountain is too steep for that – and the guests have no option but to try and stay alive and hope for help.

I won’t spoil the story – if you don’t already know it it’s still a compelling yarn with twists and turns to confound even the most jaded of modern observers.

Pollock directs well if a little flatly… and there’s not quite the atmospheric tension of Clair’s version. The old stagers deliver as you’d expect, especially Dennis Price who does moral compromise so well. Hyde-White is Hyde-White and Holloway is Holloway and that what they got paid for.

Did someone turn the Eaton... (sorry)
Daliah Lavi does well as the Hollywood actress brought back to confront her past but the real sexual selling point is Shirley Eaton who Pollock doesn’t forget to highlight at every possible occasion in a variety of stylish costumes (or, indeed, without…) – Ann must have brought a very big suitcase.

American second-streamer, O’Brien is similarly highlighted and makes for a believable hero.

"Professor Plum?"
On the DVD there’s a precious extra – "The Whodunit Break" - an “insert” for the film, to be played at a crucial point in order to allow the audience to discuss who they think “done it”. An interesting idea which would need little encouragement for some of today’s chattering cinematic classes… Maybe we’ve lost some of the art of patience and the ability to give the benefit of the doubt to film makers who try to engage with just a black and white mystery.

Hanging around etc...
Dusty verdict: worth keeping to show your children how easily we were once amused. And if you like Shirley Eaton… who is still every inch a superstar. This has long been hard to find in the UK but there's a new-ish DVD available here.

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