Sunday, February 20, 2011

'And Then There Were None' Open Thread

What did you think?


  1. Let me know when I can start talking unguardedly about the plot...

  2. I should have it by Wednesday, but I will not read your comments till I have seen the show.

  3. Same here. I can't say I wasn't warned -- if I peek it's my own dang fault!

  4. I'll just touch on it to get things started. This was a very well done movie. The dialogue was sharp and engaging, and the story pulled you in and kept you interested throughout. I loved Barry Fitzgerald as the judge. His little joke about the two Englishman on an island was perfect in its delivery. The setting was great too. This would be a great movie to take with you on a trip to the beach with a storm coming in. Oregon in winter is great for that. I had never seen this before and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'll have more to say in a bit.

    Excellent choice.

  5. So glad you like it! This has been a favourite since childhood, its appeal only strengthened by a long period when it went into copyright limbo and was unobtainable. When it finally returned I was in my twenties, and delighted to discover that I still thought it every bit as good as I remembered.
    There’s no part of it I don’t love. The plot, I think, is Christie’s best and cleverest, and so full of subtle detail you discover more each time you watch it. The big change I mentioned is that in the original novel the Judge’s scheme works perfectly – ie: all ten are killed as planned – and the book is his confession, discovered some time later. When she revised it for the stage she decided, wisely I think, that this was too literary and too nihilistic, and so reconceived the Lombard and Claythorne characters to allow them to live at the end, and outwit the judge. This, of course, meant making them innocent too. But I like the extra layer of mystery, with Lombard’s initials not matching those on his case, etc, and I think it was the right decision to change it. Many fans of the book hate it though, and call it a cop-out.

    From childhood I have been haunted by the atmosphere, the spooky music, especially when whistled, the grim jocularity of the song, the ghoulishness of the film’s own humour, the shiversomeness of lines like “Mr Owen is one of us!”
    I love the cast: Fitzgerald is just wonderful, in what I think is the only time that his adorable Irishman routine was used by a filmmaker to devious ends. To audiences at the time – the time of Going My Way, etc – it must have been a massive shock. Wonderful to see Walter Huston – my favourite American actor of the early thirties, in a meaty later role. Judith Anderson at her iconic best. Roland Young, always a pleasure. And the beautifully feline June Dupree likewise great in the Paulette Goddard role.

    My mother introduced me to it, partly because she had read the book and knew I’d like the mystery itself, but also because I was already familiar with the location – and this is my other reason for loving it. The island is based closely on Burgh Island, off the Devon coast, near Plymouth where my family (and Roland Young’s character!) live. ("I run a detective agency in Plymouth, I got me credentials!")
    At lowtide you can walk to it from the mainland over the beach, at high tide it is entirely cut off. There are only two buildings there, a centuries old fisherman’s inn, and an art deco hotel, which for much of the twentieth century was empty and partially ruined, but which I’m glad to say is now restored to its original glory. In the twenties it was a hugely fashionable resort where the great and the good would come to stay. Christie was a regular visitor, and the location inspired both this and Evil Under the Sun.
    We would visit the island most summers, and indeed still do, the trip often followed by a screening of the film. When you can’t get there on foot, a water tractor ferries visitors back and forth. (

    With a film like this, with nostalgia so much a factor, it can be hard to see it with fresh eyes. But I really did think again, as I always do, that this is the pre-eminent murder mystery of the screen.
    Can't wait to hear more about what you made of it.

  6. My natural tendency is to be sympathetic to the people who have been brought to this island with their lives in the balance. Strangely my sympathies were muted. From our brief introduction of watching the various characters on the boat through their early meeting at the house, we find that a number of them are not particularly thoughtful of one another, nor are they very gracious. We soon come to find that Prince Nikki is not only boorish in his ongoing occupation as professional guest, but that he is oddly disinterested in the people around him. Though formally speaking he is quite polite, we find him to be remarkably egocentric. He is quite put out over the loss of his driving license after a mere roadway mishap, an accident in which he had accidently struck two people with his car... and killed them. By the time he gulps down his glass and keels over dead, we are hardly sympathetic to him. Likewise by the time we get to Emily Blunt's bee sting episode, we have found that she has had no remorse whatsoever over the death of her nephew, who apparently could not be corrected with whipping, had to be sent away to a boarding school, and there alone ended up hanging himself. Her politeness in company is juxtaposed with her utter heartlessness, even to the deaths of her family, and to those companions about her. The best of them, though, was Walter Huston's Dr. Edward Armstrong, who drinks throughout with a wry grin to the audience, though it has cost the life of a patient. I absolutely loved Walter Huston in this - so self serving, so devoid of compassion for his fellow man. What was it that his character claimed he offered his patients? Little islands of fantasy? And it's all offered up with the smile of a carny. How about caring for them and helping them? Enough to mute anyone's sympathy. In truth though, a good part of the muting of our compassion is because we are draw into the mystery itself, the intrigue of trying to figure out what is going on. The Indian statuette was an interstingly morbid piece, with the slow progression of broken figures. If we are drawn to anyone, we are drawn to the judge, and it is he of course who is quietly handing out his own judgments on the assembled guests and himself.

    Have you ever caught The Devil and Daniel Webster? It was my favorite role for Walter Huston, whose 'Scratch' was just spot on as the devil.

  7. Burgh Island looked like a great get away. Beautiful!

  8. ... the spooky music, especially when whistled...

    Oh, that was so great, so exquisitely creepy! And the music throughout was really wonderful -- I loved the range of variations of that line of the Ten LIttle Indians theme.

    I really enjoyed the movie -- and, Matthew, I'm so glad you told there was a change from the novel, so I got to have the whodunnit fun after all!

    After watching the whole, I've been going back over some of the scenes along the way. Wonderful how consistently the judge leads the group, pointing out alarming details, calling attention to the Indian figurines, initiating efforts to guess the killer -- always guiding the others' steps to the path he wants them to take. But so naturally done I didn't see the pattern until afterwards.

    And I loved the humor infused throughout. Even the opening scene on the boat, everyone uneasy and uncomfortable and ill (I think this was Mischa Auer's best moment in the movie) -- and the ferryman happily munching away on his sandwich. Very much in his own element , quite a jolly contrast to his passengers. Richard Haydn's drunk act was so nicely played, the butler more offended than frightened at being suspected -- and my favorite line:

    And if that's what you think of me, I'm not going to serve any dinner.

    And that key-hole round robin, like some kind of slow-moiton Marx Brothers routine.

    I liked the cast, especially Roland Young, for whom I have a soft spot because of "Uncle Willy" and Topper. But C. Aubrey Smith was so sad as the old general who had sold his soul and lost his wife anyway. And Judith Anderson was so completely believable as a woman so unbelievably complacent and self-satisfied, so cooly malignant. And I loved Walter Huston! At first I thought he seemed out of place, but he was so perfectly his character.

    Matthew, I have to tell you -- I am so thrilled to know the island is "real" -- and I love that there is an Art Deco hotel, as well as the ancient inn. I've decided I really need a list of all the places in the British Isles I want to visit. I think it was a Josephine Tey novel that introduced me to the Hebrides, and I've had to add heaths and moors and castle ruins (and one unfortunately located phone booth), and now your Burgh Island. Happy sigh.

  9. "Wonderful how consistently the judge leads the group, pointing out alarming details, calling attention to the Indian figurines, initiating efforts to guess the killer -- always guiding the others' steps to the path he wants them to take."

    You know, that was bugging me a little bit. It seemed he had a little too much to say, but then again he was just so darned nice that it was hard to put the finger on him. The young man seemed far too care free as well, so glib and light hearted that he had to find his way on my short list, but he did seem too nice as well, and he was keen to look out for the young lady... who may also have been the killer! Anyway, a thoroughly enjoyable show.

    Certainly more could be said and you all are welcome to, but I would like you to keep in mind next weeks feature. It is a story of men returning from serving in the second world war, all of whom have been affected by what they have seen and done, some with obvious outward injuries, some less obvious. It's about friendships and personal courage. It was the first movie that I really came to like Dana Andrews, and there were many other fine performances as well... Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Harold Russell, Hoagy Carmichael and of course, Teresa Wright. I hope you will all join me with The Best Years of Our Lives.

  10. One last point, further to your observations on the confidence with which Christie structured the plot - it always seemed to me remarkable that she should make the killer a judge at all. I mean: ten people are being executed for unpunished crimes, and one of the suspects is a judge! It should be so totally obvious, yet so perfect is the construction, she misdirects us all the way.
    Also - a film where so many people are murdered was unusual for the time, don't you think? The black humour arising from it seems to me quite daring. Without the precedent of Arsenic and Old Lace, I think this might have been a bit much for some audiences at the time. I still find it wonderfully creepy, even as I mouth the dialogue along with it...

    Never seen Best Years: I'll see if I can track down a copy, otherwise I'll just enjoy reading whay you have to say.
    Toodle pip for now.