Thursday, December 9, 2010

Short Review: Sleuth (1972)

Directed by Joseph K. Makiewicz, and adapted for the screen by Anthony Shaffner from his own Tony Award winning play, Sleuth is one of the most engrossing mystery thrillers of all time. Andrew Wyke (a magnificent charismatic performance from Sir Lawrence Olivier) is a successful writer of fictional detective novels who now bathes in his great wealth in his secluded country estate. He also finds delight in playing elaborate games and his mansion is adorned with mechanical toys and eccentric hobbies to fuel his somewhat childish enthusiasm. Having found out that his estranged wife, Margeurite, is having an affair and plans to re-marry, he invites her lover Milo Tindle (an equally impressive performance from a young Michael Caine) to his estate. Tindle is a middle-class struggling businessman and the owner of two hair salons, who Wyke believes will not be able to treat Margeurite to the lifestyle to which he has become accustomed to, and believes that she will likely return to him in due course.

He concocts a plan that requires Tindle to break into his mansion through an upper story window (disguised in a crazy clown costume) and steal some valuable jewellery from his safe (which Wyke himself blows up with dynamite). Wyke reveals that he could then sell the jewellery through one of Wyke's contacts and subsequently have enough money to take care of his new wife, while Wyke would be covered for the loss with insurance money. Tindle, at first reluctant, becomes wildly enthusiastic after a few beverages, and follows Wyke's outrageous instructions. Soon enough though, Wyke pulls a gun on Tindle, informing him that he could legally shoot him under suspicion of intrusion and robbery, and reveals that he is disgusted that his wife could be having an affair with such a low-life, deems Tindle as a 'jumped-up pantry boy who doesn't know his place', and seemingly shoots him in the back of the head. Tindle slumps down the stairs and the screen fades to black. Having become renowned for concocting fictional murder plots, his vision has become all too real. Two days later, Wyke receives a visit from a methodical detective, Inspector Doppler, who questions the disappearance of one Milo Tindle.

What ensues is a brilliantly twisted murder mystery that is never quite what it seems. It is a calculated commentary on the 'cosy school' whodunit, as Wyke very often refers to his own detective fiction and his upper-class detective Sir John Lord Merridew, and undermines many of the ideas for the staged robbery as overused generic cliches. This is examined to such an extent, that we see a photograph of one of the world's most famous fictional crime writers, Agatha Christie, on the wall of Wyke's living room. The wordy but brilliantly witty screenplay is full of bitingly ingenious and often hilarious exchanges between the two men, who are at the peak of their professional careers here. The chemistry throughout is just mesmerizing, and both men received deserved Oscar nominations for their roles. There are enough twists and turns throughout to keep a viewer fully engaged, and while it is evident that this was originally a stage play, the elaborately designed central setting is so effective that the screenplay is transferred to the screen with meticulous precision. I haven't seen the poorly-received 2007 re-make starring Jude Law in the role of Milo Tindle and Michael Caine (again?) this time in the role of Andrew Wyke, but rest assured the 1972 version is sensational entertainment. 

Here is an example of one of the funniest exchanges:

Milo Tindle: Alright, I'll do it. Where do you want me to break in?
Andrew Wyke: Not so fast. You've got to get disguised first.
Milo Tindle: What for?
Andrew Wyke: Suppose somebody saw you coming.
Milo Tindle: Here? In the middle of nowhere? I could hardly find this place with a bloody map!
Andrew Wyke: You never know. A dallying couple, a passing sheep-rapist.

My Rating: 5 Stars

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