And then there were none
Rs 399 Rating: *** 1/2
In one of Agatha Christie’s genuinely confounding whodunits, eight people are invited to an island by Mr and Mrs Owen. Upon arriving they do not get to meet their hosts but are told they’ll be there at dinner. But instead of the Owens, at dinner the eight are played a gramophone record that accuses each of them of murders from which they got off. Judge Francis Quincannon (played by tough-nut character actor Barry Fitzgerald) sentenced someone innocent to death; Dr Edward Armstrong (Walter Huston, who could’ve been a judge) operated while drunk; Philip Lombard (charmer Louis Hayward) was responsible for the deaths of several African natives, and so on. Trouble is, they soon start getting killed off one by one. But then, no one could’ve sneaked in or out of the island easily.
This 1945 film adaptation sees the eight invitees first en route to the island on a choppy sea. Without using a word, director René Clair etches out the ticks of each character by their reactions to the tossing boat and gushing wind. Then the twisted plot and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s ominous music take over. Apart from the title itself, the biggest departures from the book are the names, professions and crimes of the endangered eight.
Did you know that the original folk poem hadn’t just inspired this whodunit in Britain, but a nonsense rhyme in India too? Satyajit’s father Sukumar wrote about Haradhan, father of 10 sons who disappear one by one, a good 16 years before Christie wrote her book. Evoking a sharply different emotion, it’s another little gem.