In this section of the blog it will be possible to see movies older than 2001 which made the impression on me. I will go through my viewing lists and write about movies buried in this “Treasure Chest” with hope to uncover the dust from those titles and give them deserved recognition in my own cinematic universe. First movie, long-time wish listed, is Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s “Sleuth” from 1972.
“Sleuth” begins with focus on Andrew Wyke (Laurence Olivier) reading papers in his labyrinth-like garden. He’s expecting guest, clearly below his social class, who is supposed to marry his wife. Battle of minds starts then and there and some comic moments are relieving the tension between the host and the guest in this conversation. Wyke lives in the grand manor, he’s detective novels writer and to him everything (even the man who is supposed to marry his wife) is just another riddle, another game he must solve. His manor is full of automatons (and they all work, what would be the purpose of having them) and he trains his brain all the time because if you aren’t sharp you can’t write good detective stories. Atmosphere of Edgar Allan Poe stories is present throughout the movie even if it’s masterfully eased with comic and caricature elements of the plot. Milo Tindle (Michael Caine) is the other half of the competing egos in the movie and his rise from simple hairdresser to something else is brilliant and haunting. When comic elements are gone, we have pure mystery and thriller (story within story like concentric circles) with elements of horror and we’re totally consumed by the story. “Sleuth” made his way in, and it’s difficult (not to say impossible) to expel it from our mind.
Except for the Poe reference “Sleuth” is full of symbolism, and both actors are brilliant in their performance. Associations on famous characters in the detective stories, hints at plot solution and even hint at some other directors (Hitchcock) are also there. We have symbol of a clown present throughout the movie but I can’t decide which of the characters the true clown here is; because Wyke and Tindle are both equally good choice for the role. “Sleuth” is based on the play by Anthony Schaffer and he wrote another masterpiece of the era (“Frenzy”). When I realized that fact (I didn’t know it before watching “Sleuth”) I had “aha” moment: “So the same deranged mind wrote this.” That meant as a compliment of course.
Movie is adaptation of a play, but Joseph L. Mankiewicz stayed true to the play in terms of length and details and he didn’t try to make the film into some cinematic experiment. He took Caine and Olivier, knew that he has great potential in them and exploited that potential to the very end. Result is strong emotional drama, psychological thriller with horror and comedy elements which is deserved classic of the seventies. Read all these genres again. If you don’t believe me, go on “Amazon” or in DVD store and see the film. I’m not wrong, all these elements are really there. Mankiewicz is to thank that all the elements work perfectly and that the film is a true experience of extreme emotions in which we can enjoy to the very end.
“Sleuth” is wonderful movie with legendary actors in it, and I can say that same overworked phrase here: “They don’t make them like this anymore.”