Richard Attenborough is recruited by Agatha Christie
Richard Attenborough joined his buddy Orson Welles and an ensemble cast to put a famous Agatha Christie story to film. And Then There Were None (1974) is based on the novel “Ten Little Indians”, first published in the 30s, and features the same whodunnit story, where everyone is guilty, as in “Murder on the Orient Express”. However, it has flair and more development than most other Christie tales, I dare say, and I think a lot of other people agree too, as this story is the number one best-seller out of all the novels Christie wrote. It stands at 100 million sold to date.
Much like House on Haunted Hill (1959), a group of people all receive personal invitations to a strange place and have strange encounters. The ensemble is bumped off one by one until tensions rise and all that other typical crap you might expect. In the movie, the locale is changed from an isolated island to the desert, and each of the visitors is accused via audio tape of various crimes. Like a Saw movie, this incriminating evidence gets under their skin.
This story has been adapted many times. The first time was in 1945, then in the 50s and again in 1965. The 1945 version is usually regarded as the best of them, but this 1974 version still has its own charm. Mostly, that is thanks to the source material, and the changes don’t hurt the movie too much, though I wonder why some were done. I guess a desert is as isolated as an island, but the hotel is just sitting there in the middle of the desert. A working hotel. In the desert. Needless to say, it is empty.
There is a two-minute sequence where Orson Welles reveals the crimes of his guests, but he doesn’t have much evidence. He calls them all out and the camera goes around the room like a casting call. The recording of Orson Welles acts like an introduction to the characters and monologues into tomorrow. Everyone just stands there and takes it.
Spoilers, Richard Attenborough’s character in the book is the killer. He plays John Wargrave, a vicious and murderous judge, and he fakes his own death to avoid suspicion. He wants to enact justice, and goes to great lengths to do so.
The director of this film is Peter Collinson, and he had done a variety of things by 1974. However, he was responsible for only one huge success, The Italian Job. He had the film crew on location in Iran for 4 weeks shooting this movie and made many concessions to do so. I’m not sure why he didn’t just shoot it in Britain or the USA, where he had no restrictions, but since he got all the money from Iranian backers, I guess he had to shoot in Iran. The Iranian government required two of their own film stars to appear in the film, so Collinson gave them the roles of two Detectives. Their parts didn’t make the final cut.
The cast is a mixed bag, despite having some big names. Oliver Reed is the leading man and he wasn’t very happy filming in Iran. His performance shows it and he looks bored for most of the movie and was only there for a paycheck. Attenborough stated in later interviews that he also was there only for a paycheck, because he needed money for his Gandhi project. He delivers a good performance, unlike Reed. Most of the cast didn’t achieve anything after this movie, except for Attenborough, though it was behind the camera. There are two former James Bond villains in this film, like the guy who played Goldfinger, Gert Frobe. He’s in this movie. He doesn’t do anything of note.
This movie was panned by the New York Times when it opened in the USA in 1975. Most of the critics agreed that some of the actors were miscast and didn’t deliver anything to the picture. The movie basically used the same script from the 60s, so it was a big time rerun. The traditional narrative structure of the film did not sit right with people and was described as dated.
It should be noted that Harry Alan Towers also produced the 1965 version I mentioned earlier, which this movie borrows from heavily. I think everything he did was to save money. He used the same script. He shot in Iran. The budget was small. EMI Studios also released Murder on the Orient Express in 1974, but it wasn’t panned by critics, although it was also called old-fashioned. It had an A-List cast, and a large budget. You can see how that movie was set up for success and this one was not.
So I watched this movie for Richard Attenborough. There’s not a lot of other reasons to watch it. It follows the same 1965 script and has a different ending than the book. Oliver Reed’s character comes back from the dead and has it out with Richard Attenborough. I liked that part. It is a good choice to have Oliver Reed and Richard Attenborough anchor the movie, and Attenborough keeps Reed from getting too bored.