Andrew Wyke invites Milo Tindle to his home. Milo has been having an affair with Andrews wife, and Andrew claims he is now happy to give Milo permission to marry her but really he wants to trick and humiliate Milo.
When Anthony Shaffer’s play Sleuth opened in the West End starring Anthony Quayle and Keith Baxter, Laurence Olivier came backstage after seeing it to huff at Quayle, “What are you doing in a piece of piss like this?” Funnily, enough several years later when he was asked to take the part on screen that Quayle had made famous, when Quayle was unavailable, he couldn’t accept fast enough.
But by then Sleuth was recognised as offering him a part of award-winning potential. Indeed, Olivier gained both Oscar and BAFTA noms for the role but this was the year of Godfather, and an intense two-handed thriller never stood a chance against a mob of quote-happy gangsters.
Caine was also Oscar nominated (in a role originally intended for Alan Bates), as the “jumped up pantry boy” who doesn’t know his place, so marvellously entangled with Olivier’s landed, bitter husband. Both manage to keep this claustrophobic mystery ticking over, playing off each other as the plot twists and turns without becoming too “actorly”. For it soon becomes clear that each party is plotting death or social destruction for the other and are equally matched in their nasty game. Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz enjoys the technical trickeries of disguising his limited cast - famously the other players were made up names to make the audience believe that there more actors were present than it first appeared. The house in which the action takes place is marvellously creepy – seemingly packed with glassy-eyed mannequins and portraits, and when the two men don masks themselves it becomes even more disturbing.
Genuinely disturbing thriller with the two leads sparring brilliantly and keeping the audience on its toes.