(US - 1989)
Directed by Alan Birkinshaw. Written by Jackson Hunsicker and Gerry O'Hara. Cast: Donald Pleasence, Brenda Vaccaro, Frank Stallone, Herbert Lom, Paul L. Smith, Moira Lister, Sarah Maur Thorp, Warren Berlinger, Yehuda Efroni, Neil McCarthy. (PG, 100 mins)
Veteran producer Harry Alan Towers (1920-2009) already had two previous big-screen adaptations of Agatha Christie's 1939 novel And Then There Were None to his credit, with both 1965 and 1974 versions titled TEN LITTLE INDIANS, but only his 1989 version cites Christie's 1943 play Ten Little Indians as its basis. The difference is negligible, as the play had a more upbeat ending than the novel, but none of Towers' three versions stuck with the novel's bleak ending anyway. The 1989 version was the last and by far the least of Towers' takes on the material, with 1965 (directed by longtime David Lean assistant George Pollock) generally considered the best, though the 1974 (directed by Peter Collinson) has aged very well, and with its unique setting in a luxury Iranian hotel, its Bruno Nicolai score, and some surprisingly stylish murder sequences, it almost plays in retrospect like an Agatha Christie giallo. Despite Towers' obvious affinity for the material (he also scripted the 1965 and 1974 versions under his pseudonym "Peter Welbeck"), Rene Clair's 1945 version AND THEN THERE WERE NONE is still considered the definitive adaptation of this Christie work.
Cannon in November 1989 as they were transitioning into their life support years, is mostly lethargic and uninspired, blandly directed with little style or suspense by Alan Birkinshaw. A career D-lister who was usually brought in to clean up other people's messes, Birkinshaw replaced two fired directors on the 1984 killer Santa outing DON'T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS, and he handled extensive uncredited reshoots on Cannon's 1985 Christie adaptation ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE when Desmond Davis (CLASH OF THE TITANS) was handed his walking papers after a disastrous Cannes screening. Birkinshaw's 1978 UK video nasty KILLER'S MOON has its admirers, but he never distinguished himself elsewhere. By 1989, he was finding steady employment with Towers, though TEN LITTLE INDIANS was the only one of their collaborations to make it into theaters: he also helmed two entries in the ill-advised Poesploitation craze of the era--THE HOUSE OF USHER and THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH--both shot in 1989 but released straight-to-video in 1991.
|TEN LITTLE INDIANS opening in Toledo, OH on 1/5/1990
EDGE OF SANITY, and RIVER OF DEATH--all released in 1989), but most of them seem to be acting with a sense of apathy rather than urgency. They're all suspects at one time or another and of the ensemble, Lom has a couple of Commissioner Dreyfus-esque harumphs and seems like the only one who brought his almost-A-game, but he's taken out fairly early. Vaccaro looks like a past Oscar-nominee who knows this is junk. Berlinger does a lot of Charles Durning/Brian Dennehy blustering but little else. Pleasence can always be relied upon to ham it up but he seems uncharacteristically bored and half-asleep (though the goofy grin on his face during a croquet scene is amusing). Smith does the same stink-eye squint that he perfected in MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, PIECES, and however many others, but it just seems stale here. And Stallone is just terrible. Just out on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber (because physical media is dead), TEN LITTLE INDIANS '89 has some beautiful exteriors when you get to see them, but this third time out for Towers just drags along and is of little interest to anyone but the most die-hard Cannon completists or Frank Stallone stalkers. Birkinshaw also worked with Pleasence on THE HOUSE OF USHER, and with Stallone, Vaccaro, and Lom on THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, and I'm surprised neither of those have surfaced on Blu-ray yet.