SLEUTH is a smashing mystery indeed
“There’s nothing like a little bit of mayhem to cheer one up.”
When I was in high school my English Literature teacher introduced me to several movies that were part of the curriculum for our class. It turned out that each of them would become some of my favorite films. One of these was the 1972 mystery thriller SLEUTH. It was based on a play by British playwright Anthony Shaffer and starred two master thespians Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Michael Caine. In the opening of the story we are introduced to Milo Tindle (Caine) who is paying a visit to the lavish English countryside estate of one Andrew Wyke (Olivier) a successful author of crime fiction. It takes Milo some time to find Wyke who is working on dictating a new book featuring his famous detective “St. John Lord Merridew” within an elaborate maze of shrubbery. We learn that Milo is having an affair with Wyke’s wife and the two are meeting to discuss their future. When they enter Wyke’s large mansion to have a drink and chat, the game of wits between them begins. The place is filled with a myriad of interesting collectibles and other colorful ornaments including a strange dummy that creepily cackles when a button is pressed. Wyke has an idea to help Milo get some extra money to take care of his wife due to her tastes for fine living. His plan is to have Milo pull off a fake robbery of some of his jewelry after which he’ll give them the insurance settlement. Milo agrees to this, borrows a wacky clown outfit from Wyke for his disguise and goes ahead with the ruse. Only Wyke has a hidden agenda that involves a cruel prank on Milo for stealing his wife away and making him look like a shmuck. This results in a shocking incident that turns the playful, friendly mood between the two new acquaintances into a dark one. When a detective named Inspector Doppler (Alec Cawthorne) arrives at Wyke’s door accusing him of the murder of Milo, Wyke is forced to prove that it was all just a big game he designed with no real harm intended.
At the time this film was made Michael Caine was really just starting his career but he certainly held his own against Olivier the respected genius veteran of stage and screen. 40 plus years later, SLEUTH remains an acting tour de force and a brilliant, intriguing British mystery-thriller starring these two greats. Sleuth was remade in 2007 and starred Michael Caine in Olivier’s role and newcomer Jude Law as Milo. The result was rather lackluster, so I’ll just say skip that one and stick with this original classic.