A good story speaks to many people on multiple levels, so naturally it would seem fair that a good novel would make a good film. While this is not always the case, and some would argue that there are novels which are unfilmable, it has been the consensus that one genre in particular is easily adapted into film. This genre is crime or mystery. From Sherlock Holmes to pulps of the 30’s, these types of stories fit easily into the standard three act structure of film narrative. And who better to be adapted than one of the most popular mystery writers of the 20th century, Agatha Christie. Having penned upwards of 78 books, her work changed the way we look at the mystery novel. Her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was groundbreaking in its ability to conceal the perpetrator of the crime even to the most ardent mystery reader. So naturally, many of her works were adapted into films. The novel I will be looking at will be 1939’s And Then There Were None. First published in England originally under a different title, the title was changed to And Then There Were None when reprinted in the U.S., alternatively titled Ten Little Indians in some English language publications and play adaptations.
Before we turn the pages of this story, let's take a moment to look at the word giallo. Italian for yellow, this word became synonymous with crime or mystery novel published from the late 1920’s and onward in Italy. Many of which were translations of English novels by authors like Cain, Hammett, Conan-Doyle, and of course Agatha Christie.The publisher Mondadori signified this genre by the color yellow, and this color scheme quickly caught on with other publishers as crime novels gained in popularity. When these types of stories were adapted for film in the late 1960’s beginning with Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963), the name signifying that genre stuck. And the giallo film cycle was born. At its height,during the first half of the 1970’s numerous films were produced in Italy each year. Characterized by their stylized violence, inventive camera angles, and jazzy musical scores these films made famous by auteurs like Dario Argento, and Sergio Martino. By this time though, it's pioneer, Mario Bava, was already progressing to the next cycle, the body count movie. Films like Bava’s Bay of Blood would influence filmmakers in Canada and the U.S., like John Carpenter, in ushering of the age of the slasher film in the late 1970’s.
Marie doesn't want rest. Her husband needs her help in seducing the Prof into giving him the formula. Too bad she's more into the houseboy, Charles. I mean he can drive a boat with his feet, without looking ahead, while laying on the deck. Amazing young man. It's too bad someone stuck a knife in him. It is also unfortunate that Mr. Stark sent away the yacht for a few days, so no one will be bothering them. Not even the police. So like any normal group, they wrap up Charlie and hang him in the walk in freezer next to a slab of beef Rocky would use to train.
It's not long before more bodies turn up. This time it's Marie, wearing that red bra, perhaps the check is in it? She's been stabbed in the chest, exactly as she was in the opening seen, only this time it wasn't a joke. So the meat locker gets another body.
While it may seem that this film is dull due to Bava chosing to use primarily off screen violence, rather than a typical giallo. It fits in with the structure of And Then There Were None. In the novel the murders are mostly happened upon by the group. This gives the reader a further sense of confusion as to who is the killer. There must be someone else on the island committing these murders outside of the group. We are put in the same place as the characters. Unfortunately in the case of Five Dolls, we are just confused. But if confusing plots stopped us from watching films, we would never have the pleasure of such gems as The Big Sleep (1946). And let's be honest, much like reading Playboy for the articles, the real reason we came to Five Dolls is for the visual pleasure.
If you are a fan of Bava's work I would recommend checking this film out. (All photos from this film are screen shots taken from the 2007 Anchor Bay release of the film).
Also, here is the trailer for the film care of Arrow Video. And don't forget to check out my Tumblr page