One of Agatha Christie’s most successful and thrilling murder plots (originally called Ten Little Niggers – they were less-enlightened times) came to the screen in 1965.
The setting is an eerie Austrian castle in the depths of winter, which is only accessible by means of a private cable car.
There are eight house guests at the castle when the story opens – all of whom have been invited by their host, a Mr Owen, who is absent and whom none of the guests has ever met.
The guests are elderly English Judge Arthur Cannon (Wilfrid Hyde-White), reformed alcoholic Harley Street practitioner Dr Armstrong (Dennis Price), private detective William Henry Blore (Stanley Holloway), actress Ilona Bergen (Daliah Lavi), American pop star Mike Raven (Fabian), retired army officer General Sir John Mandrake (Leo Genn), American engineer Hugh Lombard (Hugh O’ Brien) and English secretary Ann Clyde (Shirley Eaton).
The castle is run by a German couple – the Grohmanns – who complete the Ten of the title.
At dinner the host’s chair at the head of the table remains empty and a prominent feature of the tableware is a large fruit dish, ringed by the ornamental figures of ten little Indians.
After dinner the guests are startled to hear the voice of Mr Owen their host (an uncredited Christopher Lee), who proceeds to accuse each of them – including the German couple – of murder, and warning them that retribution is at hand. It later transpires that the voice has come from a tape recording which the Grohmanns have been instructed to play at a certain time.
Raven tries to cheer up the assembled guests with a spirited rendition of the song Ten Little Indians, the nursery rhyme which recounts the various circumstances which progressively reduce the number, one-by-one, until the line “then there was none.”
Raven has no sooner finished the song than he has a choking fit and dies – just like the first little Indian in the song. His drink has been poisoned by an unknown hand. And this is merely the beginning . . .
The others realise that their host is a psychopath delivering retribution for their sins and – even more disturbingly – the killer is one of them. In addition, the killer removes one figurine from the fruit dish centerpiece on the dining table the centerpiece on the dining room table each time a guest is murdered.
Despite the Alpine setting, the film was actually shot in an empty mansion in Rush near Dublin (Ireland).