Starring Donald Pleasence, Brenda Vaccaro, Frank Stallone, Herbert Lom, Sarah Maur Thorp, and Warren Berlinger
My rating: ★ star
Dreadful, pointless version of Agatha Christie’s much-adapted story.
The Internet Movie Database informs me that this film is 98 minutes long. It took me three days to get through it. As a Christie completist, I felt compelled to see this movie. It was a long slog.
This was the third adaptation of the story (also known as And Then There Were None) produced by Harry Alan Towers, and, if his goal had been to improve with each version and finally get the story right, he failed miserably. I haven’t seen his second version yet, but this 1989 version is significantly worse than Towers’s first adaptation in 1965.
This time, Towers sets the story on an expedition in Africa. After some cringeworthy moments where African natives are used as set decoration, the entirety of the action involves the ten people who are invited on the expedition by a mysterious host. The plot is well known, so a lengthy discussion of it is as pointless as this film itself. To sum up, the mysterious host views each guest as guilty of some crime for which they’ve evaded punishment, and one-by-one starts killing them off.
When the story and the guilty party are known to the viewers, a mystery needs strong execution to succeed, particularly with the characters. We want to spend time with interesting people. The 1945 version by Rene Clair proves admirable in this respect, peopling the story with great performances by strong character actors. The 1989 version should have more successful than it is. The cast features noteworthy performers: Brenda Vaccaro, Herbert Lom, Donald Pleasence, and Warren Berlinger (a personal favorite). Those four should be interesting enough to overcome the unfortunate presence of Frank Stallone. And, yet, as dynamic as those actors have been in other roles, they fail here to provide a modicum of interest. Did I mention that the film stars Frank Stallone? I’m not being fair. He’s not painfully awful. He’s just dull, particularly in comparison with Aidan Turner’s compelling performance as Philip Lombard in the 2015 mini-series adaptation.
The film bases its script on the 1943 play version of the novel, also written by Agatha Christie, which, notably, features a different ending from the novel’s. Most adaptions of the story use the play’s ending, so it comes as no surprise. The only notable change from other versions of the story, besides the setting, is the inclusion of a lesbian backstory for one of the characters. The four minutes or so given to that do not erase the been-there-done-that feeling of the film. There’s also a bit with a lion that was added to the story, but that’s as utterly pointless as the rest of the adaptation.
As a Christie lover, I kept searching for something, anything, to justify the existence of this version and to make the 98 minutes I spent on it worthwhile. In the end, I had to accept that it was 98 minutes wasted that I’ll never get back. This review is short, I know, but this film doesn’t deserve any more of my time.