And Then There Were None [1945]

At first glance, René Clair might seem an odd match for Agatha Christie's mystery thriller Ten Little Indians, but his buoyant touch is exactly what is missing from so many overly solemn remakes. Ten strangers gather for a mysterious gathering on a secluded island. It turns out to be a farewell party, for they all have been sentenced to die for crimes in their past by a self-appointed judge, jury, and executioner who may be one of them. One by one, the guests are systematically dispatched in the manner described in the lyrics of the children's rhyme "Ten Little Indians," while the survivors nervously eye one another, splintering into tenuous alliances until the next murder throws suspicion on someone new. The terrific cast of character actors has a ball with Dudley Nichols's witty script. The flamboyant sparring of Barry Fitzgerald (whose paternal Irish lilt takes a sinister dimension) and Walter Huston is almost upstaged by Roland Young's deadpan drollery. Romantic leads Louis Hayward and June Duprez come off as arch and stiff in august company that includes a sinisterly detached Judith Anderson, a dotty and distracted C. Aubrey Smith, and a hilariously flippant Mischa Auer. The story has been remade numerous times under the title of Christie's novel, Ten Little Indians, but never as well. Clair's effervescent, lively little gem is a fatal drawing-room comedy with a body count and a surreal mood of doom. --Sean Axmaker

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