Director: Peter Collinson
Scorpion Releasing

The original body count novel/play from Agatha Christie gets its umpteenth film adaptation with TEN LITTLE INDIAN, on Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing.

The second of Harry Alan Towers’ three adaptations of Agatha Christie’s play – preceded by George Pollock's 1965 monochrome version and followed in 1989 with Alan Birkinshaw's South African-set co-production with Cannon Entertainment – Peter Collinson’s 1974 adaptation has the eight guests arriving at a remote palatial hotel in the Iranian desert (the gorgeous Shah Abbas Hotel in Isfahan): the unseen host's secretary Vera (Elke Sommer, LISA AND THE DEVIL), Judge Cannon (Richard Attenborough, JURASSIC PARK), Dr. Armstrong (Herbert Lom, MARK OF THE DEVIL), actress Ilona Morgan (Stephane Audran, THE SPIDER LABYRINTH), entertainer Micha Raven (Charles Aznevour, TIN DRUM), retired General Salve (Adolfo Celi, THUNDERBALL), private William Blore (Gert Frobe, GOLDFINGER), and Hugh Lombard (Oliver Reed, PARANOIAC). They are welcomed by staff of two Martino (Alberto de Mendoza, HORROR EXPRSS) and his wife Elsa (Towers' wife Maria Rohm, VENUS IN FURS) 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 centerpiece at the dining table. After dinner entertainment comes with Aznavour singing "That Old Fashioned Way" (which may drive some to "shoot the piano player") and the tape recorded voice (Orson Welles) who accusing the eight guests and two staff members of crimes for which they escaped prosecution. No sooner does drunken Raven confess that the accusation was true in his case than he drops dead from cyanide poisoning. Later, the guests find one of the Indian figurines has been smashed. When Elsa is killed making a break for it and another figurine smashed, the remaining guests realize that their host is administering his own brand of justice on them and using the nursery rhyme as a guide.

Although this is only the second of Towers’ adaptations, and the third official English version including 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 a foreign and 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 is a little less believable that some of these people would travel to the middle of nowhere in Iran. All of the actors are slumming, and none of the roles come across as much of a stretch. Reed and Sommer pretty much play themselves with only Attenborough making that much of an effort while Lom, Froebe, and Celi just come across with their dignity intact. Audran and Aznevour probably fare best, apart from the latter's lip-synched performance of his own "The Old Fashioned Way" with full orchestral accompaniment even though he is sitting at a piano. None of the performances are actually bad at all, merely serviceable, as is the scoring of Bruno Nicolai (DE SADE 70) and the photography of Fernando Arribas (DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT). The Iranian hotel and the nearby ruins are striking but not atmospherically employed. 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).

Released theatrically by Avco Embassy as TEN LITTLE INDIANS (and AND THEN THERE WERE NONE in the UK), TEN LITTLE INDIANS had two VHS releases stateside from Magnetic Video bearing the Avco Embassy television logo and letterboxed opening credits, and then from Charter Entertainment in sharper and more colorful but horrendously cropped transfer. The first DVD came from France on the Artedis label in a mostly uncut colorful anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer with English language credits but only French mono audio. As with some of the foreign versions of the film, the French version opened with the credits, losing the establishing long shot of the hotel and shifting other establishing shots of the surrounding ruins and Rohm's introductory shot after the credits. A more satisfying and English-friendly DVD followed from Optimum in the UK with a 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that revealed more picture information on all four sides compared the French disc. An English-friendly German DVD followed but it was the shorter German version with the missing scenes included as extras, and a Spanish DVD from Divisa (and subsequent Region B Blu-ray) appears to be the only source for the elusive opening sequence featuring Teresa Gimpera (NIGHT OF THE DEVILS) and Rik Battaglia (NIGHTMARE CASTLE) for which they are credited in all other prints even though they do not appear (this version reportedly runs 105 minutes compared to the standard 98 minutes at 24fps cut elsewhere). Scorpion's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen Blu-ray was licensed from Italian owner Variety Communications and is not the same source as the UK DVD (although presumably it was also the source master for the Scandinavian DVD from Another World Entertainment which had Italian credits). Although framed at 1.66:1, it reveals less on the sides than the UK DVD and only slightly more at the bottom of the frame and about the same amount on the sides of the 1.85:1 French disc. The day for night scenes are darker than the UK DVD and the image looks a bit flat overall. This is not a sumptuous presentation but a watchable one, and the framing differences will probably go unnoticed unless the viewer has the UK disc for comparison. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track delivers the score and dialogue clearly.

The primary extra is an entertaining new audio commentary by film historians Nathaniel Thompson and Howard Berger. In addition to surveying the novel, the play, and the various cinematic and television adaptations from the Rene Clair version through to the dreadful BBC version from two years ago, they make some interesting observations about the elements carried over from the various versions from the light comedy of the 1945 version into the 1965 version, as well as the effect of the directors on the films over the script: suggesting that Towers hired George Pollock to direct the 1965 version to recreate the look and tone of his Miss Marple films with Margaret Rutherford for MGM, and Collinson bringing a more dark and tense feel to the 1975 version despite using virtually the same screenplay. They suggest that the additional scenes shot for other markets do not exist and that the names are purely for quota purposes, and make a case for the casting of both this and the 1989 version (along with Birkinshaw's MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, one of the Towers/Menahem Golan Poe slasher cycle which was virtually another take on the Christie formula). They also note presence of Welles as Owen's voice and his relationship with Towers (they both began in radio) as well as both 1965 and 1975 adaptations' connections to the James Bond series in the casting of Shirley Eaton, Adolfo Celi, and Gert Froebe as well as the latter two's dubbing by Robert Rietty who also dubbed them and de Mendoza here. The Italian opening and closing credits (2:52) are also included, with the opening ones crediting Gimpera and Battaglia along with Iranian filmmaker Naser Malek Motiee (credited by IMDb as "Inspector" who also presumably figures into the Spanish footage or perhaps an Iranian cut of the film). Two trailers are also included: the British theatrical trailer (2:30) as AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, and an American video trailer (0:38) in very poor quality, as well as trailers for CITY ON FIRE, BARBAROSA, ST. JACK, Joseph Losey's STEAMING, and KILLER FORCE. The disc also comes with a reversible cover. (Eric Cotenas)