Review: Sleuth [1972] - dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Rarely has a movie with only three characters been so enthralling as SLEUTH, guided by the expert direction of Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Mystery writer and games man Andrew Wyke (Laurence Olivier) has found the next target for his mind games: Milo Tindal (Michael Caine), a nice young British hairdresser who is having an affair with Andrew's neglected wife, hoping to eventually marry her. Professing to want to release his wife to him, Andrew lures Milo to his country house to play a very nasty trick--but Andrew's trick comes back to haunt him.

Featuring a revelation viewers will have to fight to hold back when recommending this mystery to friends, SLEUTH will greatly appeal to drawing-room murder fans, who will find the movie thrilling with its unexpected twists and turns. Both the unscrupulous and unmerciful Andrew and Milo, sweet but up to Andrew's challenge, shine in each other's company, shrugging off each wicked verbal barb before zinging back another. Both Caine and Olivier are brilliant in their roles; the former was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor. SLEUTH is based on the play by British playwright Anthony Shaffer.

This is the first in a short season of Michael Caine reviews, my aim is to hopefully bring a whole new audience back to the realisation that Caine is a true icon, and hopefully expunge the 'cash cow' nature of such travesties as Bewitched, Shadow Run and On Deadly Ground.

So let's start at an ideal introduction not only do we get a vintage 'poor boy done good' performance from Caine but we also get to experience a truly perfect over the top showstopper from one of the masters, Laurence Olivier. Thanks to Shaffer's brilliant adaption of his own stage play and Mankiewicz's steady directorial hand this film harkens back to those single set masterpieces of the past such as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hitchcock's Rope. The intricate and at times convoluted plot with its multiple twists and turns that beautifully mirror Olivier's character's murder/mystery hero, the incredibly subtle use of dialogue to build authentic and engaging characters is both compelling and incredibly watchable. But by far it is the performances by both Olivier and Caine that turn the film into the single best cinematic example of its genre.

How Caine ever lost the Best Actor Oscar to Marlon Brando for The Godfather still amazes me to this day... oh well no accounting for taste (or the Cosa Nostra) I guess...


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