No this isn’t the acclaimed 1945 version from director Rene Clair starring two of the great scene stealers of that decade in Barry Fitzgerald and Walter Huston, what it does represent to me is it’s the first filmed version of the Agatha Christie story I would see for myself thanks to the VHS age. And how about Herbert Lom and Sir Richard Attenborough for stealing scenes? They’re not to bad at it either.
Considering this is a Harry Alan Towers production, one shouldn’t write it off too quickly. He’s amassed a top notch crew of talented actors and a director who had already helmed the cult fave, The Italian Job. During the credits sequence, you’ll see a couple of names one often sees in Towers’ productions, his own alias Peter Welbeck as the screenwriter and his wife/actress, Maria Rohm as one of the featured players.
For the unaware, our tale is that of ten total strangers meeting at a secluded location where each has a secret to hide. “One by one we make our confessions.” Lom will be the first to point out. Their host is nowhere to be seen, yet the party members are slowly being killed off leaving those that remain to begin suspecting one another. The tension is set to rise.
Starring in this version of the Christie story is none other than the hell raiser supreme, Oliver Reed, who I would suggest was really at the height of his powers around the time of this film’s release. He and the other members of the cast are to arrive at a distant location as the credits roll. They are arriving at what is actually the shah abbas hotel in Iran which makes for a wonderful back drop as a secluded estate of the mysterious benefactor who has a voice that sounds a lot like Orson Welles once the plot begins to unwind for our unsuspecting guests by way of a phonograph recording. Joining Ollie along with Rohm, Lom and Attenborough are leading lady, Elke Sommer who will find a possible protector/lover in dear Ollie. Then there is Gert Froebe, Adolfo Celi, Charles Aznavour, Stephane Audran and Alberto de Mendoza.
I shouldn’t have to tell you the pecking order of just who is going to be killed first thru sixth. This is a matter of stardom, which aside from Janet Leigh in Psycho and most any Tarantino film, means that our leading players are going to be sitting across from one another in a North, South, East, West setting in the hotel lobby as their eyes dart back and forth between one another with their nerves on edge and only one of them packing a gun.
It’s easy to assume we’ve all seen a variation of the solution that’s going to be exposed as the final scene approaches here but I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own. A double twist in store? Perhaps. Just don’t believe everything you see and hear and with the likes of Lom and Attenborough verbally sparring over which one might be the killer, it’s just plain fun.
Director Collinson would go on from here to work with leading man Oliver Reed twice more before passing away at only 44 years of age. They reunited on The Sell Out and Tomorrow Never Comes. His final film would be the next too last film as well for one of Hollywood’s most popular leading men, William Holden on their collaboration of The Earthling.
Anyone who frequents my “takes” on films and the history of movies should know that I’m a big supporter of Oliver Reed so it should come as know surprise that I often shake my head when seeing that many reviewers of a professional nature usually brush this version of the story aside. Don’t do it. With a cast of first rate performers as the center core of this production that utilizes the Spanish countryside for it’s exteriors, it has plenty to offer and enjoy.
Producer Towers surely loved this story as he put together three versions of the original story over the course of 24 years. The first effort came in 1965 with the likes of Hugh O’Brian, Fabian and Wilfrid Hyde-White while the 1989 VHS era version starred Donald Pleasence, Brenda Vaccaro and Herbert Lom. Yes, Herbert Lom making this his second appearance in the same Christie story. While Orson Welles offered up the unbilled phonograph recording in this version of the story, Christopher Lee fans take note that it is Lee’s baritone that gave us the reading in the ’65 version.
For fans of the leading players and those that had a crush on the curves of Miss Elke, this one is worth seeking out.