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Sleuth: Sloth in a Cozy Humidor

The grand. gray-stone mansion, isolated in lush English countryside — no greener green anywhere-appears from a postcard-distance to be the sort of setting for fantasies of elegant weekend junkets, given to marking time and making chat on vast lawns and verandas with lords and ladies. The garden of this estate features a stone serpent, on guard at the entranceway, and a sharply, squarely cut hedge that forms a frustrating maze. This devious element of design conveys a powerful hint that the estate is ruled by some wayward, perverse imagination, instead of by the bland, polite traditions of landed gentry. The indoors of the mansion immediately demolishes any remaining expectations of country estates-no marble halls, no banquet table, no hounds before the hearth. no four-poster beds the size of cornfields. This house is void of life, except for the hoary owner. But it's crammed full of the owner's bizarre belongings-antique dolls, unfamiliar chesslike board games, jigsaw puzzles, dummies. mounted and framed book jackets and celebrity photographs, miniature models of theatre scenes, stained glass windows. It is not what you'd expect-the rooms are smaller than you'd guess, and also darker, in muted. earthy, aromatic brownish, grayish, and blueish tones. like the cozy interior of a humidor-but the setting obviously must possess an interesting story. The man whose life and tastes are represented the odd assortment of bric-a-brac must have a story to tell.

Movie

Sleuth **

thumbnail

Anthony Shaffer's veddy, veddy clever stage play is really not a mystery story at all, but rather a character study of a lordly WASP bigot (Laurence Olivier, acting in a Man of a Thousand Voices style) who just happens to compose genteel whodunits on the side. Shaffer spoofs the detective genre with considerable malice, and yet his own pretzeled plotting would be completely undone if he failed to outfox the audience. Inside the English country estate, dark and musty like the interior of a humidor, a wandering eye will probably find more fascination in the clutter of knickknacks — antique dolls, bizarre board games, jigsaw puzzles, etc. — than in the deceitful plot disclosures. With Michael Caine; directed by Joseph Mankiewicz.

Find showtimes

Actually the story-to-tell is less riveting than the objects themselves. In any case, in Sleuth the story is the sort which you are not supposed to blab around, might "spoil" Actually the story-to-tell is less riveting than the objects themselves. In any case, in Sleuth the story is the sort which you are not supposed to blab around. It might "spoil" it for somebody, even though the-story in question might be totally rotten and the issue of spoilage settled long before any audience got near the thing. At least it can be divulged that Sleuth is not a detective story. II is basically a character study. An examination of a cloistered, knighted individual (Laurence Olivier)-hopelessly snobby, class-conscious, possessive bigotted — who happens to write detective stories in the genteel, intellectual-puzzle vein. That this vicious character has a passion for the detective genre may be somewhat illuminating about him-at least it fits in with his passion for puzzles and games, for elaborate deceits, and for theatrics. However this character's taste for detective fiction is not illuminating about detective fiction, even slightly. Through all the facile philosophizing about detective stories (are they or arc they not the normal preoccupation of "noble minds"?), and all the spoofing about their creakiest conventions, and all the confusion — deliberate — of the Olivier character with his fictional creation, Lord Merrydew, and all the satirically inflamed rhapsodizing about the value and valor of the fictional detective, nothing is suggested about the genre that could not be dealt with appropriately in a slander suit.

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In spite of its apparent wary. wry regard for the inanities of detective fiction, Anthony Shaffer's script, originally for the stage. shares some of the genre's aims. Especially the desire to outfox the audience. to circle around unseen and tap the viewer on an unsuspecting shoulder. or tilt the ground suddenly under his feet. Against the stable. one-set background of the stage play, the tracings of Shaffer's plot-the zigzags and loops-can be followed without distraction, for those who can focus on such intricacies in the first place. But every time the film version attempts to make things "more cinematic." the concentration of the viewer is diverted, however slightly, and the continuity of the plot thread is endangered: every time the scene picks up and moves to another room, every time the speaker is off screen, every time there is a cut. The movie's opening scene signals the permanent discomfort between Shaffer's convoluted drawing of the storyline and director Joe Mankiewicz's inclination to make himself useful, to make his presence felt. by creating catchy images. As Michael Caine wanders through the garden maze. wending his way toward Olivier's off-screen voice. there are two incompatible kinds of gags unravelling at the same time-the verbal. literary parody assigned to Olivier and the visual, Laurel-and-Hardy-in-Chumps-at- Oxford sight gag assigned to Caine — and each takes away from the other.

The acting does not help to channel attention to ..... and the plot. If acting "ere measured in pounds, Caine and Olivier by themselves would overburden the average elevator. For that matter, you could jettison Caine and still have the problem. Under Olivier's unique renditions of reasonably smooth lines-his shifty changes of pace, his static-y spacing out of words, his manicdepressive inflections, his frequent switches into dialects and impressions- it is a challenge, frequently, to follow the sense of his dialogue from one sentence to the next.

Considering the several obstacles to sticking with Shaffer's prankish plot, which is questionably justifiable to begin with, the saviors. of the movie become Ken Adam, the set designer best known for the look of the james Bond films, and Oswald Morris, the photographer whose talent thrives within mustiness. It is the appearance of the film, behind or to the side of the two domineering faces and figures, that holds unpredictable interest. The strange objects, games and gimmicks. the antiquated divans, and lamps, and pillows. the wealth of books, all invest the movie, for a viewer with an independent, wandering eye, with the excitement of an abundant, unexplored attic, or antique shop, or museum. If the film had been done in the closeup style of televisia:n-just faces on screen-most of the interest would have been cropped. But under Mankiewicz's loose direction, there are plenty of marginal diversions tucked in the screen's corners and along its edges. Even so, there is little of interest beyond the midway mark, once the locale has been thoroughly explored, and certainly even this interest is of the most inanimate, sedentary, passive kind. In other words, this movie might be better named Sloth.

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The grand. gray-stone mansion, isolated in lush English countryside — no greener green anywhere-appears from a postcard-distance to be the sort of setting for fantasies of elegant weekend junkets, given to marking time and making chat on vast lawns and verandas with lords and ladies. The garden of this estate features a stone serpent, on guard at the entranceway, and a sharply, squarely cut hedge that forms a frustrating maze. This devious element of design conveys a powerful hint that the estate is ruled by some wayward, perverse imagination, instead of by the bland, polite traditions of landed gentry. The indoors of the mansion immediately demolishes any remaining expectations of country estates-no marble halls, no banquet table, no hounds before the hearth. no four-poster beds the size of cornfields. This house is void of life, except for the hoary owner. But it's crammed full of the owner's bizarre belongings-antique dolls, unfamiliar chesslike board games, jigsaw puzzles, dummies. mounted and framed book jackets and celebrity photographs, miniature models of theatre scenes, stained glass windows. It is not what you'd expect-the rooms are smaller than you'd guess, and also darker, in muted. earthy, aromatic brownish, grayish, and blueish tones. like the cozy interior of a humidor-but the setting obviously must possess an interesting story. The man whose life and tastes are represented the odd assortment of bric-a-brac must have a story to tell.

Movie

Sleuth **

thumbnail

Anthony Shaffer's veddy, veddy clever stage play is really not a mystery story at all, but rather a character study of a lordly WASP bigot (Laurence Olivier, acting in a Man of a Thousand Voices style) who just happens to compose genteel whodunits on the side. Shaffer spoofs the detective genre with considerable malice, and yet his own pretzeled plotting would be completely undone if he failed to outfox the audience. Inside the English country estate, dark and musty like the interior of a humidor, a wandering eye will probably find more fascination in the clutter of knickknacks — antique dolls, bizarre board games, jigsaw puzzles, etc. — than in the deceitful plot disclosures. With Michael Caine; directed by Joseph Mankiewicz.

Find showtimes

Actually the story-to-tell is less riveting than the objects themselves. In any case, in Sleuth the story is the sort which you are not supposed to blab around, might "spoil" Actually the story-to-tell is less riveting than the objects themselves. In any case, in Sleuth the story is the sort which you are not supposed to blab around. It might "spoil" it for somebody, even though the-story in question might be totally rotten and the issue of spoilage settled long before any audience got near the thing. At least it can be divulged that Sleuth is not a detective story. II is basically a character study. An examination of a cloistered, knighted individual (Laurence Olivier)-hopelessly snobby, class-conscious, possessive bigotted — who happens to write detective stories in the genteel, intellectual-puzzle vein. That this vicious character has a passion for the detective genre may be somewhat illuminating about him-at least it fits in with his passion for puzzles and games, for elaborate deceits, and for theatrics. However this character's taste for detective fiction is not illuminating about detective fiction, even slightly. Through all the facile philosophizing about detective stories (are they or arc they not the normal preoccupation of "noble minds"?), and all the spoofing about their creakiest conventions, and all the confusion — deliberate — of the Olivier character with his fictional creation, Lord Merrydew, and all the satirically inflamed rhapsodizing about the value and valor of the fictional detective, nothing is suggested about the genre that could not be dealt with appropriately in a slander suit.

Sponsored
Sponsored

In spite of its apparent wary. wry regard for the inanities of detective fiction, Anthony Shaffer's script, originally for the stage. shares some of the genre's aims. Especially the desire to outfox the audience. to circle around unseen and tap the viewer on an unsuspecting shoulder. or tilt the ground suddenly under his feet. Against the stable. one-set background of the stage play, the tracings of Shaffer's plot-the zigzags and loops-can be followed without distraction, for those who can focus on such intricacies in the first place. But every time the film version attempts to make things "more cinematic." the concentration of the viewer is diverted, however slightly, and the continuity of the plot thread is endangered: every time the scene picks up and moves to another room, every time the speaker is off screen, every time there is a cut. The movie's opening scene signals the permanent discomfort between Shaffer's convoluted drawing of the storyline and director Joe Mankiewicz's inclination to make himself useful, to make his presence felt. by creating catchy images. As Michael Caine wanders through the garden maze. wending his way toward Olivier's off-screen voice. there are two incompatible kinds of gags unravelling at the same time-the verbal. literary parody assigned to Olivier and the visual, Laurel-and-Hardy-in-Chumps-at- Oxford sight gag assigned to Caine — and each takes away from the other.

The acting does not help to channel attention to ..... and the plot. If acting "ere measured in pounds, Caine and Olivier by themselves would overburden the average elevator. For that matter, you could jettison Caine and still have the problem. Under Olivier's unique renditions of reasonably smooth lines-his shifty changes of pace, his static-y spacing out of words, his manicdepressive inflections, his frequent switches into dialects and impressions- it is a challenge, frequently, to follow the sense of his dialogue from one sentence to the next.

Considering the several obstacles to sticking with Shaffer's prankish plot, which is questionably justifiable to begin with, the saviors. of the movie become Ken Adam, the set designer best known for the look of the james Bond films, and Oswald Morris, the photographer whose talent thrives within mustiness. It is the appearance of the film, behind or to the side of the two domineering faces and figures, that holds unpredictable interest. The strange objects, games and gimmicks. the antiquated divans, and lamps, and pillows. the wealth of books, all invest the movie, for a viewer with an independent, wandering eye, with the excitement of an abundant, unexplored attic, or antique shop, or museum. If the film had been done in the closeup style of televisia:n-just faces on screen-most of the interest would have been cropped. But under Mankiewicz's loose direction, there are plenty of marginal diversions tucked in the screen's corners and along its edges. Even so, there is little of interest beyond the midway mark, once the locale has been thoroughly explored, and certainly even this interest is of the most inanimate, sedentary, passive kind. In other words, this movie might be better named Sloth.

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