Eight total strangers arrive by boat at a small island off the coast of Devon, England, invited to dinner by a Mr. and Mrs. U.N. Owen ("Unknown") … eight people who apparently have nothing in common.
Puzzled as to why they are there, the dinner guests assemble at the table, awkwardly introduce themselves, and contemplate out loud why they were invited.
Shockingly, the ten (including the servants) stand accused of murder. Their crimes are recited by Owen on the gramaphone record. The guests (represented by an excellent ensemble cast) and their so-called crimes are:
- General Sir John Mandrake (C. Aubrey Smith) ordered his wife’s lover to his death
- Dr. Edward G. Armstrong (Walter Huston) was drunk, causing a patient’s death
- Emily Brent (Judith Anderson) is responsible for her nephew’s death
- Vera Claythrome (June Duprez) murdered her sister’s fiancé
- William H. Blore (Roland Young) caused an innocent man’s death
- Prince Nikita Starloff (Mischa Auer) killed a couple
- Judge Francis J. Quincannon (Barry Fitzgerald) sentenced an innocent man to be hanged
- Philip Lombard (Louis Hayward) killed 21 tribesmen in Africa
- Thomas and Ethel Rogers caused their previous employer’s death
The first to go is Prince Starloff, who dies after taking a drink; one of the Indians breaks. Ethel Rogers dies in her sleep; a second Indian goes missing.
The deaths coincide with the lyrics of a popular children's song. They decide Owen is hiding in the house. Lombard spies on Judge Quincannon, who is spying on Dr. Armstrong, who's spying on Blore, who's spying on Lombard.
Next to go is General Mandrake, murdered by a knife stab in the back; another missing Indian. Judge Quincannon articulates what everyone else is thinking – one of them is Owen. But who? Everyone becomes jittery and suspicious of the others, sometimes with comical results.
The guest list dwindles, one by one, just like the song, each after they confess how they caused someone else's death. Rogers, axed; Miss Brent, hypodermic to the neck. Quincannon, shot in the head. Armstrong, drowned. Then Blore, by bricks.
Only two remain – Lombard and Vera. Which one is the mysterious Owen? Or could it be ... someone else?
There is no dialogue in the film during the first five minutes.
And Then There Were None is based on Agatha Christie’s stage play of her best-selling 1939 novel, which is considered to be her masterwork. It has been remade three times as Ten Little Indians in 1965, 1974, and 1989, each with a stellar ensemble cast; and as a Soviet adaptation, Desyat Negrityat, in 1987. It is now in the public domain.
Quotations I like from the film
”Very stupid to kill the only servant in the house. Now we don’t even know where to find the marmalade.” – Emily Brent ((Judith Anderson)
“Never in my life have I been accused of any crime, sir, and if that’s what you think of me, I shan’t serve any dinner.” – Thomas Rogers (Richard Haydn)
"The whole thing has been as inevitable as in a nursery rhyme. When the boat arrives from the mainland, there will be ten dead bodies, and a riddle no one can solve on Indian Island.” – Judge Francis J. Quincannon (Barry Fitzgerald)