Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Arriving in select theaters Friday, July 31, The End Of The Tour belongs to a fine tradition of movies that feature little more than two actors gabbing at each other. We’ve lined up five days of the same, recommending some excellent two-person talkfests.
Gamesmanship takes diabolical—and potentially deadly—form in Sleuth, a sterling adaptation of the Tony-winning play that pits Sir Laurence Olivier against Michael Caine in a battle of wits. With no supporting cast, the final film by Joseph M. Mankiewicz grants center stage to its leads, with Olivier assuming the guise of Andrew Wyke, an acclaimed author of detective novels, and Caine embodying his rival Milo Tindle, a hairdresser who’s sleeping with Wyke’s wife. Invited over to Wyke’s remote countryside mansion, which includes a hedge maze that he must, upon first visit, navigate, Tindle finds Wyke’s invitation more than a bit puzzling, given their shared relationship to the same woman. Things only become more bewildering once Wyke reveals his true motive: to have Tindle steal the valuable jewelry in his safe and then fence it for cash (in order to be able to continue supporting Wyke’s spendthrift wife), while Wyke collects the sizable insurance payout.
Engaged in constant dialogue as they move through Wyke’s home—an old-money estate decorated with electronic figures, toys, and gags (including a life-size mechanical sailor who laughs at Wyke’s jokes)—the two soon reveal their own deep-rooted hang-ups: Wyke’s arrogance and humiliation-fueled vengefulness, and Tindle’s resentment and ferocious desperation. Olivier affects a wide range of flamboyant mannerisms and accents to deliver a theatrical turn as a man consumed by intellectual (and amorous) competition. Caine segues seamlessly between confused buffoonery and calculating coldness as their initially polite rapport transforms into a verbal sparring match of deceptive volleys. Through it all, director Mankiewicz (All About Eve, Cleopatra) stages his material with assured acuity. The film’s midway table-turning twist isn’t much of a surprise, but that hardly mitigates the considerable pleasure of watching two of England’s finest actors—one figuratively passing the superstar torch to the other—duke it out in a film of cunning social and class warfare.
Availability: Sleuth is available on DVD through Amazon or possibly your local video store/library.