A group of ten disparate people, strangers to each other, have all been summoned by a mysterious host named Mr. Owen to travel to Africa and join him on a safari he is hosting. After arriving by train, they meet Philip Lombard who guides the entourage with the aid of local Natives through the jungle. They are joined by Marston who makes a spectacular entrance as a flying ace.
Things turn ominous from the beginning, however. First their native guides abandon them, then more natives cut a bridge line across a deep ravine (their only way in and out of camp). As a result, the eight guests, plus a married couple, the Rodgers, who arrived earlier, find themselves isolated in their hunting camp. In addition, their host, Mr. Owen, is strangely absent. Following their dinner, by means of a gramophone recording, an inhuman voice accuses each person of a murder that they each had caused and escaped justice.
Events go from being unsettling to deadly when Marston chokes to death after drinking a poisoned martini. His death mimics the first verse of the English Nursery Rhyme ‘Ten Little Indians’. Later, one the ten small Indian dolls that adorn the centre of the dining table is found with its head snapped off. In the morning, Rodgers makes everyone breakfast single-handedly, as his wife, Ethel Mae is found dead in her bed. Suspicion arises that they are being picked off by a dangerous lunatic.
As four of the men set off with rifles to hunt down Mr. Owen, General Romansky confides to Vera Claythorne his guilt over the death of his subordinate and that no one will leave the safari. The General not long after is pushed off a cliff and the guests to realize that they are being executed by Mr. Owen who, in fact, may be one of them.
After suspicion falls on Mr. Rodgers whose activity was unknown during the hunt, Rodgers angrily insists to spend the night keeping watch on the hill. In the morning, he is found killed, with an axe in his head, fulfilling the fourth verse of the poem. Marion Marshall turns to God to for protection and confesses to Vera in private that the co-actress who died was Marshall’s secret lover. When Marion takes a nap, the killer enters her tent and kills her with a syringe, putting suspicion on Dr. Werner.
At night, the terrified remaining guests admit to their guilt, and Vera returns to her tent, and screams, alarming the others. The Judge is missing, but soon falls from the top of her tent, shot in the head. Not long after, Dr. Werner goes missing, later to reappear with his throat slit. Blore barricades himself in his tent, only to be found dead by Lombard and Vera, stabbed in the chest, with Lombard’s teddy bear between Blore and the knife.
Ten Little Indians is a 1989 mystery film, and the fifth screen adaptation (including the 1987 Russian version Desyat Negrityat) of Agatha Christie’s famous novel. It was the third version to be produced by Harry Alan Towers, following his 1965 and 1974 adaptations.
In the opening credits, it is stated that this film is based on Christie’s stage adaptation and makes no mention of the earlier novel, perhaps because the film’s climax is taken almost verbatim from the stage script. (Other western adaptations, while all still using an upbeat finale, have significantly toned down the action-packed climax Christie used in the play.)
Harry Alan Towers commissioned the original script that used the novel’s ending (in which Lombard gets shot and Vera hangs herself) and setting the action on an island. However, both of these were changed at the last minute. This version also introduced a lesbian affair. Herbert Lom, who plays the General here, previously starred in the 1974 version as Dr. Armstrong.
Ten Little Indians (1989)
Directed by: Alan Birkinshaw
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Brenda Vaccaro, Frank Stallone, Sarah Maur Thorp, Herbert Lom, Warren Berlinger, Yehuda Elfroni, Moira Lister
Screenplay by: Jackson Hunsicker, Gerry O’Hara
Production Design by:
Cinematography by: Arthur Lavis
Film Editing by: Penelope Shaw
Costume Design by: Diana Cilliers
Art Direction by: George Canes
Music by: George S. Clinton
Distributed by: Cannon Films
Release Date: November 5, 1989