In the second instalment of the new section: Friday Favourites, another from the 70s, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s (Cleopatra, Guys and Dolls, All About Eve) Sleuth starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. A man who loves games invites his wife’s new lover to his house, where he begins a battle of wits with potentially deadly results.
Laurence Olivier gives you exactly the man you’d expect in Sleuth, the wealthy older gentleman, with so many riches he resorts to games and fiction to fuel his brain and keep him occupied. There’s a gigantic amount of energy to his performance, it’s non-stop with barely time for a breath, an excitability which slowly turns sour into a much more powerful portrayal, that’s impeccable. Caine on the other hand at a lot of points feels as though he’s treading familiar waters, realistically how many different performances are there from Caine around this time of his career? Fortunately however, as the plot progresses he gets to stretch out a few more of his acting muscles and gives one of his best. The sheer speed and passion required from these two actors in the film must have undoubtedly been exhausting but their commitment is evident and certainly worth it.
The actors were chosen perfectly to compliment the absolutely brilliant story written and adapted for the screen by Anthony Schaffer (The Wicker Man, Frenzy), it is relentless, sharp, witty and undoubtedly fast. The gradual change in atmosphere is wonderful to watch, beginning playfully with plenty of vying for the upper hand and passive aggression then raising the stakes and adding twists and turns to keep the audience on their toes, raising the suspicion and tension. It may come across as slightly over-talkative for some in it’s first half but considering its basis is a play, you can clearly see how it’s been translated from theatre to film but still retains plenty of its theatrical roots. It is of course all anchored to the one location but as that location is a mansion, it doesn’t create any limits or claustrophobia for the audience. There’s also a lot of great detail in each set and various parts of the house, the endless puppets, toys and puzzles, as well as the decoration of each and every room in a lavish manner. It’s only issue being that its runtime does go slightly long, pushing past the two hour mark but committing to the various twists and the tricks that the film will try to play on its audience, it’s more than entertaining enough to be worthy of its length.
It may be longer than you’d expect but it’s a smart, funny and fast-paced, old fashioned mystery that will keep you guessing longer than you think; Olivier and Caine’s battle of wits is extremely lively and enjoyable to watch. It may not be one of the most talked about films of the 1970s and it’s interesting to note that Caine did even star in Olivier’s role in the 2007 remake with Jude Law but it’s simple yet complicated and a great watch.