Tuesday, October 30, 2012

And Then There Were None

1945, US, directed by René Clair

Audiences at the tail-end of the war certainly seem to have had a taste for the blacker shadings in life, whether the overall tone was comic or tragic -- the tongue is firmly in cheek here, as English conventions are gleefully skewered by colonials, expatriates and Johnny Foreigner alike. Though I've not read Agatha Christie's original novel for years, nor seen her stage derivation, the almost frantic efforts to maintain the behavioural norms of the British class system surely was influenced by the disintegrating world that formed the real-life backdrop to the fictional material.

Clair keeps the tone bone-dry as the upper-class characters are forced to deal with an island without servants, among other inconveniences (you know, the occasional murder, and so forth), while also creating several finely atmospheric sequences, especially the early scene during which the characters find out just why their odd group has been brought together. It's hard to avoid thinking of Hitchcock throughout the film -- the opening sequence on a boat surely references the master's work in the previous year's Lifeboat, but Hitch may have returned the favour some years later, with Dial M for Murder, which makes the same precise use of set geography such that the storm-tossed house here, and the London apartment there, become characters in their own right.

While I've added this to my Watching Movies in Africa project, it's a bit of a cheat. The film is here on the basis that I know it was banned in what was then the Gold Coast in 1946, and I haven't yet found evidence that it was shown elsewhere. Film censorship on the Gold Coast was fairly relaxed for the most part, at least until the late 1950s: films were already certified in the UK, where censorship was fairly strict at the time, and very few films seem to have been subsequently banned in the Gold Coast. Based on the evidence to date, even fewer were snipped by the local censor. Still, in 1946 there was a rash of outright prohibitions, and the main film distributor at the time, West African Pictures Co., a Lebanese-run company which eventually ended up in state hands in 1956, complained loudly about the sudden strictness. The censor gave written reasons for the various bans, with And Then There Were None prohibited on the basis that it "showed a series of carefully planned murders," earning it unanimous rejection. One wonders whether the board also objected, if in unspoken ways, to the manner in which the film depicts British society -- colonial censorship boards, even when they included local representatives, tended not to like films that took the mother country down a peg or two.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States