Sleuth – tape 885

On this tape, the movie version of Anthony Shaffer’s famous play, starring Michael Caine and Lawrence Olivier.

It has a lovely score by John Addison, really evocative of the gameplaying that goes on in the film.

Michael Caine plays Milo, a young hairdresser who calls on Andrew Wyke (Lawrence Olivier), writer and creator of the upper class amateur detective Lord Meridew. Milo has been having an affair with Wyke’s wife and wants to marry her, Wyke tells him he doesn’t care about that, that his marriage was long over, and suggests to him a plan to fake a robbery, take her jewels and sell them for a large sum of money.

But Olivier is playing an elaborate game with Caine, games being a dominant theme of the film, along with the British obsession with class, and the casual racism of the upper classes.

After getting Caine to dress up as a clown, supposedly as a disguise while cracking the safe, Olivier pulls out a gun, and tells Caine he intended to kill him, and claim self defence over a burglary, and the first act of the film ends with Olivier shooting Caine in the head.

A couple of days later, Olivier is unexpectedly visited by a policeman, Inspector Doppler (Alec Cawthorne) investigating the suspected murder of Caine. Olivier pleads ignorance, but when Doppler lays out the numerous clues, Olivier tells him that yes, Caine was at the house, but says that the bullet in the gun was a blank, and it was all a game to frighten Caine, and that Caine had left unscathed. But Doppler presses on, suggesting that in fact Olivier had mixed up the bullets, and shot Caine accidentally.

I’m not sure how successful the central conceit of the film really is. I genuinely can’t remember if I spotted it when I first watched it, probably on this broadcast. But the film works very hard to maintain the secret, even to the extent of being slightly dishonest with the credits. In a rare break from tradition, I won’t spoil it, but even when it’s revealed, the film is only two thirds over, and there’s a third act where the games keep being played until an almost inevitable conclusion.

It’s very stagy, not particularly opened up from its stage origins, but that just concentrates us on the performances. Olivier is typically perfect as the class obsessed writer, sneering at Caine’s Italian origins, but Caine more than holds his own, in a role that’s a lot more showy than Olivier’s.

There’s a remake, where Caine switches and plays the Olivier role, with Jude Law playing Caine’s original role. I wonder if it’s any good.

BBC Genome: BBC Two – 4th January 1990 – 23:20


One comment

  1. First time I saw Sleuth, when Alec Cawthorne showed up I thought he was someone in disguise, not realising it was a trick, so it’s debatable how successful it is as a film rather than a play. But Olivier and Caine are fantastic in it, and the dialogue is obviously and rightly relished by them both.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.