”Let’s face it – we’re in a trap.”
A group of strangers invited to an isolated island learn that they all have one thing in common: they caused someone’s death in the past and were never punished. Soon they’re being killed off one by one, and must discover the identity of the murderer in their midst before it’s too late.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Barry Fitzgerald Films
- Ensemble Cast
- Judith Anderson Films
- June Duprez Films
- Louis Hayward Films
- Murder Mystery
- Old Dark House
- Rene Clair Films
- Richard Haydn Films
- Walter Huston Films
As Peary notes, this “highly entertaining adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (called Ten Little Niggers in England, as was the film)” features “an unbeatable cast” (most notably Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, Judith Anderson, and Louis Hayward), and benefits from both a “witty script by Dudley Nichols and light-touch direction by Rene Clair, who effectively keeps the multi-murder story from becoming bleak” (in part by making “good use of lively music”). He points out that while “it’s fun trying (and most likely failing) to figure out the murderer’s identity… this mystery is just as interesting the second time around when you can watch the killer closely and see how cleverly we are being manipulated by Christie and the filmmakers”.
I’m in complete agreement with Peary’s assessment of this enjoyable, surprisingly light-hearted “Old Dark House” mystery — based on the best-selling mystery novel of all time (though its ending was changed to that of Christie’s stage play of the same name). The characters are all smartly cast and play nicely against one another; this is truly a seamless ensemble piece, with no one performance standing out above the other (though the interactions between Walter Huston as Dr. Armstrong and Barry Fitzgerald as Judge Quinncannon are especially fun). Clair’s creative direction — beginning with the cleverly shot silent opening sequence on the boat, and extending through the exposure of each murder — is seamlessly fluid, keeping us consistently visually engaged, and on the edge of our seats in nervous anticipation.
Note: Film fanatics will likely recognize that this movie serves as a forerunner — both thematically and tonally — for the cult satire Murder By Death (1976); they would make a fun double-bill.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Effective direction by Clair
- Fine ensemble performances
- Atmospheric cinematography by Lucien Andriot
- Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s levity-inspiring score
Yes, as an enjoyable example of the “Old Dark House” genre.