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Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, Alec Cawthorne, John Matthews, Eve Channing, Teddy Martin
Anthony Shaffer

Think of the perfect crime... then go one step further.
Not Rated.

Academy Awards:
Nominated for Best Director; Best Actor-Michael Caine; Best Actor-Laurence Olivier; Best Score-John Addison.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Digital Mono
French Digital Mono

Runtime: 138 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 2/5/2002

• Talent Bios


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Sleuth (1972)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Here’s something you don’t find every day: a major motion picture that includes all of two actors! Other than 1972’s Sleuth, does such a thing exist? Probably, but I can’t think of another film of this stature that presents such a small roster of performers. Sleuth makes the sparse roster of Alien look like Ben-Hur!

In Sleuth, we meet Andrew Wyke (Laurence Olivier), an eccentric mystery novelist whose best days seem to be behind him. The author once was celebrated and successful, but now his flower appears to have wilted. The soon-to-be-divorced author lives alone on his palatial estate, and one day he invites Milo Tindle (Michael Caine) to visit him. This occurs because Milo plans to marry Andrew’s almost-ex Marguerite, and Andrew wants to see if the young man meets his approval.

As it happens, Andrew possesses an ulterior motive or twelve. After the initial “getting to know you” process, Andrew reveals that he needs money, so he proposes a deal. If Milo will steal some jewelry Andrew originally gave to Marguerite, he can keep the valuable trinket while Andrew collects the insurance money. This will allow Milo the cash-strapped hairdresser to keep Marguerite in the lifestyle to which she is accustomed while it also gives Andrew the cash to maintain his mistress.

However, we soon see that Andrew maintains other thoughts as well, for he feels quite bitter that Milo “stole” Marguerite. And that’s where I’ll stop my plot synopsis. Sleuth takes so many twists and turns that it wouldn’t be fair to reveal any more of them.

How well did these machinations work? Fairly, for Sleuth kept me pretty engaged for the most part. It sagged on occasion, but since you could expect a new curveball every few minutes, the movie maintained a good pace. Some of the plot elements seemed predictable - Andrew’s ulterior motive didn’t exactly come as a surprise - but they tossed out enough fun bits to make the story go.

Since they comprise the entire cast, the performances of Olivier and Caine become especially important, and both actors provide solid work. Olivier chews the scenery with abandon. That could have harmed the film, but it matches the lively spirit of the piece, and Olivier seems so gleeful that I can’t hold his campiness against him. Caine comes across as more restrained, which helps anchor the flick. He doesn’t capture our attention as well as Olivier, but Caine creates a solid personality and he doesn’t let Larry’s force overwhelm him. The pair develop a very positive chemistry and they interact nicely.

Adapted from Anthony Shaffer’s stage play, Sleuth still shows its roots, but it opens up the proceedings well enough. Director Joseph Mankiewicz creates a vivid little setting that allows the actors to prosper and draws us in nicely. Sleuth remains a modest affair, but it seems clever and witty.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+ / Audio C- / Bonus C+

Sleuth appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall, the picture seemed decent, but a few concerns meant that it rarely surpassed a level of mediocrity.

Sharpness usually appeared acceptable. At times, the image became a little soft, but those occasions caused no great or frequent concerns. In general, the picture looked reasonably distinct and accurate. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no problems, but I did notice a mild amount of edge enhancement periodically. As for print flaws, I noticed occasional examples of speckles, and the picture displayed light grain much of the time. The movie also flickered during some parts. Nonetheless, the image usually remained fairly clean and free from defects.

Sleuth utilized a fairly low-key palette for the most part. The colors remained bland and a little muddy throughout the movie, but the transfer seemed to replicate them acceptably well. The hues never became very vivid or scintillating, but they also never truly fell flat. Black levels came across as nicely deep and solid, but shadow detail demonstrated some problems. Low-light sequences seemed a bit murky, and the movie also suffered from some heavy shadows during a few poorly executed “day for night” photography scenes. Ultimately, Sleuth offered a consistently watchable presentation, but it failed to become anything noteworthy.

In regard to the monaural soundtrack of Sleuth, it seemed exceedingly bland. The movie offered a very chatty experience, so the mix didn’t really include much action. Speech seemed clear and intelligible but came across as somewhat thin. Effects played a small role in the presentation, and they also seemed fairly flat. Music displayed similar tones, as the score appeared dull and lifeless, with little dynamic range on display. I heard a light background hum at times, but I didn’t notice any other source flaws. Given the age of the film, the monaural soundtrack of Sleuth didn’t seem terrible, but it also failed to distinguish itself in any way.

The DVD release of Sleuth kicks in a few supplements. Most significant is a new program called A Sleuthian Journey with Anthony Shaffer. In this 22-minute and 50-second piece, Shaffer covers a nice mix of subjects. He discusses how Stephen Sondheim influenced the play, working with stage actor Anthony Quayle, his meeting with Agatha Christie, his initial attitude toward the movie, a pun game he played with director Mankiewicz, his early feelings toward casting, many stories about Olivier, a lot of other things. Overall, Shaffer provides a lot of excellent and entertaining notes.

While “Journey” doesn’t provide subtitles, it does include closed-captioning. I appreciate that touch, as it makes the program more accessible for those who need the text.

Sleuth tosses in a couple additional elements. We find the film’s trailer as well as a TV spot and some Talent Bios. We get entries for actors Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine plus writer Anthony Shaffer. Anchor Bay provide some of the most detailed and compelling biographies found on DVD, and these also seem excellent, though I couldn’t help but wonder why we didn’t get a listing for noted director Joseph Mankiewicz?

A two-man tour de force, Sleuth creates a fun and clever mystery. The movie succeeds through the fine acting of its two-man cast and its spry sense of energy; the film delights in plot twists but maintains enough character depth to avoid becoming nothing more than a gimmick movie. The DVD offers fairly mediocre picture and sound along with a small roster of extras highlighted by an excellent interview with the play’s author. Sleuth doesn’t excel as a DVD, but it seems acceptable, and the movie works well enough for me to recommend it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5263 Stars Number of Votes: 38
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