Ten Little Indians (Peter Collinson, 1975)
The second of Harry Alan Towers’ three adaptations of Agatha Christie’s play (distinguishable from the novel AND THEN THERE WERE NONE by its ending) – the first and best of the Towers adaptations was in 1965 by George Pollock and the last was in 1989 as a South African-shot co-production with Cannon Entertainment – Peter Collinson’s 1975 adaptation has the eight guests arriving at a remote palatial hotel in the Iranian desert (the Shah Abbas Hotel in Isfahan). There’s secretary Vera (Elke Sommer), Judge Cannon (Richard Attenborough), Dr. Armstrong (Herbert Lom), actress Ilona Morgan (Stephane Audran), entertainer Micha Raven (Charles Aznevour), retired General Salve (Adolfo Celi), P.I. William Blore (Gert Frobe), and Hugh Lombard (Oliver Reed) who is not really given much in the way of character background but by this point in his career Oliver Reed is playing Oliver Reed. They are welcomed by a staff of two: Martino (Alberto de Mendoza) and his wife Elsa (Maria Rohm, wife of Harry Alan Towers) and an absent host who is expected at dinner. In all of their rooms there is a copy of the nursery rhyme ‘Ten Little Indians’, sheet music for it on the piano, and ten little figurines as the centrepiece at the dining table.
Their host does not show up for dinner but a tape recorded voice (Orson Welles) suddenly plays accusing the eight guests and the two staff members of various murders. It turns out Martino was instructed to play the tape and all of the guests were invited by their host either as a friend of a friend or for professional reasons. No sooner does drunken Raven confess that the accusation was true in his case than he drops dead from cyanide poisoning; roughly corresponding to the first line of the nursery rhyme. Later, the guests find one of the Indian figurines has been smashed. When Elsa makes a break for it, she is also killed and another figurine smashed. After a search of the immense premises turns up no hidden presence, the guests realize that their murderous host is one of them and proceed to drop like flies.
Although this is only the second of Towers’ adaptations (the third English version after the 1965 version and the unsurpassed 1945 Rene Clair production), the situation already feels tired. Most of the innovations from the 1965 version (turning the elderly spinster into a vivacious actress, the playboy into an irritating entertainer, an exotic setting rather than an old dark house on an English island) are carried over to this version and make even less sense. While it’s believable that perhaps all eight of these people would jump at the opportunity of a party at a Swiss chalet, it’s a little less believable that some of these people would travel to Iran (and even less likely that they’d make the trek through Africa in the 1989 version). While a slumming Audran carries off her character’s “breaking the ice” bit about the story of the two English gentleman castaways who never spoke to one another because they had not been introduced, the dinner scene where the characters “recall” the lines of the nursery rhyme and the “U.N. Owen” equals “Unknown” bit come across as forced and unconvincing here. Other than that, all of the actors are slumming. None of the roles come across as a stretch for any of the actors who largely play themselves with only Attenborough making that much of an effort (Lom and Celi merely come across with their dignity intact). None of the performances are actually bad at all.
The Iranian hotel and the nearby ruins are striking but not atmospherically employed. Captured in sometimes distorted wide angles, we don’t get the sense of a killer possibly lurking around any corner or in the shadows. Indeed, since it will be obvious to everyone whether they have read the book, seen the play or another adaptation that the killer is one of the guests, the potential horror of a lurking presence is moot anyway. Sommer and Reed play off each other as well as the script will allow but they don’t raise as much steam as Shirley Eaton and Hugh O’Brian in the 1965 version; then again, Collinson’s approach doesn’t really allow for it. Like several Harry Alan Towers productions, the cast and crew are a mixed bag of B celebrities and French-Spanish-West German-Italian co-production quota crew. Besides de Mendoza and accomplished cinematographer Fernando Arribas (who has worked for everyone from Vicente Aranda to Bigas Luna), Teresa Gimpera is listed in the opening credits but she only appears in the prologue of the Spanish version along with Italian actor Rik Battaglia.
The uncredited score is by Bruno Nicolai–who scored the Towers productions DE SADE 70, 99 WOMEN, VENUS IN FURS (with Manfred Mann and Mike Hugg), and COUNT DRACULA–and may be library music cues. Maria Rohm may have partially filled the German quota along with Sommer and Frobe but she is also the wife of producer Towers (Erick Krohenke is credited with the script on some versions as he was on certain prints of COUNT DRACULA and NIGHT HAIR CHILD which were also West German co-productions). Although she had proven herself a capable actress–excellent in sinister roles in DE SADE 70 and DORIAN GRAY–she is given little to do here. Audran and Aznevour come across well though the latter lip-syncs to his song “The Old Fashioned Way” (which I first saw him performing on the Muppet Show when I was a kid); although he is shown playing the piano, there is other instrumental accompaniment on the track and he sounds like he’s singing into a microphone.
The film was released twice on cassette in the United States, first on Magnetic Video (the label famous for licensing titles from 20th Century Fox in the early days of home video) which bore the Avco Embassy television logo and had letterboxed opening credits. The print was uncut but fuzzy-looking. The second release is the more coveted Charter Entertainment release. Print quality was much sharper and more colourful but the opening credits were horrendously cropped on all four sides with several names bisected by the bottom of the frame. The only current DVD release is from France on the Artedis logo. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen print is uncut and colourful with English language credits but only French mono audio. The only difference I saw between this print and the US releases is in the opening. The US versions open with a wide shot of the hotel and several angles of the ruins before a shot of the hotel exterior (actually a local mosque) that tilts down to reveal Maria Rohm. The camera then cuts to an angle behind her looking over her shoulder as the credits run and the helicopter appears in the distance, gets closer, and lands. The French version starts with the over the shoulder shot of Rohm with the credits. Once the credits are finished, the French version cuts to the shots of the ruins then to the reveal shot of Rohm before cutting back over her shoulder as the guests stroll towards her from the helicopter; since the helicopter has landed and the guests have alighted during the credits, it seems strange that it took them so long to reach Rohm to allow for those angles on the ruins. There were rumours of Optimum Home Entertainment putting out an R2 English language release but this has not yet occurred. Hopefully, the Spanish version will come out on DVD so we can see what other alternate footage is present in this supposedly 105 minute version besides the prologue (the English cut runs 98 minutes at NTSC speed).