AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (87) (second viewing: 80)

Directed by: Rene Clair (1945)

Starring: Walter Huston, Barry Fitzgerald, Louis Hayward, Roland Young

The Pitch: Ten people are summoned to a mysterious party on a remote island, and murdered one by one.

Theo Sez: Not much to do with the fizzy, irrepressibly innovative quasi-musicals Clair was making in the 30s, but still one of Old Hollywood's most durable and elegant (and relatively under-rated) entertainments. From the marvellous opening sequence, wordlessly establishing its "ten little Indians" as their boat nears the island - panning slowly from one to the other, indicating their various personalities and connecting them through props and comic bits of business (a woman's scarf is blown into her neighbour's face, that kind of thing) - the inventiveness and unhurried craftsmanship on view is a delight. The light-hearted tone - featuring a cast of mostly comic actors, plus a number of near-farcical sequences like the everybody-spying-on-each-other bit early on - seems at first like a misjudgment but is actually what makes the movie, turning the rather mechanical whodunnit plot into a wickedly funny jape, "a game of precision" as one of the characters puts it. More surprisingly, even with the audience half-knowing what's about to happen most of the time (and, of course, without a single drop of onscreen blood), the jocular tone doesn't prevent it from being satisfyingly tense and shivery. No masterpiece perhaps - it is, after all, only a game - but unreservedly recommended : deft, civilised and altogether perfect. [Second viewing, August 2017: This is 19 years later (!) and I don't know if I'd use words like 'elegant' or 'civilised' now, or even really 'craftsmanship' - I don't see Clair doing anything especially notable with the camera, with the obvious exception of the two sequences mentioned above (opening sequence and everyone spying on each other) which are most reminiscent of his 30s work. I seem to be alone, however (judging by conversations with friends and e.g. comments on Letterboxd), in finding the mix of jaunty and macabre here to be peculiarly unnerving, to the extent that I had to get up and switch on a light about halfway through! The brisk, airy tone actually adds to the horror, the nonchalance robbing the deaths of proper meaning and adding to the sense of a cold malevolent something picking the characters off, even more so since the evil is coming from inside the group (the post-WW2 timestamp is surely significant, in terms of being a film where people die randomly and meaninglessly); the constant emphasis on paranoia makes an odd, disturbing blend with the witty lines and breezy performances. Maybe I've led a sheltered life in this regard, since I haven't seen (or read) much Agatha Christie and also haven't seen the endless TV shows (from "Murder She Wrote" to "Criminal Minds") that treat murder lightly week in and week out, but I still find this unique, mostly because it doesn't strain for light-heartedness like e.g. Peter Ustinov's Poirot in DEATH ON THE NILE; it's naturally callous, indeed it's very gracefully callous, and it does flow beautifully. Even most of the Hollywood-isms - from the softened ending to allowing Mischa Auer to do his patented Mischa Auer shtick - work formidably well imo.]