Eight people get invitations from a stranger to take a holiday at a mysterious island mansion, but once they get there, they start dying, one by one. Is the mysterious host killing them off? Is one of the guests actually the host? Will any of them survive the trip?
And Then There Were None is based on Agatha Christie’s novel (and later stage play) Ten Little Indians. In the film, there are ten ceramic Indian figures on the dining room table, and as each guest (and two servants hired for the occasion) is killed, one of the figures is shattered by the unseen host. There’s also the sheet music to the song on the piano, which is played and sung by one of the guests (Mischa Auer, who was absolutely hysterical as Carlo in My Man Godfrey in 1936). In case you’re not familiar with the tune (and it’s NOT the “One little, two little, three little Indians” song), it starts with ten Indian boys, and each verse tells how one of them dies, counting down until there are no Indian boys left alive. The murders at the house follow the same basic pattern as the song; the first Indian boy in the song chokes to death, and the first victim of the unknown killer drinks poison and dies. And so it goes, the murders echoing the way the Indian boys died, in the order in which they appeared in the song.
And Then There Were None has been officially remade at least three times, and it’s been unofficially remade about a gajillion times. I bet that you could probably name two or three films off the top of your head that feature story elements that show up here. A mysterious host invites several people to spend the weekend at his house? William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill. A murderous madman keeps wax heads of the nine people he’s targeting, and after he’s killed them, he melts each wax head with a blowtorch? The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Equally as relevant as those two examples, And Then There Were None is also probably the first example of the so-called “body count” movie, in which a mysterious someone spends the majority of a film’s running time killing off the rest of the cast. Even though Mario Bava’s charmingly-titled Twitch of the Death Nerve (a.k.a. A Bay of Blood) usually gets the credit for setting the body-count film’s template, it’s pretty obvious that it was modeled on And Then There Were None, just as Friday the 13th and its sequels were modeled on it.
As is often the case with big-studio movies made in the ‘40s, the cast is uniformly great. In addition to the aforementioned Mischa Auer, the film stars Barry Fitzgerald (Going My Way), Louis Heyward (The Son of Dr. Jekyll, Terror in the Wax Museum), Roland Young (the Topper films), Dame Judith Anderson (unforgettable as Mrs. Danvers in Hitchcock’s Rebecca), June Duprez (hubba!), and several more great character actors. My favorite actor in the film is Walter Huston, who was so incredibly perfect in The Devil and Daniel Webster that I vowed to watch all of his films. He certainly didn’t disappoint me this time, either.
And Then There Were None is unbeatable entertainment that I can’t imagine anybody who is willing to give it a fair shake disliking. This is another film to put near the top of your “really need to get around to seeing” list.
Looking for the trailer? Well, look no further than below:
Here’s the full movie, since you know that you can’t wait to watch it:
Up next: A visit to Piedmont, New Mexico!