Wednesday, November 27, 2013

And Then There Were None

And Then There Were NoneThe new Image DVD version of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE is a vast improvement in video/audio quality over previous DVD releases by VCI in 1999 and Madacy in 2001. All three versions are currently available at Amazon, so be sure to check the technical info page for each disc to see which company makes it.

The video transfer on the Image DVD, said to be made from "original elements", is much, much sharper and more detailed than that on the VCI and Madacy versions. It also shows a little more picture on all four sides of the screen. The picture looks somewhat battered during the opening credits, but it looks great the rest of the way. There is a slight amount of graininess and other blemishes throughout, but it is not detrimental. I'm especially impressed with the scenes that take place in the dark, in which some of the background details, such as engravings on the wall, the subtle lights and shadows, etc., can be seen with much greater clarity. The VCI disc, conversely, looks much less sharp, and the Madacy disc even less so.

The monophonic audio tracks on the VCI and Madacy discs are louder but have more noise compared to that on the Image disc. The problem of the dialogs not being synchronized properly on the VCI and Madacy discs has also been fixed on the Image disc.

The Image disc has one extra: the film's British opening credit sequence, which uses the deplorably offensive title "Ten Little N******" (which is also Agatha Christie's original title for her whodunnit). The sequence is preceded with an explanation of its use so the viewer has the historical context in mind. The VCI disc has a biography section on the filmmakers and the 1946 comedy short TWIN HUSBANDS, starring Leon Errol. The Madacy disc has a 9-minute newsreel footage from 1945, a 12-minute blooper footage (of OTHER films), 3 screenshots of lobby cards, and a trivia quiz section. All three discs are region-free and without subtitles or closed captioning.

Agatha Christie's 1930s novel AND THEN THERE WERE NONE told the story of ten unrelated people who are lured under various pretexts to an island resort; once assembled, they discover they have been brought to the island by a mysterious homocidal maniac who accuses each of them of having escaped punishment for a past murder--and who then proceeds to pick them off one by one as the ever dwindling party rushes to unmask the hidden killer in their midst. Nothing like the novel had been seen before, and it was a popular sensation. So much so that Christie herself adapted the novel to the stage. In creating the script, Christie discovered that the novel's uncompromising tone and shocking conclusion did not translate well to the stage, and the final script was considerably lighter and had a considerably softer conclusion. When performed, the script was played as much for comedy as for suspense--and proved as popular as the novel. A film version became inevitable.

Countless novels, plays, and movies have borrowed the premise Christie presents in AND THEN THERE NONE, and there have been at least four film versions (most often known as TEN LITTLE INDIANS) of the original work. All of these versions rely more upon the play script than the novel, offering a mix of comedy and suspense, and by far and away the best of them is famed French director Rene Clair's 1940s version. Brilliantly played by an ensemble cast of famed character actors including Judith Anderson, Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, C. Aubrey Smith, and Roland Young, Clair creates a stylish, somewhat surrealistic romp that satirizes British "stiff upper lip" sensibilities with florishes of black comedy while quietly building a sense of increasing unease. From a modern standpoint, the Clair version seems more comic than suspensful; few will find it in the least unnerving. This does not, however, change the fact that it is a tremendous amount of fun to watch. The film creates an air of old-fashioned mischief that is compulsively enjoyable, and even if a contemporary director decided to have another go at the material it seems unlikely that any cast to equal this could be assembled. If you're prepared for a witty amusement, AND THEN THERE WERE NONE is recommended.

I don't usually comment on the quality of DVDs unless there is a glaring issue--but since there are several DVD versions of this film, and some have been poorly reviewed, I will specify that I purchased the VCI edition. (The cover of this particular edition is yellow with the faces of the characters appearing in a V-shaped "wedge.") When the DVD began to play, the VCI logo was very distorted; when the DVD changed over to the menu, however, the picture became stable. When I ran the movie, I found the titles had a bit of a flicker, but this quickly vanished; as for overall quality, the picture and sound quality are rather poor as the movie begins but quickly corrects to an acceptable--although not excellent--level.

Buy And Then There Were None Now

THE MOVIE: I had forgotten how deliciously amusing this film was, not having seen it since the early 1980s. But the comedy doesn't overwhelm the tone, the blend has a perfectly natural feel and the eerie atmosphere is maintained even among the laughs. The cast of generally lesser-known performers is good. Mischa Auer is memorable (as usual) even though the script doesn't allow him much to do; Walter Huston is as engaging as ever. The movie is appropriate for most ages, the murders are usually off-camera and are never gruesome. It holds the viewer's interest very well but the pace seems a bit uneven it seems to slow down toward the end.

TECHNICAL: The DVD presentation is average. The image is not stable; it wobbles quite a bit around the frame which is especially noticeable during the opening titles. The black and white picture has good contrast but is a bit on the soft side. The bios are brief but nicely done screens. There is also a comedy short on the disc which I haven't yet watched. Sound is good, dialogue is usually clear throughout.

SUM: I'm ignoring comparisons to the Agatha Christie novel on which the film is based... with that in mind, the movie is fun, interesting and worth a viewing. I'm not entirely sure how well the narrative would hold up on repeat viewings, but the performances are entertaining enough to warrant them.

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I watched this black and white 1945 movie (whose New York premiere was on Halloween day) of almost 100 minutes without first reading the novel that it is based on. I'm glad I did this! Why? Because I was forced to really watch the movie in order to deduce who the murderer was.

According to the opening credits, this movie is "based on the [1939] novel [of the same name] by [Dame] Agatha Christie" (1890 to 1976). However, this is not quite accurate. This movie is really based on the play version of this book that has a slightly different ending than the book. (Note: In America, this novel is known as "Ten Little Indians.")

As a synopsis, ten strangers are invited as weekend guests to the only mansion located on an isolated island. When the host, with the unusual name of "U.N. Owen" and his wife don't show up, the guests start dying, one by one, according to the lines in the children's poem entitled "Ten Little Indians." These guests and the viewer are constantly reminded of the body count as each of the ten figures on a ceramic display are secretly broken, one by one, directly after a murder is committed.

What I did was obtain a copy of this poem. (You can easily get a copy from the internet.) I found that doing so added to my enjoyment of the movie.

Who exactly are these ten strangers? They are as follows (in the order in which they are killed):

1. Russian Prince Starloff (Mischa Auer)

2. Maid Rogers (Queenie Leonard)

3. Retired General Mandrake (Sir C. Aubrey Smith)

4. Butler Rogers (Richard Haydn)

5. Spinster (?) Brent (Dame Judith Anderson)

6. Judge Quinncannon (Barry Fitzgerald)

7. Dr. Armstrong (Walter Huston)

8. Detective Bloor (Roland Young)

9. Explorer Lombard (Louis Hayward)

10. Secretary Claythorne (June Duprez)

The above cast does a stellar job in their roles. They make the movie come across not only as a mystery but also as a black comedy (thanks to a well-crafted script). Personally, I think the actor who portrayed the butler did the best job.

As the murders begin to occur, the guests realize that there is a person acting as "judge, jury, and executioner." And that person, they surmise, is Mr. Owen. Suspense is created when these guests (and the viewer) start asking themselves questions:

(1) Is Owen hiding in the mansion killing them one by one?

(2) Is Owen one of them? That is, is the "loose cannon" one of them?

(3) (Is Owen the boatman that drove them from the mainland to the island?)

The black and white gives the movie a claustrophobic feeling (adding another dimension to this movie). The cinematography is breathtaking. The main background music for this movie is unique, something I did not expect.

I thought this movie was a little rushed at the beginning. However, it slowed down as it progressed.

Finally, the DVD (the one distributed by the studio Image Entertainment) has just one extra. Even though it lasts less than two minutes, it is VERY interesting.

In conclusion, this is a fun movie, even if you have read the book it's based on!!


Want And Then There Were None Discount?

Pretty well acted version of an Agatha Christie classic. Everyone remembers this standard movie version "And Then There Were None" (1945) with Barry Fitzgerald. Several other attempts were made such as "And Then There Were None" (1974) with Elke Sommer and even one movie with the original book title "Ten Little Niggers" (1949) with John Bentley. A fun adaptation using a remote mountain dwelling is "Ten Little Indians" (1965) with Hugh O'Brian plays Hugh Lombard.

In this screen play version by Dudley Nichols, Philip Lombard (Louis Hayward) even keeps much of the dialog of the novel and is worth adding to your Agatha Christy collection. Many of the actors are popular of the time such as Walter Huston who plays Dr. Edward G. Armstrong. He is popular for the Walter Huston dance in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948) and as Mr. Scratch in "The Devil and Daniel Webster" (1941).

Ten Little Indians

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