The Stage is Set for a Three Man Showdown…
Playing games with Michael Caine and Lawrence Olivier, as a man confronts the man who wants to marry his wife.
Sleuth (1972) (Trailer), top250info, http://www.youtube.com
Hands up if you used to groan at those TV Eastenders (1985-) specials with only a few characters – that you didn’t give a crap about – in the show. I’ll admit it, I did making it the number one reason to miss that particular Sunday omnibus. Yawn. Or without a hint of Nicholas Sparks in space, that Gravity (2013) film where Sandra
Bollocks Bullock was stuck in space with George Clooney. Clooney gittered on with random fun stories and then left us to the dubious charms of Bullock’s more boring character. Bastard.
In contrast to Gravity, in the
romance chick flick sci-fi movie Passengers (2016), it does possibly help if you look like Chris Pratt, when you wake up the girl of your dreams from her induced sleep for this flight. Just for “company”, as you the only one awake on the reminder of this 90 year voyage and don’t want to be forever alone. This after “claiming” her sleeping pod malfunctioned. But hey, you only had an android Tony Blair for company. Or maybe your sleeping victim, Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) read too many fairy tales as a kid and saw her life like the Sleeping Beauty and named after Walt Disney’s film heroine. (Bet her parents would have renamed her in a shot if they’d been aware of her stalker in spaces plan). And Pratt’s character her handsome price and her happily ever after. Fool.
So on reading these paragraphs, and learning that this film has only three actors you’d think the sceptic in me would switch off before the film credits ended. But in this film, Sleuth (1972) really can’t get better than this, with the film’s superb casting, script and acting performances. I’m urging you to watch this 3 way battle of wills, with a volley of words backed up with some skillful psychological warfare jousting from our three actors. And these are – in no particular order – Sir Michael Caine, Sir Lawrence Olivier and Alec Cawthorne. With Cawthorne proving himself a worthy competitor as in this he really is not a piggy in the middle of two of our distinguished Knights of the acting kind. Despite the two Knights being jointly nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, and both losing out to Marlon Brando in The Godfather (1972).
So what’s it all about? The opening dramatic music is reminiscent of those murder mystery movies with an all-star cast and penned by Agatha Christie. With a close up of a mysterious trilby wearing character and then a number of dioramas of a theatre containing this detective dominating the background scenery. With the last of these theatre sets, of a large English stately home then metamorphosing into its real life counterpart.
A young handsome man, Milo Tindle (Caine) exits his red sports car looking for the man of the house, Andrew Wyke. With his host’s voice heard recording his latest detective novel. This almost like a one man play with Wyke using a variety of voices during his detailed dictation. Tindle looks for his host somewhere in a maze littered with statues, which Tindle navigates himself around unsuccessfully looking for him. After some time, the two men meet over a hedge close to the entrance after Wyke – successful crime novelist of the famed crime books – lets him in to where he is with a sly move. Using a the secret faux hedge (is that a phrase?) just next to the entrance Wyke reveals himself.
Tindle is invited into Wyke’s house for a drink, and we find it overflowing with wind up spooky looking mechanical toys of all sizes. Including a life size grotesque sailor, Jolly Jack Tar complete with a frightening laugh. Which Wyke controls at his will, unnerving Tindle. The numerous tables are set up with board games of all types, its clear that Wyke enjoys playing games. After some friendly banter between the men, that our host asks Tindle about his reason for inviting him there. That he understands Tindle wants to marry his wife, Marguerite. Adding he is happy to give his permission, only if he is satisfied Tindle will continue to provide her with the lifestyle that she’s used to as he hopes to live with his mistress, a Finnish sauna owner named Tea.
Tindle is unfazed by this, and after both men agree of Marguerite’s high financial maintenance, Wyke finds his guest’s weak spot. So he makes digs about Tindle’s working class background as a hairdresser. Tindle himself is reluctant not to be like his penniless father. Wyke compares himself to Tindle, as an upper class, affluent writer. Both men almost duel over their attributes in the bedroom and out, engaging in veiled insults. As the men play snooker, with Wyke potting the black, after dominating the game, and Tindle not even taking a shot… it is apparent Wyke is a master of all games both real and psychological…
So Wyke offers Tindle a way to provide for her, by stealing her jewellery. Wyke argues both men can benefit from the robbery, Wyke can claim the jewels on his insurance And Tindle after selling the jewels to a fence will receive a large sum of money too. Which Wyke has conveniently set up and outlining a plot to Tindle on how things will pan out right down to the last detail. Continuing to displaying his love of the dramatic, he invites Tindle to his cellar. The cellar is even more theatrical looking that his living room – complete with those dioramas and a dressing up chest.
He encourages his guest to dress up as a clown to carry out the robbery. After Tindle agrees, the two set the scene up for the break in with rooms in disarray and with the safe broken into (using a darts game of course). Tindle appears a pawn in the game that Wyke calls revenge. As after leaving the bedroom with the jewels, and after a nail biting scene with Tindle a shattered and terrified man, Wyke shoots Tindle framing him for this robbery. And after this we return to the now pristine home of Wyke, as an Inspector Doppler (Cawthorne) calls… looking for Tindle who has gone missing…and leads us neatly to the next act of this film…
This is a wonderful psychological, at times black comedy movie with fantastically played performances by the leads. All characters jostle constantly to be the alpha male, to have the upper hand in this battle of words and actions. Caine’s Tindle defending his girl, and the only one of the pair who actually appears to have any feeling for her. Wyke being more upset that his wife is in love with someone who can’t provide for her, and that if he let her go that she’d return to him only for the money. And that his ego is more hurt by Tindle being unaware of his famed detective and his prowess as an author.
As the film develops, it is interesting to see Wyke’s superiority fade after meeting with the detective. A real detective that he can’t control unlike the one he envisions in his eloquent speeches and writing. Wyke’s role reverses to that of victim, like a cat caught in the headlights, as he’s questioned on what happened after that apparently fatal gun shot.
Like the small number of acting talent involved, the film is only set in three locations each demonstrating Wyke’s sense of the theatrical, dramatic and love of games. This along with Olivier’s performance which shows his characters love of storytelling, with his long speeches outlining how he has thought of every outcome to the crime, right down to his interrogation by the detectives on finding Tindle’s body. Tindle is obviously frightened by his actions before that shot. So it is interesting seeing the detective outline Tindle as a stronger man psychologically after this, and him getting the upper hand. Caine proving he was a worthy lead also gives a transfixing, competent performance equaling Olivier’s standards in this one of Caine’s earlier film performances.
it was also interesting that we didn’t meet Wyke’s wife and Tindle’s lover, Marguerite. Only appearing as a portrait on the wall, and therefore not as a contributor to the film’s shifting male led dynamics. This was a welcome touch, as it meant the men in arguing over their attributes were able to get their upper hand moments, only to have this quashed by the other. And this seen in the scenes where they discussed their sexual prowess, and their financial situation and its benefits of these for Marguerite.
Sleuth was rebooted – not remade – as stressed by the Law, Jude Law in 2007. With Caine in Olivier’s role and Law in Caines and written by Harold Pinter. Adding it to another film of Caine’s that Law remade, the other being Alfie (2004). But but before you take the Law into your own hands, give them a try… with the Alfie films to be reviewed at a later date… it’s your move for this Knights’ tale.
Weeper Rating: 0 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
Bonus Trailer: The reboot
Sleuth (2007) Official Trailer, TruchanFilm, http://www.youtube.com
This film review was added to Cinemaven‘s Free For All Blogathon. Other film reviews with this cast on this site include Michael Caine in Surrender (1987), The Hand (1980), The Swarm (1978), Dressed to Kill (1980), Bullseye (1990), Interstellar (2014), X,Y and Zee (1972) and The Prestige (2006). Lawrence Olivier and Alec Cawthorne have not been reviewed, and it appears this was Cawthorne’s only role to date.