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A Movie A Day: Quint on Caine and Olivier in SLEUTH (1972)
So I understand you wish to marry my wife.

Published at: July 16, 2008, 12:57 a.m. CST by quint



Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.] Composer John Addison bridges yesterday’s slice of finely aged ‘80s sci-fi cheese STRANGE INVADERS and today’s classier battle of wits in 1972’s SLEUTH.

The flick opens with Sir Laurence Olivier dictating into a recorder while sitting in the middle of his hedge labyrinth as a young Michael Caine comes to visit him. We soon come to find that Olivier is a famous mystery novelist and has invited Caine up to his giant and creepy (we’ll get to that in a minute) mansion because Caine is having an affair with Olivier’s trophy wife. The game is on now as Olivier goes from friendly to accusatory to menacing to playful and back again. Caine is run through the ringer as Olivier profers up red herring after red herring and slowly his real motives come into play. I never did see the remake of this flick which Jude Law did with Caine (presumably taking the Olivier role this time out), but while I think Law is underrated as an actor these days, I don’t see how he could embody the same charm and every day man personality that Caine had in his prime. Essentially what you have in this film is a recorded play (naturally, since it was based on one). 90% of the film takes place within the walls of the mansion and every single plot point is moved to by character revelations. It’s an actor’s showcase story, two very smart people playing an almost mental chess game with each other, so the real joy of watching this movie is seeing Laurence Olivier play with Michael Caine.

As I said earlier, Olivier is a famous mystery novelist and his house is litered with creepy things, as you’d have to imagine every popular genre writer’s house is, including life-sized creepy clowns and fishermen mannequins that laugh and rock at the push of a button.

In fact, the home itself is a character, going from funny to darkly serious depending on the lighting and the angle of the camera.

SLEUTH was a big Oscar nominee for that year, getting 4 noms (Olivier, Caine, Composer John Addison and director Joseph Mankiewicz) and it’s not hard to understand why. It’s a smart story with two extremely interesting characters and most importantly, it’s a fun movie. It really is. And it's also hilariously funny at points, especially when Caine is somehow talked into dressing up like a clown. Great sequence... But that's what makes this movie great, is that it jumps from brash comedy to deadly seriousness in a heartbeat. Watching Olivier fuck with Caine and vice-versa is like being on a really good rollercoaster at night, with twists and turns coming when you least expect them. There’s a time jump in the middle of the flick that’s odd and a twist that is probably easier to see through today than back in the day, but even so the actors play it for all it’s worth. Doing a little bit of research on this one, it seems that the DVD is now out of print and costly to pick up, but if you really have to get your hand on a copy, try ebay… instead of the $80 copies through the Amazon authorized sellers you can get it for between $20 and $30 there. That is, of course, if you can’t wait for the inevitable next DVD release… I’m not sure if it’s on Netflix or not though. Maybe someone can let us know in the talkback below. No matter what, I highly recommend checking it out if you can get your hands on a copy. Final thoughts: I don’t want to go into any specific plot points beyond the first act because the whole film rides on trying to guess on what’s going to happen next, so excuse the vague review. What I can say is that it’s damn fun movie that keeps you involved for all of its 2 ½ hour run time with two great actors giving great performances in a film built around showcasing their talents. Damn good flick and especially interesting to watch if you’re going into Batman overdrive this week like I am. You can see Michael Caine being totally awesome in two completely different ways... on the big screen in his later years and in films like SLEUTH in his younger days.

The schedule for the next 7 days is: Wednesday, July 16th: FRENZY (1972) Thursday, July 17th: KINGDOM OF HEAVEN: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT (2005) Friday, July 18th: CADILLAC MAN (1990) Saturday, July 19th: THE SURE THING (1985) Sunday, July 20th: MOVING VIOLATIONS (1985) Monday, July 21st: MEATBALLS (1979) Tuesday, July 22nd: CAST A GIANT SHADOW (1966) Tomorrow we follow screenwriter and playrite Anthony Shaffer to his other 1972 thriller, Alfred Hitchcock’s FRENZY starring Jon Finch and Barry Foster. See you folks then! -Quint quint@aintitcool.com



Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders

Readers Talkback

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  • July 16, 2008, 1:05 a.m. CST

    First?

    by Rebeck2

    Who, me?

  • July 16, 2008, 1:09 a.m. CST

    The remake was good until the last 5-10 minutes.

    by The Guy Who Slept Through Everything.

    Then it completely ruined the film for me, fucked it up something great.

  • July 16, 2008, 1:20 a.m. CST

    great film

    by ddog

    iv always loved this fillm and cant see how anyone cant. props to quint 4 actually keeping up with the movie a day column. question: how many films do you have to finish? or will you keep purchasing new films you have not seen? its impressive

  • July 16, 2008, 1:25 a.m. CST

    knew quint would love this film

    by bacci40

    and it still holds up...and no one holds a candle to olivier...no one...hear that shia, you fucking teen hack

  • July 16, 2008, 1:33 a.m. CST

    Are you ready for the summer?

    by aint_it_cruel?

    Are you ready for the Sunshine?

  • July 16, 2008, 1:46 a.m. CST

    not available

    by aint_it_cruel?

    thru netflix. (and happy 44th aniv. Q!)

  • July 16, 2008, 1:48 a.m. CST

    The remake was good until the second half

    by PacmanFever

    Law couldn't pull off anything required of him after the key event in the film, and to be fair he did also have to grapple with some terrible dialogue

  • July 16, 2008, 1:50 a.m. CST

    Michael Caine is the English Samuel L. Jackson

    by heavenlykid

    And for what it's worth, Joan Allen is the female Samuel L. Jackson (I'm basing this on the fact that I saw 'the Bourne Supremacy' this week).

  • July 16, 2008, 1:54 a.m. CST

    Remake

    by tom_joad

    I thought the remake was horrific, the direction by Brannagh is so bad, he made a very poor choice in using surveillance cameras. It was annoying and totally unnecessary. The second half or the changes to the script by Pinter was also very disappointing, a sudden change in character which was also very odd. So don't watch it Quint, it will just break your heart.

  • July 16, 2008, 2:08 a.m. CST

    Superb movie

    by The_Skook

    The Caine/Olivier 'Sleuth' is fantastic. Two great actors just brilliant on screen together. 'Frenzy' today eh Quint? That is one dark movie!

  • July 16, 2008, 2:56 a.m. CST

    A JUMPED UP PANTRY-BOY

    by BenBraddock

    WHO NEVER KNEW HIS PLACE!!!

  • July 16, 2008, 3:03 a.m. CST

    Frenzy actually shocked me

    by BenBraddock

    It aint yer Hollywood-Technicolor- glamorama-Hitchcock, there is one scene in particular in there unlike anything in any previous Hitch movie. VERY black comedy, great late addition to a list of Hitch classics.

  • July 16, 2008, 3:24 a.m. CST

    Fantastic movie, the worst sound ever. & Quint...

    by half vader

    My DVD copy is a few years old but I think that's the only one available, and while I was overjoyed to finally have it, the sound is the worst fucking quality I've ever heard. Like they recorded EVERYTHING on that recorder, not just Larry's bit. <p> Quint, hope you like the KoH director's cut. It's so infinitely superior to the emasculated theatrical release. People were a bit unfair to Legless er, Legolas in the original. Of course it was a one-note performance - the motivation and revealing parts had been cut out and that's what informs his demeanor and reactions throughout the film! His history, all reason for his military skill, his relationship with his arsehole brother, all chopped. Same with Eva Green's character. Fuck those suits and their 'honouring the contract' by releasing this cut at only 1 cinema for 1 week. It serves them right that their abomination didn't make money. Watch it on HD if you can. Fucking gorgeous.

  • July 16, 2008, 3:45 a.m. CST

    Ah, those were the days ...

    by No Respectable Gentleman

    A screenplay that's simultaneously shrewd, witty, literate,and deviously plotted. Who could possibly write such a thing these days?

  • July 16, 2008, 4:43 a.m. CST

    to be fair, Michael Caine

    by Napoleon Park

    has made some awesomely bad movies in his career. But I never saw a Michael Caine movie in which I didn't like Michael Caine. Hell, I'll even include "Goldmember" in that statement, if only for the clever use of old footage for the flashback scene.

  • July 16, 2008, 4:57 a.m. CST

    MEATBALLS

    by caruso_stalker217

    The film that proved to me that there are Canadians that actually pronounce it "aboot." I'd figured that was just an exaggeration.

  • July 16, 2008, 4:58 a.m. CST

    Also...

    by caruso_stalker217

    MEATBALLS is pretty good.

  • July 16, 2008, 6:38 a.m. CST

    "Joan Allen is the female Samuel L. Jackson "

    by Grammaton Cleric Binks

    Never noticed that before, but you're right. I mean she's the warden in the upcoming Death Race. She doesn't play gentle ladies. I saw Upside of Anger. The movie sucked, but again it was a good role for Allen.

  • July 16, 2008, 7:09 a.m. CST

    Law is like a young Terrance Stamp in the remake

    by Drath

    He's doesn't try at all to be the same Milo that Caine played. He's a little too steely for that anyway. If anything the movie made me want to see him play opposite Stamp sometime. Caine plays the Olivier role differently as well in the remake. He's colder, more menacing, a bit like a cockney gangster really. He'd have scared the shit out of Olivier's character probably. In fact he's kind of the scary guy that Milo turns into at the end of the original, only now he's used to getting his own way. The remake lacks the charm and camp of the original though. The set was a neat character in the original, but in the remake it's very minmal. It's still a character, but not nearly as much fun to be in. Also the remake goes for a homosexual theme, (big surprise, it's all the rage now), and it's kind of in love with funny camera angles. I think it loses the simply joy of the game that the original had.

  • July 16, 2008, 7:11 a.m. CST

    Whoops, I mean Terrence Stamp

    by Drath

    Dangit.

  • July 16, 2008, 8:16 a.m. CST

    Caine also re-made Get Carter with Stallone

    by Grammaton Cleric Binks

    Stallone played the Caine role, which surprises me that Caine agreed to be in it. That again this is the same guy who did Jaws IV. However, as Caine put it (paraphasing)"I hear it's a terrible movie, I've never seen it, but I've seen the house it bought, and it's quite lovely." I respect that. How many of us have done jobs, not because it was out dream job, but to provide for our family. Michael Madsen said the same thing in an inteview a few years ago. They can't all be Free Willy and Reservoir Dogs.

  • July 16, 2008, 8:47 a.m. CST

    What happened to Jude Law, anyway?

    by Knuckleduster

    There was a time when he was great. Gattaca, Road to Perdition, The Talented Mister Ripley. I also liked him in Cold Mountain and Breaking and Entering. Where is he now? Off banging the nanny again?

  • July 16, 2008, 8:59 a.m. CST

    No mention and no Oscar nomination

    by skimn

    for the legendary production designer Ken Adam who worked on this film. BTW, skip the remake at all costs. It muddies the plot with a homosexual angle, and makes the final scene ridiculous.

  • July 16, 2008, 9:11 a.m. CST

    Has anyone updated about The Perfect Game?

    by ArcadianDS

    just stumbled upon a trailer site for what might a very excellent baseball movie. Bad News Bears meets The Natural: http://www.theperfectgamemovie.com/<p> Im sure its old news now, but i just found it. looks very good.

  • July 16, 2008, 9:14 a.m. CST

    I heart this movie

    by the beef

    It hearts me back. I think Mankiewicz gets overlooked as a great director, and writer. The man's got a solid body of work with some undeniably great films, like ALL ABOUT EVE and this film. I'm curious to see what Quint thinks about FRENZY. When I first saw it it wasn't what I'd expected from Hitchcock, in a good way.

  • July 16, 2008, 10:10 a.m. CST

    I'm sure Quint will love Frenzy

    by skimn

    I didn't care for Hitchcock's late sixties films, but this was a great return for him. Love the "ka-thump ka-thump ka-thump" at the end.

  • July 16, 2008, 10:11 a.m. CST

    SoylentMean

    by the beef

    It probably shares more in common with something like The Prestige. It's a battle of wits type of film and not really a whodunit.

  • July 16, 2008, 10:15 a.m. CST

    And Clue isn't fit to wipe

    by skimn

    Sleuth's ass. Some find it funny, but I found it shrill and a waste of a talented cast.

  • July 16, 2008, 10:45 a.m. CST

    Fuck you skimm, CLUE is great

    by Tacom

    And it made great use of it's cast, especially Tim Curry.

  • July 16, 2008, 11:07 a.m. CST

    Netflix

    by BobParr

    This version is not available on Netflix.

  • July 16, 2008, 11:15 a.m. CST

    Ironically this just played yesterday afternoon

    by skimn

    on TCM, and is scheduled again on August first, so fire up those DVR's.

  • July 16, 2008, 12:40 p.m. CST

    Deathtrap is actually the perfect double feature flick

    by Liberty Valance

    Caine in another twisty mindbender from Sidney Lumet, no less. It's no Sleuth, but it's a fun flick.

  • July 16, 2008, 12:58 p.m. CST

    I was waiting for someone to mention Reeve

    by Grammaton Cleric Binks

    and Caine. Don't spoil it for those not in the know.

  • July 16, 2008, 1:02 p.m. CST

    Liberty....

    by Gunslinger1919

    Yup...I was just going to say the same thing. Deathtrap and Sleuth go together perfectly. So very many games being played by the characters in both. And the way each plays and manipulates the audience (in a good way) is wonderful. Though, I do suggest seeing both on the stage. They're best there. And if you ever get a chance, read some of Ira Levin's earlier thrillers that led up to Deathtrap....totally creepy... --G

  • July 16, 2008, 1:19 p.m. CST

    Kingdom Of Heaven...

    by Hooded Justice

    Can't wait to hear what you think of the Director's cut. Will be waiting in the wings.

  • July 16, 2008, 3:30 p.m. CST

    skimm

    by vaterite

    Yeah, I've watched it at least twice on TCM this past year, it keeps showing up and I keep getting sucked in.

  • July 16, 2008, 4:11 p.m. CST

    Deathtrap was da Bomb

    by kevinwillis.net

    I really enjoyed that movie. In all fairness, I've only seen snippets of Slueth, so if it's the superior Caine-Cat-and-Mouse-Whodunnit, I might be disappointed by Deathtrap, now.

  • July 16, 2008, 4:45 p.m. CST

    Law as Caine

    by Bass Ackwards

    Never saw theSleuth remake, but, I'm one if the few who loved the Alfie remake. Slickly directed with a fun score by Jagger and a verycharismatic Law breezing through the whole thing. The original was so light that it was probably an easier remake, and I think some of the subtle changes the remake made provide for some sly commentary. Anyways, too bad to hear the Sleuth remake doesn't fair as well, I'd looked forward to renting it, Branaugh has shown some strong directorial skills in the past, and Pinter, Caine, and Law just sounded great. Oh well.

  • July 16, 2008, 5:42 p.m. CST

    Caine a favorite since

    by zacUpquark

    I was 11 when this came out, so stuff went over my head (and I was TOTALLY fooled) but I remember those two just holding me spellbound with their spectacular dialogue. Saw it on stage at the Old Globe in San Diego, and although almost word-for-word the same, it was NOT the same, because it was NOT Larry and Mike.

  • July 16, 2008, 7:07 p.m. CST

    This was on the other night . . .

    by SkidMarkedUndies

    I think it was AMC. What a great film. Very well done Quint. Good pick-up.

  • July 16, 2008, 8:09 p.m. CST

    Yes, Deathtrap is not to be missed

    by Drath

    Christopher Reeve must have been dismissed as campy for playing a gay character, but frankly I thought he displayed a lot of range and at times his presence was down right scary. He was totally unlike what I expected from him after Superman. Kind of amazing to me that he wasn't a bigger star, but I guess there's a lot that goes into that kind of thing and it's not all just talent. Anyway, yeah, I'd totally watch that with Sleuth before the remake. Why is Clue even being mentioned? It's a comedy! And given the caliber of most whodunit comedies from the 80s (Haunted Honeymoon, The Private Eyes, Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen), it was a damn good one.

  • July 16, 2008, 10:20 p.m. CST

    Watch when Olivier sweeps stuff off a table...

    by darthliquidator

    ....while deliberately trashing the house (as part of his many schemes)Olivier sweeps his hand across a table full of bric-a-brack...he actually seriously cuts his hand...and keeps right on going with the scene.

  • July 16, 2008, 10:23 p.m. CST

    TMC

    by Larry of Arabia

    I caught it on TMC a little while ago. The great thing about it is once you know the ending you can go back and just enjoy the way the characters interact and mess with eachother, then smile knowing what's to come. It's timeless.

  • July 16, 2008, 11:04 p.m. CST

    at least the Sleuth remake

    by half vader

    tried a twist on the original and tried to offer something more than a straight copy. Even if it did suck. <p> You guys complain remakes are redundant on every TB when they ape the original. I agree, if the original was so good they're re-doing it then just re-release the damn thing. However, when a remake tries a different spin TBers complain that it's 'not the same' and 'they changed what was so good'. Well, which IS it then? You can't have it both ways. <p> The other thing is that even if they tried to add a different angle and failed, there's always the original, and a remake or crappy sequel does NOT somehow 'ruin' the original. Star Wars excepted, the original is still the same and as good as it ever was. I just don't get that argument. If you can't get the remake or sequel out of your head while watching the original it's not the FILM'S problem, it's yours. <p> Sorry for the caps BTW. It was just supposed to sound mildly annoyed, not like a bloody lecture. They're supposed to be italics, but this IS the most prehistoric TB of all time. I just hate how not one of the AICN team will even acknowledge it, or the edit function. <p> P.S. I was looking for my copy of Sleuth, and now I can't find it! Faark - I hope I didn't lend it to someone...

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