Sleuth (1972)

JOSEPH L. MANKIEWICZ

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBB/USA, 1972.  .  Screenplay by , based on his play.  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  Academy Awards 1972.  Golden Globe Awards 1972.

Michael Caine is summoned to the estate of famed detective novelist Laurence Olivier to discuss Olivier’s wife, with whom Caine is having an affair.  Happy to be rid of her, Olivier suggests that Caine steal his wife’s jewels from her room, thus providing the younger man the means with which to keep the lady in the lifestyle to which she has become accustomed, while the older gentleman will have the pleasure of collecting on the insurance claim.  Caine goes along with the plan until he realizes that things aren’t what they seem, and that’s where things get fun, setting in motion a plot in which the two men are constantly outdoing each other’s tricks in an effort to get the better of their opponent.  Adapted by Anthony Shaffer from his own still very popular play, this one maintains the mostly stagebound setting and daringly puts the weight of the entire production on the shoulders of its two great stars, both of whom do a terrific job.  Shaffer’s plot is a sharp examination of England’s class system, particularly the vitriolic response of the upper classes to the increased twentieth century mobility of their inferiors, but even more delightful is the revelation that when you apply a Mapp And Lucia-like plot to two men, their system of one-upmanship quickly takes the form of violence and death threats.  Joseph L. Mankiewicz, directing his final feature film, keeps things light and fun, but there are plenty of times when you really feel this film is far too self-satisfied with its own cleverness and 140 minutes of actors twirling their moustaches, even actors as fine as these, does greatly challenge one’s patience.

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