Wednesday, December 02, 2015


Five years before Agatha Christie published Ten Little Indians came this B-thriller which uses the same set-up. Eight people get telegrams inviting each one to a penthouse cocktail party supposedly in their honor. The guests include Hardie Albright (a radical college professor who has just been fired from his job), Samuel S. Hinds (the college administrator who fired Albright), Edward Ellis (the city's district attorney), Edwin Maxwell (a shady but important figure in city politics), Donald Cook (a reporter) and Genevieve Tobin (a singer who flirts with both Albright and Cook). At some point, a voice comes out of the radio; it's their unseen host who proclaims that they'll be playing a game of death, even predicting the times that people will start croaking. Sure enough, people do start dying and they all begin to realize that, not only do they have unsavory connections with each other, but they've all offended the mysterious host in some way. It also becomes clear that the host can see and hear the guests, so they begin to suspect each other. The front gates of the apartment are electrified and so they are all trapped, letting the host toy with his victims until, we assume, by daybreak there will be none.

Since we all know Ten Little Indians so well, this film, based on a novel and play called The Invisible Host, pales a bit in comparison, but it kept my attention throughout. Though no one actor shines, all of them come off well without an obvious weak link. I especially like Maxwell, who looks like a B-movie Edward Arnold, and Albright. There are some plot problems but nothing major. Admirably, the comic relief is kept to a minimum (an addled butler who pops in and out briefly)—though there is also a lack of wit in the writing, which is one of the things that makes Christie's novel and play more interesting. The sets are very nice for a B-budget film, and the effect of the electrified gates, which is used more than once, is spectacular. Worth digging up. (Pictured above are Cook and Albright) [YouTube]

No comments: