Monday 11 September 2023

And Then There Were None - 1974 film review

I enjoy many Golden Age detective novels, but if you press me for it (as happened on one of the panels at San Diego a few days ago), my absolute favourite has to be And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, not only an enduring global bestseller and hugely influential on crime writers to this day (how many homages to this book have been published in the last decade? I've lost count). The story is a superb combination of whodunit and psychological suspense. No surprise, then, that there have been plenty of screen versions.

One that has escaped me until now is the 1974 film directed by Peter Collinson. This movie has an indifferent reputation, but I decided I ought to check it out for myself. Collinson was capable of excellent work - he directed the original version of The Italian Job, a great piece of entertainment - and the cast is impressive. The producer was Harry Alan Towers, whose own reputation has not worn well at all, and he also wrote the script, under the pen-name of Peter Welbeck. He makes several changes to the Christie original, and although some are interesting, overall I don't think they work well.

The setting is weird - an abandoned luxury hotel in the middle of the desert in the Iran. So, effectively it's as cut-off as the island in the original story. There are some visual pleasures to be had from this change of scene, but too much is left unexplained. The climax isn't badly done, but the build-up lacks the necessary tension.

This lack of suspense is partly due to the fact that even the notable actors in the cast seem to be affected by a languor, possibly induced by the indifferent quality of the screenplay. Elke Sommer is beautiful and does her best with her part, but Oliver Reed seems to sleep-walk through his. Even Richard Attenborough and Herbert Lom are below their considerable best. The two ex-Bond villains, Gert Frobe and Adolfo Celi, make little impression, and why Orson Welles did the mysterious recorded message from U.N. Owen remained unclear to me. It's not a complete disaster as a film, but overall a waste of talent and of fantastic source material.     


David Chapman said...

I always believe the real problem with remakes such as this, is that we already know the ending off by heart. I can think of about five versions. For the next remake I suggest as a title 'Done to Death'.

Martin Edwards said...

Very good suggestion!

Mike Doran said...

So why did Orson Welles do "U.N. Owen's" recorded intro in this movie?
For the same reason he did just about everything else in the last couple of decades of his career:
The Paycheck.
Orson Welles was America's Guest: Offer him enough money and he'd do just about anything, so long as the check cleared.

Martin Edwards said...

That explains it, then, Mike!