FILMS… Sleuth (1972)


The Stage is set for a three man showdown…


Playing games with Caine and Olivier, as a man confronts the man who wants to marry his wife.


Sleuth (1972) (Trailer), top250info and photos from 20th Century Fox


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 remainder of this 90-year voyage and don’t want to be forever alone. This after “claiming” her sleeping pod malfunctioned.

But hey in your defence, 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 as 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).  Leading her to believe Pratt’s character her handsome prince and her happily ever after. Fool.

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 opening 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 skilful psychological warfare jousting from our three actors.

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).

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. Then there’s 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. 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. 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 into where he is with a sly move. Using a 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. These 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, it is 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. He understands Tindle wants to marry his wife, Marguerite.  Wyke adds that 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. Wyke hopes to live with his mistress, a Finnish sauna owner named Tea.

Tindle is unfazed by this. After both men agree about Marguerite’s high financial maintenance, Wyke finds his guest’s weak spot. 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 says he is an upper class, affluent writer. Both men almost duel over their attributes in the bedroom and out, engaging in veiled insults. 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…

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. Tindle after selling the jewels to a fence will receive a large sum of money too.

Wyke has conveniently set all this up and outlines his 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. 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. After this we return to the now pristine home of Wyke, an Inspector Doppler (Cawthorne) calls… looking for Tindle who has gone missing…and this 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 the 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. He has concerns that if he let her go that she’d return to him only for the money.  His ego is more hurt by Tindle, with his adversary 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 the victim, like a cat caught in the headlights, as he’s questioned on what happened after that apparently fatal gunshot.

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. This including his interrogation by the detectives on finding Tindle’s body.

Tindle is obviously frightened by Wyke’s actions. 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. She only appears 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. This seen in the scenes where they discussed their sexual prowess, and their financial situation and its benefits for Marguerite.

Sleuth was rebooted – not remade – as stressed by the Law, Jude Law in 2007. This film having Caine in Olivier’s role and Law in Caine’s part and written by Harold Pinter. Law appeared in another famous Michael Caine role in the remake of Alfie (1966).  But before you take the Law into your own hands, give his remakes a try and it’s your move for this Knights’ tale.

Weeper Rating: 0 /10

Handsqueeze Rating🙂  🙂 🙂  🙂 🙂  🙂 🙂  🙂  /10

Hulk Rating: ‎ mrgreen mrgreen mrgreen ‎/10


Free For All Blogathon 2018, No 9

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, The Hand, The Fourth ProtocolDressed to Kill, Bullseye, X, Y and Zee and many more. Lawrence Olivier and Alec Cawthorne have not been reviewed, and it appears this was Cawthorne’s only role to date.

9 thoughts on “FILMS… Sleuth (1972)

  1. This film is a real head game and SO enjoyable! It’s stage-y, but that works to its benefit.

    I have yet to see the remake with Jude Law and Michael Caine, but I have a feeling I’d prefer this version.

    • Me too, somehow Jude Law just doesn’t fit that role, reminds me of his version of Alfie – there is only one who can pull these parts off so well and that’s Caine. Even looking at the trailer you just don’t get the the same eerie feeling.

  2. Such a great film, with smart writing and terrific performances. I love John Addison’s score too. This is a tough film to write about without getting into spoilers, but you managed it!

    The remake is horrible. It looks great on paper (Caine, Law, Pinter, Branagh), but everything about it is wrong, just clumsy and misconceived, with none of the wit or subtlety of the original.

Love your thoughts... but only if they are spoiler free!

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