An Agatha Christie adaptation directed by George Pollock, who had helmed the earlier Miss Marple films with Margaret Rutherford, this version of Ten Little Indians is both very cheesy and rather enjoyable. Ten people, invited to a mountaintop chateau which can only be accessed by cable car (the great number of which in movies always begs from me the question of how, by whom, and what the hell for, they were built), arrive to find themselves without their host, a Mr U.N. Owen, and also soon realise that none of them have met him.
The gathering resembles a twisted Gilligan’s Island: a retired Judge (Wilfred Hyde-White), a cop (Stanley Holloway), a rugged, taciturn American (Hugh O’Brian), a fusty general (Leo Genn), a glamorous movie star (Daliah Lavi), a boozy doctor (Dennis Price), a comely secretary (Shirley Eaton), an irritating pop idol (Fabian), and two shifty servants (Mario Adorf and Marianne Hoppe).
Pollock builds tension well, and his style blends the rigorous reductiveness of Christie’s scenario (her novel is still the seventh highest selling book of all time) with a reconfigured Alpine setting filmed with only the lightest edge of shadowy stylisation, and emphasises a perverse edge in the murders, with the unseen killer’s gloved hands wielding large knives, jabbing hypodermics, and knocking out rock climbing pinions.
Thus Pollock’s film looks on from the drawing-room whodunit ghoulishness towards the giallo genre, just beginning to develop. It’s produced by renowned schlockmeister Harry Allan Towers, who would soon be employing Lee and directors like Jesus Franco on a seemingly never-ending film shoot. The crisp black-and-white photography and the cast of stalwarts, and the gorgeous Eaton and Lavi, a pairing irresistible for ‘60s fetishists like myself, make it all pass swiftly.
It does suffer from modish touches, like a clanging jazz score, not one but two leering Eaton-in-her-underwear scenes (not that I’m complaining), and a sex scene between Miss Goldfinger and television’s Wyatt Earp, whose chest is so hairy he resembles a black bear from the neck down. And then there’s the “Whodunit Break”, in which a clock appears on screen and counts down for a minute, which, at least in my case, gave an opportunity for paralytic laughter rather than time to nut out the killer’s identity. “We’ve given you the opportunity to solve the mystery,” croaks the voiceover, “but we doubt that you’ve guessed right.” To which the appropriate response is: “Kiss my ass, and get on with the film.”
The finale retreats, like all the film versions (except, amusingly, for a 1987 Russian version), from the novel’s almost existential annihilation of the whole cast, but it does set up a decent double-bluff to reveal the killer and get the lovers out safely.