Whoever had the not-so-bright idea of setting this remake of Agatha Christie's perennial thriller smack dab in the middle of an African safari really struck out. Perhaps the filmmakers got a good deal on location shooting in Africa, because there's no other discernible reason for redoing
this Old Dark House thriller in the sunny veldt. Instead of winding staircases and locked doors, we get swinging rope bridges and open tent flaps.
After de-training, the cast begins a safari led by Capt. Philip Lombard (Frank Stallone). Sponsored by a mysterious benefactor, this dream vacation almost immediately goes awry. After making a perilous crossing of a gorge, the travelers are trapped in "dangerous" surroundings (what looks like a
Lion Country Safari picnic area) when Africans slice the ropes to the basket used for the crossing. As the wayfarers reveal how they came to be invited on the trip, the familiar Christie plot unfurls. Among the honored guests are: Elmo Rodgers (Paul L. Smith), an obese cook; his jittery wife,
Ethel (Moira Lister); Romensky (Herbert Lom), a general; Marion Marshall (Brenda Vaccaro), an actress; Wargrave (Donald Pleasence), a hanging judge; former nanny Vera Claythorne (Sarah Maur Thorp); gentleman dandy Anthony Marston (Neil McCarthy); Hans Werner (Yehuda Efroni), an alcoholic doctor;
and Blore (Warren Berlinger), a veteran detective. Bwana Lombard, we later learn, is actually taking the trip in place of a friend. Following instructions left by the absent host, Elmo plays a phonograph record that lists the host's death sentence for each of his invitees, as well as the crimes he
claims they have committed with impunity. For example, Vera wasn't able to save a young charge from drowning, and a patient died under the shaky scalpel of Dr. Werner. Whoever he is (and he may actually be one of those assembled), the host intends to pick off his guests one by one. Ethel dies
after taking sedatives Dr. Werner had given her to calm her nerves when she saw Marston take a fatal drink. Each time one of the guests is killed, the head of a little doll (one of ten dolls--to coincide with the nursery rhyme "Ten Little Indians") is removed. After Romensky takes a deadly fall
from a cliff, the others pass the time by trying to deduce the killer's identity. Tempers flare as Wargrave starts dredging up details of everyone's hidden past, and in short order he is found shot (we later learn that his "death" has been faked, part of an attempt by Wargrave and Werner to flush
out their tormentor). Repairing a badly damaged radio transmitter, Lombard secretly signals for a rescue plane, but the guests may not last the night. While Lombard and Vera are busy falling in love, the surly Elmo, who has seemed the most likely suspect up to this point, gets a hatchet planted in
his noggin. In time, Marion gets stung with a hypo, Blore is stabbed, and Werner also turns up dead. Terrified and mistrustful, Vera shoots Lombard, believing him to be the only survivor besides herself. To her amazement, Wargrave reappears, alive but deranged. It seems that when he learned he had
a terminal illness, Wargrave concocted this nightmarish vacation. He quaffs poison, but still forces Vera to hang herself. In the nick of time, however, Lombard recovers and saves her, as we hear the rescue plane humming in the background.
Although Christie's story was brilliantly filmed by Rene Clair (AND THEN THERE WERE NONE), filmmakers the world over have been unable to resist ripping off or remaking this property. None of the subsequent updates has equaled the wry black comic tone of Clair's film, but this version is the
weakest. The casting is particularly uninspired; Lom, Berlinger, Vaccaro, and Pleasence are so overweight, they seem in danger of expiring just from walking in the jungle heat. Moreover, the charismaless Stallone fails to lend his character the necessary heroic stature. As for Pleasence, he's the
same in every movie--pointing a paranoid finger at the audience here as if he were still on the lookout for HALLOWEEN's Michael Myers.
Even if the casting were brilliant, the film couldn't overcome two more serious obstacles. Surely, by now, everyone has either read Christie's novel or is familiar with the plot; unimaginatively, these re-makers haven't altered one iota of the story line. Worse yet is their decision to transfer
this creepy tale (about travelers transformed into sitting ducks) from a sinister mansion to sun-drenched Africa. A mansion can have hidden stairways, sliding panels, and cobwebs. What can one do in the jungle--hide behind a bush? Because the intricacies of Christie's ingenious plot are not given
their proper showcase, her deadly parlor game becomes perfunctory. Torpid direction and extremely sloppy editing further diminish the suspense. Stagnant and convictionless, this slapdash film casts an unflattering light on its cast of seasoned pros and does a disservice to one of the cleverest
crime thrillers of this century. (Violence, profanity, adult situations, substance abuse.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1990
- Rating: PG
- Review: Whoever had the not-so-bright idea of setting this remake of Agatha Christie's perennial thriller smack dab in the middle of an African safari really struck out. Perhaps the filmmakers got a good deal on location shooting in Africa, because there's no othe… (more)