Rated PG. This is one of those, "what is going on" versus "what you actually see" situations. There is almost no objectionable visual things with the exception of the last two minutes. Those last two minutes show very brief violence. But the movie itself is about infidelity, murder, and revenge. I tend not to show a PG audience a film about infidelity, murder, and revenge.
DIRECTOR: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
It's so satisfying when you finally see a movie that you've been trying to see for a while. Sleuth is in one of my books. I don't know what it is with me and lists. It's the completionist in me. I have to have said that I've seen every movie is said book. But Sleuth was out of print. It still is out of print. I finally just found a copy that I could watch and that brought me all the joy I thought it would. The movie will never hit my top film list, but it dings a lot of the right boxes along the way.
I actually watched the film with prescriptive subtitles. Let me tell you: If you want to have a good time, watch a film with Michael Caine while a computer is trying to figure out what he's trying to say. It's a good time. I don't know why these movies make me happy, but I tend to like stage plays that are adapted to film. I think if I actually saw Sleuth as a stage play, I would be rolling my eyes for the most part. But thrillers like Sleuth and Rope have the foundations to make absolutely amazing stories while keeping a story intimate and tight. I adore that Sleuth didn't cheat when it came to film conventions. Okay, it cheats a little bit. The characters leave the one room a couple of times and they go outside. All right. Let's pull back a little bit. But the script seems to be exactly the same as the stage production. The only cast is Lawrence Olivier and Michael Caine. That's pretty rad. It actually creates a weird situation at one point, though. There's a meta narrative running in the back of the audience's head while watching the film. Okay, that meta narrative was running through my head for the length of the film. You can smell the act break when it happens. I mentally thought of the curtain falling and the scene being reset by the crew. At one point, it looks like Andrew has killed Milo. Milo's fate is left in the air and the police have to investigate his disappearance. Because the conceit is that only Lawrence Olivier and Michael Caine are the cast, there's a weird moment where we have Police Inspector Doppler appear, played by Michael Caine. This leaves this weird tangential story that is happening. 1) We have to believe that Andrew doesn't recognize Milo and that Michael Caine's big reveal is meant to be a surprise. This is the true result of the mystery. The alternative is that, 2) we recognize that Michael Caine is Doppler, but he really is Doppler. Sleuth isn't the first film where one actor has played multiple parts. Heck, the English have a history of that with Kind Hearts and Coronets. I don't know why this doesn't put me off. I should be livid about the fact that Caine's reveal is never actually shocking. Michael Caine has a very specific voice, even when he's doing a voice. It's such a bizarre casting choice considering that Caine is one of the more impersonate-able people in the world. But it works.
There's something Hitchcockian about Sleuth. I was thinking about Rope and how Sleuth almost out-Ropes Rope. Yeah, it doesn't really have the real time gimmick that Hitchcock uses in Rope, but it does something that Hitch was great at. It sets the tone against the content of the film. Instead of going dark and bleak when it comes to a story about murder, Sleuth is actually quite a playful and fun film. There are scenes that are impressively bleak and upsetting. Milo ripping apart Andrew at the end is a staggering piece of acting. But at no point did I watch this movie and think that the film was trying to depress me or intimidate me. Rather, it definitely reminds me of a magic trick. I mean, listen to the score and tell me what kind of tone this movie has. The movie acknowledges that this is a play. It is all a facade. The set builds upon this. Mankiewicz makes everything somehow superficial. I haven't seen the remake, but I really get the vibe that the remake didn't go in this direction. Instead, the film is surrounded by marionettes. Andrew is obsessed with puzzles. While the props in the film are often a bit dated, they do scream of scene decoration. The fakeness of the smiles mirror Andrew's confidence / false confidence. I think that's probably why we root for Milo for the majority of the film. Andrew is fairly unlikable. He's racist. He's obsessed with his own superiority. When the tables are turned on Andrew, we never really have that moment of sympathy for him, even when Milo takes it too far. But he's the creepy laughing clown. His smile is always false. Yes, he enjoys torturing Milo, but that's a very different part of him than the smile we see. I normally don't lose my mind over Lawrence Olivier. I know that he's one of the greats, but his performance style is from a by-gone era. He's great in this. I kind of get it. Andrew is very publicly one thing and secretly something else. Yet, the character kind of does a terrible job of hiding his hubris. Andrew is a phenomenal character and I kind of get why people lose their minds over Lawrence Olivier's acting.
But I do kind of want to look at Milo as the protagonist. Andrew has been wronged by Milo. But because Andrew is a character who enjoys the revenge more than the act of being wronged, he instantly becomes the villain. The odd thing is that Andrew actually has this weird morality behind him. He convinces Milo that he has been shot. Milo, instead of counting his lucky stars that he wasn't killed and that it was all a trick, sees this as the ultimate humiliation. But from Andrew's perspective, he sees murder as both too low for his station and too far of a revenge. He's actually kind of merciful. He's not absolved from his quest for revenge, but it is strange the Milo feels the need to completely destroy Andrew. I suppose this leads to Milo's ultimate demise. Somehow, and I'm just realizing this now, Milo becomes Andrew. The hero becomes the villain and the villain just stays a villain. The story becomes about two villains. This also leads me down the alley of wondering whether or not the two actually ever become friends. A lot of this movie is about the two playing with each other. It's cat and mouse and a lot of watching out for traps, but there are moments where the two seem to be having a good time. Most of that comes from the actors' chemistry. Milo, who is at no point free of responsibility for the events of the story, has the moral high ground over Andrew, who has abandoned it from moment one in the story. If none of the events of the film happen, then Andrew has the upper hand. But it is fun to see how quickly Milo abandons any sense of ethics. He's willing to go along with Andrew in his scheme. I think we've had a deluge of films that have complicated plots that shouldn't work. Why I forgive Sleuth is that Andrew is ready for this not to work. Milo has so many opportunities to foil this plot. He could say "no" at any time and walk away. But he goes along with it. He sells his soul for an odd need for acceptance. It makes the story interesting and very cool.
Geez, I don't think I've ever wanted to rewatch a movie so quickly. As I write about this, I kind of want to show my wife this movie. It's really good. I mean, it's really really good. I had a fun time with it. Yeah, it does come across as a little dated sometimes. But that's also part of the charm of the movie. It's a really smart movie that shows its wear a little bit. Regardless, I definitely recommend finding a copy of it somewhere. It's a good time.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.