Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians


The Whodunnit Break! A first in motion pictures! Just before the gripping climax of the film, you will be given sixty seconds to guess the killer’s identity! The film will pause and on the screen you will see clues to help you decide who the murderer is…We Dare You To Guess!

Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians
Starring: Wilfred Hyde White, Fabian, Hugh O’Brien, Shirley Eaton, Stanley Holloway, Christopher Lee as the voice of Mr U. N. Owen
Adapted by: Peter Yeldham and Peter Welbeck (Harry Alan Towers)
Director: George Pollock
Studio: Tenlit Films
Released: 1965

Having seen the news that the BBC is planning a new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, I was interested to see this  come up in my TV listings last week.

Ten Little Indians is a 1965 British film adaptation – one of four in fact (there were versions in 1945, 1974, and 1989, plus a 1959 straight-to-TV version). Apparently the 1974 film with Oliver Reed and Elke Sommer follows the script of this one very closely – no surprise because it looks as if the same guy Harry Alan Towers wrote both (and the 1989 version too). The director George Pollock had previous Christie experience, having directed three Miss Marple films with Margaret Rutherford, but this is a much darker sort of film.

In Christie’s original novel, ten characters are stranded on an island and are murdered one by one. One of them must be the killer, but the pool of suspects keeps diminishing…


The film diverts little from this idea, but has transposed the cast to the top of a snowbound mountain. All ten are strangers, and none has met their absent host, ‘Mr U. N. Owen’ – geddit? – previously. A tape recording of Mr Owen (apparently voiced by an uncredited Christopher Lee) soon informs the group that each of them is guilty of the crime of murder, and has been summoned to pay for their crimes. Cue mistrust, paranoia, desperate alliances and frantic torch-lit hunts for the killer.


Hugh O’Brien is the leading man, although he rather blots his copy-book by basically beating up the servant Grohmann early on. Despite this, Bond girl Shirley Eaton falls for him and they manage some smouldering scenes in her room after he pockets the key and lets himself in. It must be my age, but I no longer find the imminent threat of murder sexy. Still, good on them..

I don’t know if it’s a flaw or a charming quirk, but the film appears to have had the 1960s bolted  on as an afterthought. The opening jazz theme tune is far too brassy for the film. ‘Fabian’, an actor so annoying they named him once, gives a full-on groovy performance as popstar Mike Raven, and is fortunately the first to go. Even Hugh O’Brien’s hairy chest seems like an obvious nod to the times.

There is a unique ‘Whodunit Break’ towards the end, in which the viewer is given 60 seconds to consider who they think the killer is. Unfortunately, rather than have the peace and quiet that you might need to marshal your thoughts, your concentration is wrecked by a noisy replay of all the murders.

This is an enjoyable if not brilliant movie, worth your time but probably not worth seeking out.


The noose awaiting the last little Indian…

See also: Movie Metropolis: The problem is that the book was already made into a much better movie twenty years earlier by director Rene Clair, and no other versions since have matched it. That the 1965 version is merely competent, therefore, may not be saying a lot.’

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Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
This entry was posted in Agatha Christie, Classic mystery book review, Film/movie, Suspense, Thriller, Witness Statements and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    I love your honesty, Rich. I’ll admit that I’m rather a cranky purist when it comes to book-to-film adaptations. I have to be convinced that whatever changes are made really improve the film. Sorry, but I just can’t see Fabian as any of the characters in the real novel…..


  2. realthog says:

    My opinion of this movie is roughly the same as yours: worth watching for bits here and there, but overall not something to make a huge effort to track down. I think this is probably because the original tale is so artificial and implausible that any attempt to play it straight is doomed to failure. My own favourite version is the Rene Clair one from 1945, And Then There Were None, which copes with the difficult suspension-of-disbelief problem by turning the piece into a comedy thriller — we thus embrace the artificiality of the setup instead of being unsettled by it, and have fun simply going along for the ride.


  3. Santosh Iyer says:

    The novel is one of my favourites and I regard it as a masterpiece.
    All the English film adaptations have the “happy ending” variation. I do not see the reason. This is not a romantic story but a grim and dark tale of murders.
    There is also a Russian film adaptation Desyat Negrityat (1987) which has the same grim ending as the book. I regard it as the best. Much better than the English versions. It is the most faithful adaptation. The names of the characters, the past crimes, the ways of committing the murders and, most important, the grim ending are all the same as in the book.
    I urge those who have not seen the Russian version to do so. It is really outstanding (English subtitles are available.)
    There is also a Hindi film adaptation Gumnaam (1965) which does not even bother to give credit to Agatha Christie. Gumnaam means Unknown or Anonymous.. The film is full of comedy, dance and music in sharp contrast to the grim and dark Russian version. It has an even “happier ending”——-the butler and his sister (wife is replaced by sister) also survive.


    • curtis evans says:

      Well, Christie herself came up with the happy ending version as well, I think? I agree that it undercuts the power of the book, which seems to me like Christie’s take on noir. Talk about doomed people and a world of despair and misery!


    • westwoodrich says:

      Great stuff! Thanks Santosh.

      Isn’t there a fantastic and true-to-its-source Russian Sherlock Holmes as well?


      • Santosh Iyer says:

        Yes, between 1979 and 1986, there was a Soviet television film series on Sherlock Holmes, which are very close to the literary source. Even the characters of Holmes and Watson are very faithfully depicted, though Holmes is shown as more easy-going. In fact, Livanov who played the part of Holmes very closely resembles the drawings of Sherlock Holmes that accompanied Conan Doyle’s original stories in the Strand Magazine.


    • realthog says:

      A major problem with the Russian movie is that it’s faithful to the book to the point of using Christie’s original title (it’s not hard to guess the literal translation of Desyat Negrityat), the original version of the nursery rhyme, and literally dozen of other uses of the N word (it’s even set, gratuitously, on N Island). The rampant racism very soon becomes extremely hard to take.

      There was a discussion on this very blog a few days ago about the extent to which one should tolerate the bigotries of the past when reading old material, and had the Russian movie been made in the same year the novel was published, 1939, it might have seemed more acceptable. But the Russians made their movie in 1987, by which time they had no excuse for not knowing better.


  4. curtis evans says:

    Hugh O’Brian? Wasn’t Rod Taylor’s chest hair available?


  5. Really enjoyed your review Rich – this is not a patch on the 1945 version but I do have a soft spot for it though the music really doesn’t work and the tone definitely wavers a bit. By the way, pedant corner coming up, George Pollock directed all four of the Miss Marple films starring Margaret Rutherford, not just three (well, technically she also played the part in an unbilled cameo for a movie directed by Frank Tashlin – but that’s a whole different plot …)


  6. TracyK says:

    I would like to see this someday. I think it would be fun. I am not a purist at all when it comes to adaptations, except in a few cases.


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