Weekend Film Recommendation: And Then There Were None

Rene Clair’s 1945 film And Then There Were None is superior suspense/comedy/romantic fare in the Hitchcockian tradition

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Agatha’s Christie’s tale of 10 strangers on a remote island who are mysteriously killed off one by one has been adapted countless times on stage, on television and on the big screen. But it will be hard to ever top the 1945 version that was the highlight of the otherwise forgettable English-language phase of French film director Rene Clair’s career: And Then There Were None.

The story opens with a wonderful extended non-verbal sequence in which a group of disparate people eye each other curiously on a rowboat that is making its way to a lonely island. They soon discover that they have been invited for a weekend trip from which they are not expected to return. The owner of the mansion in which they are staying had pledged to kill them all as vengeance for their past misdeeds. Who is the killer, and is he — or she — actually one of the guests?

Christie’s story is contrived beyond belief but is so much fun twist by twist that audiences have never cared. The mordant wit is a particular plus throughout, and keeps the audience smiling even as the bodies pile up. The film version uses the more upbeat ending from the stage version rather than the tenebrous wrap up from the book, which was probably a good decision given the wartime audience.

Clair turns in near-Hitchcock level direction in the comedy-romance-suspense vein, and the cast is roses. Barry Fitzgerald and Walter Huston sparkle as the leads, Judith Anderson is brilliant as always as one of the guest/victim/suspects, C. Aubrey Smith offers an agreeably demented take on his Commander McBragg routine, and Roland Young (who was hilarious in a prior RBC recommendation, Ruggles of Red Gap) is a hoot as a private detective whose brain works at half speed.

Last but not least among its virtues, this is a film that will appeal to a broad age range of audience. I know myself because I watched it twice with a gap of 30 years in between and loved it both times.

And Then There Were None is in the public domain so I embed it here for your viewing pleasure.

p.s. Interested in a different sort of film? Check out this list of prior RBC recommendations.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

4 thoughts on “Weekend Film Recommendation: And Then There Were None”

  1. For what it's worth, I would actually be very surprised if the film was actually in the public domain, given that the copyright would have had to not have been renewed not only in the film but in the underlying literary work that the film is based upon.

    1. 20th Century Fox let the copyright lapse. You can find it on most public domain sites, most notably Internet Archive.

      1. The thing is, there's 2 copyrights that need to lapse. See Stewart v. Abend, 495 U.S. 207 (1990).

        1. Three, if the film script is based in part on the stage play as well as the novel.

          But the originals would have lapsed anyway, because they necessarily came earlier, unless they were renewed.

          Do you have to renew the derivative rights separately from the right to publish the original works? I don't know, but at amazon.com I see four different DVD versions of this film from different distributors.

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