A Movie A Day: Quint on Caine and Olivier in SLEUTH (1972) So I understand you wish to marry my wife.
Published at: July 16, 2008, 12:57 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Composer John Addison bridges yesterday’s slice of finely aged ‘80s sci-fi cheese STRANGE INVADERS and today’s classier battle of wits in 1972’s SLEUTH.
The flick opens with Sir Laurence Olivier dictating into a recorder while sitting in the middle of his hedge labyrinth as a young Michael Caine comes to visit him.
We soon come to find that Olivier is a famous mystery novelist and has invited Caine up to his giant and creepy (we’ll get to that in a minute) mansion because Caine is having an affair with Olivier’s trophy wife.
The game is on now as Olivier goes from friendly to accusatory to menacing to playful and back again. Caine is run through the ringer as Olivier profers up red herring after red herring and slowly his real motives come into play.
I never did see the remake of this flick which Jude Law did with Caine (presumably taking the Olivier role this time out), but while I think Law is underrated as an actor these days, I don’t see how he could embody the same charm and every day man personality that Caine had in his prime.
Essentially what you have in this film is a recorded play (naturally, since it was based on one). 90% of the film takes place within the walls of the mansion and every single plot point is moved to by character revelations. It’s an actor’s showcase story, two very smart people playing an almost mental chess game with each other, so the real joy of watching this movie is seeing Laurence Olivier play with Michael Caine.
As I said earlier, Olivier is a famous mystery novelist and his house is litered with creepy things, as you’d have to imagine every popular genre writer’s house is, including life-sized creepy clowns and fishermen mannequins that laugh and rock at the push of a button.
In fact, the home itself is a character, going from funny to darkly serious depending on the lighting and the angle of the camera.
SLEUTH was a big Oscar nominee for that year, getting 4 noms (Olivier, Caine, Composer John Addison and director Joseph Mankiewicz) and it’s not hard to understand why. It’s a smart story with two extremely interesting characters and most importantly, it’s a fun movie. It really is. And it's also hilariously funny at points, especially when Caine is somehow talked into dressing up like a clown. Great sequence... But that's what makes this movie great, is that it jumps from brash comedy to deadly seriousness in a heartbeat.
Watching Olivier fuck with Caine and vice-versa is like being on a really good rollercoaster at night, with twists and turns coming when you least expect them.
There’s a time jump in the middle of the flick that’s odd and a twist that is probably easier to see through today than back in the day, but even so the actors play it for all it’s worth.
Doing a little bit of research on this one, it seems that the DVD is now out of print and costly to pick up, but if you really have to get your hand on a copy, try ebay… instead of the $80 copies through the Amazon authorized sellers you can get it for between $20 and $30 there. That is, of course, if you can’t wait for the inevitable next DVD release… I’m not sure if it’s on Netflix or not though. Maybe someone can let us know in the talkback below.
No matter what, I highly recommend checking it out if you can get your hands on a copy.
Final thoughts: I don’t want to go into any specific plot points beyond the first act because the whole film rides on trying to guess on what’s going to happen next, so excuse the vague review. What I can say is that it’s damn fun movie that keeps you involved for all of its 2 ½ hour run time with two great actors giving great performances in a film built around showcasing their talents. Damn good flick and especially interesting to watch if you’re going into Batman overdrive this week like I am. You can see Michael Caine being totally awesome in two completely different ways... on the big screen in his later years and in films like SLEUTH in his younger days.