Sleuth film poster
|Directed by||Joseph L. Mankiewicz|
|Produced by||Morton Gottlieb|
|Written by||Anthony Shaffer|
|Distributed by||Twentieth Century Fox|
|Release date(s)||December 10, 1972 (U.S. release)|
|Running time||138 min|
Sleuth is the 1972 film adaptation of the Tony Award-winning play of the same title by British playwright Anthony Shaffer. The screenplay was adapted by Shaffer. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the film stars Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.
Andrew Wyke is a wealthy, unhappily married country squire and writer of detective novels who delights in playing elaborate games. Aware that Milo Tindle, the struggling owner of two hair salons, is having an affair with his wife, Marguerite, Wyke invites him to his country manor house in Wiltshire. Wyke is also having an affair with a girl named Teija and is quite happy to divorce his wife. His main concern is that Tindle, a struggling businessman, will be unable to maintain Marguerite in the lifestyle to which she has become accustomed, and that she’ll leave him and return to Wyke.
Wyke suggests that Tindle steal some valuable jewelry and sell it in order to live happily with Marguerite, while Wyke will claim the insurance in order to live happily with Teija. When Tindle agrees, Wyke offers him a disguise in case of unexpected visitors and, dressed up as a clown and under Wyke's supervision, Tindle breaks into Wyke's manor house, blows open the safe and obtains the jewels.
Wyke then reveals that he has lured Tindle into a trap whereupon he can legally shoot him as an intruder. Wyke's real grievance is that his wife has been having an affair with a working-class boy made good rather than a member of the upper classes like himself (Tindle's Italian origins make him even worse in Wyke's eyes). He looks upon Tindle as nothing more than a gigolo, "a jumped-up pantry boy who doesn't know his place". While Tindle begs for mercy, Wyke fires the gun and he falls to the floor.
Two days later, in the evening, the eccentric but methodical Inspector Doppler comes to Wyke's house, announcing that he is investigating Tindle's disappearance. At first Wyke denies ever having had anything to do with Tindle but eventually admits to his meeting with him and the "game" they played involving the jewels. Wyke states that he did not really kill Tindle but had used blank bullets. His aim was to humiliate the man and teach him that becoming a member of the gentry requires breeding rather than just joining in. He maintains that, after recovering from the shock, Tindle left the house alive.
In the course of searching the house, however, Doppler finds traces of blood, evidence of actual bullets being fired into the walls and Tindle's clothes in a wardrobe. Wyke panics at this stage and tries to get away when Doppler pins him down and reveals himself to be none other than Tindle in disguise.
Tindle reveals that he wanted revenge for the way Wyke had humiliated him. Wyke expresses admiration for the way it was done, but Tindle is not prepared to leave it at that. For him, the whole charade has become something of a class struggle, Wyke's gentrified world against his working-class background in which the only game is a daily struggle for survival. He has therefore set up a new game, this time based on reality, and involving a real-life murder.
Wyke's murder mystery novels revolve around an upper-class detective, St. John Lord Merridew, who has a "nose for smelling out evil superior to anything in the force". Merridew is always solving cases that leave the official detectives baffled. Tindle has always rejected this image, seeing the police as sharp-eyed professionals who know their job.
Tindle claims to have "screwed" and strangled Wyke's mistress Teija, and planted evidence around the house that would frame Wyke for the crime. Tindle further reveals that the evidence for Teija's murder is set to look as though Wyke had set it in plain sight to provoke the police; to incite them with the impression that Wyke holds a belief that the police are unintelligent and useless and will not see the evidence for what it is. When Wyke phones Teija's roommate Joyce she confirms that Teija's body has been found and that the police are on their way to question him.
A distraught Wyke has thirteen minutes to find and destroy the proof linking him to Teija's murder before the police, led by the all-too-real Detective Sergeant Tarrant, arrive. Tindle reads out riddle-clues to the location and nature of the hidden evidence while Wyke frantically runs around the house, interpreting the riddles and finding the items.
After Wyke barely manages to dispose of the evidence in time, Tindle reveals that the police are not actually on their way; the whole thing was a set-up. He further reveals that Teija is alive, that he knows she is only marginally involved with Wyke, and that she wholeheartedly approved of Tindle's plan to humiliate the unpleasant older man, who is impotent.
Tindle then goes upstairs to retrieve Marguerite's fur coat, a sign that she is moving in with him for good. Wyke takes his revolver out of a nearby drawer. Having been humiliated himself, Wyke informs Tindle that he cannot let him leave and that he intends to kill him, this time for real.
Tindle then tells him that he actually did go to the police in order to make a complaint about the earlier incident but that they are unlikely to do anything since they see him as "some common little git who's been screwing the wife of a local nob and who got what he deserved." However, if Wyke does kill Tindle, the police will now not believe that Tindle was there to rob the house. Wyke does not believe that Tindle talked to the police and shoots him through the torso.
Within a few moments, a police car, with lights flashing, reaches Wyke's front door, and someone begins to knock. Wyke tries to retreat away from the window to avoid being seen, while Tindle, bleeding profusely and barely able to crawl, grabs the switch wired to the entirety of Wyke's large collection of mechanical toys, which come violently to life and attract the attention of the police. As the screen fades out, Wyke realizes that he is ruined, and the dying Tindle laughs and says mockingly, "Andrew... be sure and tell them... it was only a bloody game."
Shaffer was initially reluctant to sell the film rights to the play, fearful it would undercut the success of the stage version. When he finally did relent, he hoped the film would retain the services of Anthony Quayle, who essayed the role of Wyke in London and on Broadway. Alan Bates was Shaffer’s pick for the part of Milo Tindle. In the end, director Mankiewicz opted for Olivier and Caine.
When they met, Caine asked Olivier how he should address him. Olivier told him that it should be as "Sir Laurence", and added that now that that was settled he could call him "Larry". According to Shaffer, Olivier stated that when filming began he looked upon Caine as an assistant, but that by the end of filming he regarded him as a full partner.
The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier), Best Director and Best Music, Original Dramatic Score. Olivier won the New York Film Critics award for Best Actor as a compromise selection after the voters became deadlocked in a choice between Marlon Brando and Al Pacino in The Godfather . Shaffer received an Edgar Award for his screenplay. The film was the second to have its entire credited cast (Caine and Olivier) nominated for Academy Awards after Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf in 1966; this feat has been repeated only by Give 'em Hell, Harry!, in which James Whitmore is the sole credited actor.
The production team intended to reveal as little about the movie as possible so as to make the conclusion a complete surprise to the audience. Hence, a false casting at the beginning of the film consisting of fictional people playing roles that do not exist, as well as a fictional actor credited as Doppler. This “game” not only serves as irony, but continues to deceive new audiences. The same trick was pulled in the original stage version.
Much of the story revolves around the theme of crime fiction, as written by Dorothy L. Sayers (Lord Merridew = Lord Peter Wimsey) or Agatha Christie, whose photo is included on Wyke's wall, and how it relates to real-life criminal investigations. Class conflict is also raised between Wyke, the long-established English country gentleman, compared to Tindle, the son of an immigrant from the working-class streets of London.
This was Joseph Mankiewicz’s final film.
While questioning Wyke, Doppler points out that the clown costume that Tindle was wearing when he was shot is missing, though the clown's mask is later found and put on the head of the plastic skeleton in the cellar. He is probably implying that Tindle was buried with it.
In the trailer for the film, there are the scenes with Doppler laying out the evidence against Wyke as shown in the movie. They include him pulling open the shower curtains in one of the bathrooms and exposing the clown's jacket, dripping wet and apparently with bloodstains on it. This scene was not included in the final film.
On September 7, 2006, Kenneth Branagh announced at the Venice Film Festival his remake of the film, with the screenplay by Nobel laureate Harold Pinter. Caine starred in this adaptation, this time in the role of Wyke, while Jude Law played Tindle as a struggling actor. Production was completed in March 2007, and released in the UK on Friday, 23 November 2007.