The performers are presented one by one rocking queasily on a boat, while the old salt manning the vessel savors a gargantuan sandwich. Formal introductions take place after they arrive at the isolated island manor -- men of justice and medicine (Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston), a sleuth (Roland Young) and a grand dame (Judith Anderson), the doddering old general (C. Aubrey Smith) and the drawing-room parasite (Mischa Auer) and a couple of ingénues (Louis Hayward, June Duprez). Every one of them is responsible for other people's deaths, a record announces oracularly, and they're to be executed to the tune of the nursery rhyme. A posh cast dressed to the nines and dropping like flies -- that's all there is to the thing, really, so René Clair approaches Agatha Christie as an illusionist parlor trick, rather like Magritte's pipe. The reigning stance is that of a frigidly composed vigilante psyche, intrigue is predicated on droll voyeurism: When one character looks into a keyhole, the camera tracks through it, and then through another until the Marxian (Bros.) joke is clear. (Richard Haydn, the butler, assesses the situation when asked about dinner: "Just cold meat, sir.") Lifeboat is invoked here and there, Hitchcock later returned the compliment in The Trouble with Harry by reusing the shot of a corpse's splayed boots to frame a discovery. A tightly self-winding contraption, hermetic and heartless, a relief after the syrupy witches and ghosts of Clair's American movies. Adaptation by Dudley Nichols. With Queenie Leonard. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce