Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Adventures in Blu-ray: And Then There Were None (1945)

Back in July of 2010, I did a brief pictorial series with the devastatingly clever title “What I'll buy when I finally get a Blu-ray player.”  It didn’t last long; I did about five installments before relegating it to the Blogosphere dustbin because 1) I got bored with it very quickly, and 2) acquiring a Blu-ray player didn’t seem to rank high on my list of priorities at that time.  I received good advice from several confidantes that unless I had one of those HD television sets capable of vacuuming and walking up to the mailbox for the mail, my money would best be spent elsewhere.

I eventually acquired an HD TV set, and once again the thought of coaxing a Blu-ray player to propose marriage crossed my mind…but it wasn’t until I received a generous Christmas largesse of Amazon.com gift cards from the Double K’s and sister Debbie/bro-in-law Craige that I decided to make it so.  The only problem was: there was a Blu-ray devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other…and the cherub kept saying, “It would be more practical if you bought an external DVD writer, since the one that came with your computer no longer works.”  (Stupid angel common sense.)

So I thought long and hard about this dilemma, and with the help of neither devil nor angel came to this conclusion: “Why can’t I have both?”  And that’s what I did; the new writer handles both Blu-ray and DVD’s…and the benefit to the TDOY faithful is that I’m able to kick off this new semi-regular feature that will allow me to watch the latest technology and discuss same: Adventures in Blu-ray.  (Gad—is there no end to my ingenuity?)  I don’t have a huge Blu-ray library—hopefully some recent purchases will rectify that—but I did acquire a few Blu-ray discs through various and sundry means (all perfectly legitimate, I assure you, officer), including some Disney Movie Club purchases (The Mouse Factory’s pretty gung-ho on the DVD-Blu combo thing) and that Criterion edition of City Lights I got some time ago.

Our inaugural Blu-ray disc comes from VCI Entertainment as a promotional freebie: the 1945 suspense classic And Then There Were None.  It’s fitting that this movie—based on the novel Ten Little Indians (yes, I am aware this is not what it was originally called—you need not remind me in the comment section) by Agatha Christie—is the kickoff disc only because I’m hesitant to give too much away about the film…it’s one of those “surprise ending” showcases.  But here’s a brief plot synopsis: eight individuals of various occupations and social stratas are invited to a home on an island off the coast of Devon, England as guests of a mysterious host identified only as “U.N. Owen.”  Along with a maid and butler, the guests learn that the classic nursery rhyme (“Ten Little Indians”) is a wryly ironic commentary on their situation when one by one, they are murdered in a variety of ways that mirror the events in the rhyme.  As the house’s population begins to deplete, the remaining guests attempt to dope out the identity of the killer.

Originally released by 20th Century Fox, And Then There Were None saw its copyright lapse and become part of the extensive collection of our good friend P. Domain.  As such, the film has been released by a number of companies—in essence, anyone with access to a print—in varying states of quality; VCI’s copy is pretty decent, but it’s not anything that would make you sit up in your chair and ask: “Hey—is this Blu-ray?”  None’s big draw is its incredible cast: Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, Louis Hayward, Roland Young, June Duprez, Mischa Auer, C. Aubrey Smith, Judith Anderson, Richard Haydn and Queenie Leonard play the “Indians” stranded on Murder Island.  It’s directed by French filmmaker René Clair, and while Clair tries his best to make things cinematic (I particularly how he introduces us to the eight visitors as they struggle with seasickness and other discomforts on their way in) it’s ultimately unable to transcend its stage origins.  All of the performances are first-rate, but once you know how it ends I’m not sure if you’d want a second helping (unlike Witness for the Prosecution, which allows you multiple viewings because the acting is phenomenal).  (Leonard Maltin gives it 4 stars in his Classic Movie Guide—Len…it’s good, but it’s not that good.)

So next time on “Adventures in Blu-ray,” I’ll look at a disc that demonstrates just what delights Blu-ray has to offer.  (No, I haven’t decided what it will be yet.)


Jeff Flugel said...

Welcome to the world of Blu-Ray, Ivan! I think you'll find plenty of titles that give you the expected WOW! factor as your "adventures" continue...not all Blu-Ray transfers are created equal. But the majority are big steps up in a/v quality.

Look forward to your next review!

Caftan Woman said...

Suspense, sly humour and an all-star cast - who could ask for anything more?

One of these days I have got to get me one of those new-fangled blu-ray things. My sister tells me that "The Music Man" on blu-ray makes you feel like you're marching down the street in River City with Harold Hill. And "The Adventures of Robin Hood" is a religious experience. Must be quite a thing.

Anonymous said...

Are you watching them on your computer?
Do you still have your "Bridge Over the River Kwai"? Sony spent a lot of money restoring it.
Why not match '50s Hi-Def with 21st Century Hi-Def and watch some 65mm films like To Catch a Thief, North By Northwest, Ben-Hur, Ten Commandments, Lawrence of Arabia, West Side Story, Sound of Music, Cleopatra...
Time to re-subscribe to Netflix?


Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Barry asked:

Do you still have your "Bridge Over the River Kwai"?

Some lucky eBay soul has it now. I am watching the Blu-ray stuff on the computer for now, but the next financial windfall that comes my way I'm going to get a separate player for the TV.

Irish Jayhawk said...

I recall watching And Then There Were None as a kid. I was fascinated by the concept and I started reading Agatha Christie mystery books as a result. I'm grateful my grandmother introduced me to this film and Witness For The Prosecution at a young age- inspired years of passionate classics-watching ever since!