Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Two, Part Two – ‘Sleuth’ (1972)

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The Premise
Film fanatics and friends
 Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen. There will be stunned silences and standing ovations, joy and despair, whinging and whooping and it will all be recorded here for you to enjoy.

Earlier this week, the boys discussed Yasser’s choice of the week, ‘Borat‘. Now it’s time for the film at number 24 on Fred’s list, and the discussion takes some unexpected turns.

You can read the entires from previous week by checking out the archives on the left of the screen.

You can also access the lists so far by clicking here for Fred’s and here for Yasser’s.

Yasser: I have a question.

Fred: Shoot.

YA: Do you remember Prince John, the lion from Disney’s ‘Robin Hood’?

FS: I do indeed. Voiced by Peter Ustinov.

YA: Olivier in ‘Sleuth’ reminded me of Prince John. He comes across as big, bold and brash but, after you look at him properly, he turns out to be a snivelling little cry-baby.

FS: Ustinov was quite the mimic so there is every chance he chose to impersonate Olivier, though probably not Olivier as Andrew Wyke specifically.

1972 – USA/UK
Director: Joseph L. Manciewicz
Starring: Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, Alec Cawthorne, Eve Channing, John Matthews

FS: You sent me a text when you were halfway through watching this – “An hour in and Olivier is sinisterly amazing”. This gave me the impression that you were enjoying the movie. Was I right?

YA: I was enjoying his performance, yes, up until that point. then the tables turned on him…

FS: …and?

YA: … how can I put this… I became rather bemused with his character.

FS: You are kidding! What a shame.

YA: Everything he then did was overacted and you could feel that in the arrogance he brought to the character.

FS: (laughs) I’m not sure Olivier was man to whom modesty came easily.

YA: You don’t think so?

FS: There is a famous story that Michael Caine tells about this movie. A week into the film, Olivier said to him “when we started this film I thought I had an assistant. Now I see I have a partner”.

YA: I think the first part of the film required him to be an arrogant person.

FS: Yes, and it lasted well into the second half.

YA: It shouldn’t have done, though.

FS: Why not?

YA: That arrogance… I don’t feel like the director wanted it.

FS: He’s playing a character who is a snob being questioned by a country policeman. He treats him with courtesy, but can’t hide is disdain.

YA: As a viewer, I thought he arrogantly went about his business how he saw fit, perhaps even against the director’s wishes.

FS: A writer directing a director I have to be honest and say I don’t see where the problem lies. The lines are written for him to speak, he’s playing an arrogant man and he plays him as arrogant and self-important.

YA: Fredders – when Wyke is supposed to be scared, why is he still arrogant? He’s put in desperate situations, his deepest secrets are revealed… arrogant. Ruined it.

FS: Because he is all about class distinction and ‘keeping the British end up’. Some of the lines he has during those sequences you have mentioned go to the very heart of the character. As long as his secret isn’t made public it is not an issue for him. He’s all about image. The arrogance is always there – he totally believed in his own mental abilities. He can’t distinguish between real life and the game any more.

YA: Don’t get me wrong, it was a good film. I liked it thoroughly more than ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’.

FS: I thought you would. It’s a clever story.

YA: Olivier’s arrogance let it down.

FS: Damn you Larry!

YA: (laughs) For real.

FS: Did you like it better than the 2007 version?

YA: That was good, but Jude Law is no Caine.

FS: I watched that this week to see how it compared and I thought it was awful.

YA: Too modern for your tastes I would’ve thought.

FS: It was like the actors were delivering dialogue they had never read before.

YA: The newer version was more cold and less inviting.

FS: The set is too claustrophobic, despite being set in a mansion. I love the set in the ’72 version – all the automatons.

YA: They were grating and unnerving.

FS: (laughs)

YA: Michael Caine did a fantastic job, I thought. He did things i didn’t know he could do.

FS: He’s very good. The film would be nothing without two excellent performances.

YA: From what you know, was Laurence Olivier racist or did he just play a racist really well?

FS: I don’t know. We have discussed his Othello before.

YA: When he blacked up.

FS: We are talking about an upper-class, British man raised with Victorian morals during the years when Britain had an empire. I doubt he was a racist in the sense that he hated black people or foreigners, but there may have been something in his upbringing. I have never heard any negative stories to this effect, though.

YA: Fair enough. I just don’t like the idea of blacking up.

FS: Is Olivier, an actor raised in the Shakespearean tradition, blacking up to play Othello worse than the depiction of Eastern Europe and the morals of its population shown in ‘Borat’?

YA: Well, yes and no. Borat’s character is racist but that doesn’t mean Sacha Baron Cohen, who is a Jew, is racist against his own people.

FS: But the film shows the population of Kazakhstan as rapists, prostitutes, shitting in bags, sexist, partial to incest. It’s all making fun of a foreigner for being backward.

YA: I guess so. Borat’s character is far more controversial by today’s standards of society and acceptance, but it is comedic and is done to show that parts of America aren’t so different to places whose ideals are deemed to be backward.

FS: This is quite heavy. (laughs)

YA: Yeah. Back to ‘Sleuth’. (laughs) It was great. I enjoyed it. I give it a solid 7/10. It would have been eight, but Olivier’s arrogance leaking on to the screen hindered the experience.

FS: Splendid. This week I have… (consults list)… ‘Casablanca‘!

YA: Lucky you.

FS: I think we both know what that will get rated. Quite brilliantly, in the week I have Bogart, you have ‘Breathless‘.

YA: French movie, oui?

FS: Oui! With the gorgeous Jean Seberg and the cool-as-fuck Jean-Paul Belmondo.

YA: If you refer to someone as ‘cool-as-fuck’ they must be.

FS: That is either high praise or high sarcasm.

YA: Perhaps both.

FS: (laughs)

Next week: ‘Breathless’ and ‘Casablanca’. Movie heaven.


8 thoughts on “Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Two, Part Two – ‘Sleuth’ (1972)

    […] 24. Sleuth (1972) […]

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    […] FS: Okay. Laurence Olivier did NOT play Sam… […]

    Niall Sullivan said:
    February 12, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    Better than either film version was the original stage play with Donal Donnelly playing Milo the hairdresser (I forget who did the Olivier part). The ending was better, with the dying Milo half rising from the floor, as the police cars with flashing lights pull up outside the window, and uttering the clincher “Game, set and match” before falling back into a supine position. Olivier’s arrogance surely suits a man who beleieves himself to be the embodiement of St. John Lord Meridew, his fictional detective hero.

    Niall Sullivan said:
    February 12, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    I now recall: the Olivier part on stage was played by T P McKenna, and very good he was too.

    […] the movie, the way it was shot, the wit, the dry sarcasm, the style, I gotta give it 7/10. ‘Sleuth‘ was a better […]

    […] to discuss what they have seen. So far, they have visited China, France, Morocco, Kazakhstan, the English countryside and the human soul itself, and it’s all been here for you to […]

    […] discuss what they have seen. So far, they have visited China, France, Morocco, Kazakhstan, the English countryside and the human soul itself, and it’s all been here for you to […]

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