Cast & Crew
Eight strangers are invited to spend the weekend at an Austrian castle in the Alps. At the chateau, accessible only by cable car, they are received by the Grohmanns, a servant couple who have never seen their employer. As the holiday commences the guests assemble to hear the host's recorded welcome. Among them are singer Mike Raven, Judge Cannon, private investigator William Blore, actress Ilona Bergen, alcoholic Dr. Armstrong, retired General Mandrake, secretary Ann Clyde, and the American Hugh Lombard. In his message their host discloses that each is a murderer and will be executed over the weekend. Guests and servants are slain in rapid succession, until only Ann and Lombard remain. Although they have fallen in love, the secretary shoots the American. Returning to the castle, she finds the presumably slain jurist awaiting her. Certain of Lombard's death, Cannon proclaims himself the host. Reminding Ann that she will undoubtedly be convicted of the murders, the magistrate reveals that he has poisoned himself and will be dead upon arrival of the authorities. As the judge speaks, the American enters the room. While awaiting the police, the lovers describe their mutual defense pact and verify their common innocence.
Harry M. Popkin
Seven Arts Productions
Oliver A. Unger
Ten Little Indians (1965)
The makers of Ten Little Indians (1965, aka Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians) intentionally crafted an unconventional adaptation, emphasizing the jet-set aspect of the cast of characters. They strived to capitalize on a mini-genre popular in the early 1960s and the film comes off as something like The V.I.P.s (1963)-as-a-Murder-Mystery. The setting is changed from the remote island of the novel to an isolated Alpine chalet. Ten Little Indians certainly doesn't open like a murder mystery. Crisp black-and-white photography (by Ernest Steward, B.S.C.) shows a group of horse-drawn sleigh riders amongst picturesque mountaintop winter scenery. The soundtrack features an up-tempo, brassy score (by Malcolm Lockyer), something more appropriate to a pop music ski movie from the same period, like Ski Party (1965). The main players are introduced in close-ups with individual credits as they ride together up a snowy hillside in a cable car. They are American Hugh Lombard (Hugh O'Brian), secretary Ann Clyde (Shirley Eaton), retired General Sir John Mandrake (Leo Genn), Dr. Edward Armstrong (Dennis Price), Judge Arthur Cannon (Wilfrid Hyde-White), detective William Blore (Stanley Holloway), actress Ilona Bergen (Daliah Lavi), and pop music singer Mike Raven (Fabian).
These eight people, all strangers to each other, arrive at the Alpine retreat at the top of a mountain and are met by the married domestics hired to attend to meals, Elsa and Joseph Grohmann (Marianne Hoppe and Mario Adorf). These are the "ten little Indians" who are brought together by a mysterious host. At the first dinner that night, the host's voice (an uncredited Christopher Lee) is heard by all on a tape recorder. He explains that each in the group have innocent blood on their hands; they have committed crimes that they have not paid for... but will over the course of the weekend. As if on cue, one of the houseguests then jokes about the gathering and promptly drops dead from poison. The others realize that they are also marked for death and that the killer may be one of their own. What follows is suspense and suspicion along with more inevitable fatalities, including death by crashing cable car, knife to the gut, severed mountain-climbing rope, falling statue to the head, and other colorful methods of murderous mayhem.
While any sense of the Gothic or the Old Dark House tradition may have been thrown out in the early going, the plot demands that there is much spying through keyholes, skulking up and down staircases in the night, flipping on light switches to reveal new plot points or twists - but it is all to the accompaniment of Lockyer's incongruous Bachelor Pad Lounge score. At one point Hugh O'Brian puts his TV training from The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (1955-1961) to work in an extended fistfight scene with Mario Adorf. It is a rousing but inelegant sequence, not in keeping with the Agatha Christie tradition.
Also not in the Christie tradition: in the original theatrical release, the producers borrowed a trick from the William Castle playbook and included a cinema-only gimmick. As explained on the original movie poster for the film, it was called "The Whodunit Break! A First in Motion Pictures! Just before the gripping climax of the film, you will be given sixty seconds to guess the killer's identity! The film will pause and on the screen you will see clues to help you decide who the murderer is... WE DARE YOU TO GUESS!"
Reviews at the time of release were mixed. A writer in Variety called the film "a good suspenser," saying it "...works quite a bit of suspense into the restricted action, successfully hiding [the] identity of the tenth Indian without resorting to too many 'red herrings.' One major switch, an unfortunate one, has the first victim, originally an eccentric prince, changed to an America rock 'n' roll singer (Fabian, in an embarrassingly bad performance)." In the New York Times, Bosley Crowther writes that the film doesn't come "within a country mile" of the 1945 version, but that it is nevertheless "...gripping entertainment for youthful (and unfamiliar) mystery fans." Crowther notes the "Whodunit Break" and calls it "...a hokey gimmick, but it seems to work. People all around me were muttering guesses yesterday morning. Only two or three were correct."
The critic in Time magazine called Ten Little Indians "...an anemic copy of the 1945 film And Then There Were None," and goes on to write, "Properly done, this old-fashioned brand of carnage can hardly miss. The remakers of Indians fail in every impossible way. By shifting the scene from a godforsaken island to an alpine retreat, they are able to engineer a couple of spectacular deaths among the crags, but the mood of boxed-in menace is effectively destroyed." This critic was not very impressed by the actors either, writing, "Mod sex appeal is dragged in by Shirley Eaton, fisticuffs by Hugh O'Brian. And, unlikely as it seems, there is Teen Idol Fabian, quaffing a lethal dose of poison immediately after singing a song. Fabian is the first of Indians' victims, and the luckiest. For him, the end comes quickly." Eaton does not deserve the brush-off given her appearance here; in spite of the fact that she was surrounded by a troupe of classic British supporting players and scene-stealers, she turns in perhaps the best performance of the film.
Christie's story has been adapted many other times for television and the movies, including no less than two other versions from prolific producer Harry Alan Towers. Ten Little Indians (1974), directed by Peter Collinson, was set in the middle of the Iranian desert and features Charles Aznavour, Herbert Lom, Elke Sommer and Oliver Reed. Fifteen years later Towers produced Ten Little Indians (1989), directed by Alan Birkinshaw. This time the unlucky strangers (played by such actors as Donald Pleasence, Frank Stallone, Brenda Vaccaro and Herbert Lom - again) find themselves being bumped off one by one while on an African safari!
Producer: Harry Alan Towers
Director: George Pollock
Screenplay: Peter Yeldham, Peter Welbeck (both screenplay); Agatha Christie (novel)
Cinematography: Ernest Steward
Art Direction: Frank White
Music: Malcolm Lockyer
Film Editing: Peter Boita
Cast: Hugh O'Brian (Hugh Lombard), Shirley Eaton (Ann Clyde), Fabian (Mike Raven), Leo Genn (General Mandrake), Stanley Holloway (William Blore), Wilfrid Hyde White (Judge Cannon), Daliah Lavi (Ilona Bergen), Dennis Price (Dr. Armstrong), Marianne Hoppe (Frau Grohmann), Mario Adorf (Herr Grohmann)
by John M. Miller
Ten Little Indians (1965)
Ten Little Indians - Agatha Christie's TEN LITTLE INDIANS - The 1965 Version on DVD
The screen adaptation by Peter Yeldham, and Harry Alan Towers under the pseudonym "Peter Welbeck," eschews Christie's remote island locale for an Alpine chalet, to which an unknown host has tendered weekend invitations to eight unconnected strangers. Amongst the invitees are the American architect Hugh Lombard (Hugh O'Brien); the retired general Sir John Mandrake (Leo Genn); the dipsomaniacal doctor Edward Armstrong (Richard Price); the cagey jurist Arthur Cannon (Wilfrid Hyde-White); the canny PI William Blore (Stanley Holloway); the exotic starlet Ilona Bergen (Daliah Lavi); the temp secretary Ann Clyde (Shirley Eaton); and the smug pop idol Mike Raven (Fabian). Instructed to tend to their needs are the married Austrian domestics Elsa and Joseph Grohmann (Marianne Hoppe, Mario Adorf).
As they settle in, the group becomes increasingly disconcerted regarding the absence of their host, the ever more apparent flimsiness of the pretexts that coaxed their arrivals, and the house's design motifs that evoke the titular children's rhyme. Over dinner, however, they are treated to a recorded message (voiced by an unbilled Christopher Lee) explaining the proprietor's purpose in summoning them. Each of the ten occupants, it seems, has innocent blood on their hands, and each has been free of retribution-until now. It isn't long afterwards that one of the now-horrified houseguests owns up to the accusation and is met with a bizarre end, and one of the "little-indians" figures from the dining-room centerpiece mysteriously destroyed. The air of paranoia ramps up as the group is now certain that the killer is amongst them, and the body count continues apace.
The film offers more suspense than mystery, as precious few clues (beyond the players knocked off the board) that would point out the killer are dropped, and the story is far more driven by the character interplay than by the provision of the puzzle pieces. The narrative does build to a satisfying payoff, however, and is, by and large, ably played by the performers. TV Wyatt Earp O'Brien made an effective alpha male. The script served Eaton somewhat better than fellow period pin-up Lavi, as she gave a game and intelligent performance. The Brit character vets Hyde-White, Genn, Price and Holloway were all as stalwart as can be expected. Fabian? Just accept stunt-casting for what it is and move on.
Ten Little Indians was serviceably helmed by George Pollock, the longtime AD for David Lean and other Brit filmmakers who finally received his opportunity late in life to call the shots himself. The film is the last credit on a relatively brief resume marked by the popular Margaret Rutherford Marple adaptations of the '60s. Malcolm Lockyer's brassy, of-the-moment score is obtrusive and makes the film veer dangerously close to camp for the contemporary viewer.
While the mastering job on the DVD (in the original theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio) is very clear, the quality of the source print is less pristine than you'd come to expect from Warner. There're more than a few mars, and even the occasional tear. The Dolby Mono soundtrack is clean, though.
The most noteworthy extra is the minute-long "Whodunit Break" that was cropped from the film after its initial theatrical run. Inserted at the juncture when the guest list was down to the final two, the action froze as a narrator exhorted the audience to review the evidence as a 60-second countdown clock ticked away. The remainder of the extras package includes the theatrical trailers for the four aforementioned Rutherford vehicles, concurrently released on DVD by Warner as The Agatha Christie Miss Marple Collection.
For more information about Ten Little Indians, visit Warner Video. To order Ten Little Indians, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jay S. Steinberg
Ten Little Indians - Agatha Christie's TEN LITTLE INDIANS - The 1965 Version on DVD
The mysterious voice that accuses the invited guests of their specific crimes is an uncredited 'Christopher Lee' .
Filmed in Ireland. Released in Great Britain in 1966. British sources list Towers as producer, and U. S. sources credit Unger. Christie's novel also inspired the 1945 U. S. film And Then There Were None. Peter Welbeck is a pseudonym for Harry Alan Towers. One source indicates that the screenplay is based on an adaptation by Welbeck of Dudley Nichols' script for the earlier film.