There is a hotel out in the middle of the Iranian desert which is two hundred miles away from civilisation, meaning it takes a while to reach there and when you do you are pretty much isolated from the world aside from the staff and your fellow guests. To provide an attraction, there are ruins from an ancient Persian society situated nearby, but aside from that, there is little in the way of entertainment which might be why there are no guests flocking to stay. Or are there? A helicopter arrives out of a clear blue sky and lands close to the ornate building, then eight people climb out to be greeted by two members of staff, but what could they possibly be here for?
The answer to that is one of the best known premises in mystery fiction as it was taken from Agatha Christie's novel which gathered a selection of characters on an island and bumped them off one by one; its original title taken from a rather macabre nursery rhyme considered offensive as time marched on, the book was renamed Ten Little Indians and then, for the most celebrated nineteen-forties screen version, And Then There Were None, drawn from the last line of the poem. Subsequent adaptations usually used that title, though when notoriously thrifty producer Harry Alan Towers got a chance to make a movie out of it, it bore either title.
Depending on which print you saw, that was, although the mid-sixties incarnation was not the first time he would be attracted to this material, as this 1974 version was rushed into production to cash in on the then-current hit Murder on the Orient Express, which also featured an all-star cast. Naturally, Towers' idea of that kind of line-up was different and more economical than Sidney Lumet's for his film, so in this case you had Oliver Reed headlining and Elke Sommer as his leading lady along with a selection of fairly recognisable character actors assembled from international cinema such as Stéphane Audran making a change from those Claude Chabrol thrillers, two former Bond villains in Gert Fröbe and Adolfo Celi, British stalwart Richard Attenborough and others.
Somewhat inevitably, Herbert Lom was among those others, playing a sinister doctor who may be behind the scheme to assemble ten people in the middle of nowhere and kill them one at a time, and all because a voice on a tape recorder (actually Orson Welles) accuses them of being murderers themselves. This idea that nobody is entirely innocent, and some of us are more guilty than others, was a potent one in light of the stages in the story where the fingers are pointed and the potential victims begin to accuse one another of taking their predeliction for criminality that bit too far, but in this case it was part of an approach which sadly fumbled the promise of a rollicking good murder mystery and instead created a drama which was for the most part cold and aloof.
In spite of its killer premise (in more ways than one), this variation had nothing going for it except the novelty of its location. Indeed, its economical production was notably lacking in suspense, mainly thanks to the script being lifted practically whole from Towers' 1965 movie of the same name, so little wonder there was a distinctly second-hand quality to the way this played out. None of the actors could do much with what they were given, and accordingly offered performances purely led by the script, which was not tailored to their methods, and neither did director Peter Collinson find it in himself to present much flair into the proceedings (never did his career high of The Italian Job seem so far away). The sole benefit from this was derived from the setting, which was genuinely eerie, a mood assisted by the way the cast sleepwalked through the plot, not really springing into life even for scenes where murders occurred. Add to that a big reveal which relied too much on coincidence, and Christie's fine clockwork narrative talents were not best served here. Music by Bruno Nicolai.