SLEUTH is one of those movies that one watches and then exclaims, "Wow!"
Michael Caine plays Milo Tindle, a lowborn, cheeky hairdresser called down from London to visit Andrew Wyke on his rambling country estate. Andrew, played by Sir Laurence Olivier, is a class conscious, game-addicted, petty snob who writes award-winning detective stories. Milo also happens to be having an affair with Andrew's wife, Marguerite. On the other hand, Andrew is currently dallying with a local masseuse, Téa. Both men have cash flow problems. Milo hasn't enough to keep Marguerite in the lifestyle to which she's become accustomed, and Andrew has been beggared by ruinous British taxes. So, Andrew, being a self-proclaimed expert on crime whose literary detective creation, Lord Merrydew, always manages to make the official constabulary look like fools, invites Milo to join him in a mutually lucrative scam. The Plan: a suitably costumed Milo will "burgle" jewelry from Andrew's safe, fence it for an enormous sum, and be free to marry Marguerite, while Andrew happily collects the insurance money and enjoys his Siren of the moment. Andrew is not completely happy about his wife's adultery, but, after all, true gentleman can come to some convenient arrangement. Quite right!
Thus begins an intricate series of role-within-role-playing games played magnificently by these two phenomenal English actors. From the viewers' perspective, the challenge is to determine when the make-believe ends and real life reasserts itself. Thus, not only is SLEUTH an absorbing mystery story, but the roles within roles also create a resounding paean to the profession of acting. After SLEUTH, I don't think it was quite so cleverly done until 1997's FACE-OFF.
Both Caine and Olivier were nominated for Best Actor Oscars for their performances in this film. Sadly, neither won. In despite of that appalling injustice, this is one of those films that I can watch over and over again, and never fail to be delighted.