Cat-burglar capers are almost as grateful a subject matter for movies as secret agent shenanigans, due to all the possibilities for visual excitement. Deadfall, however, falls rather short of this ideal, opting to be too slow, too artsy and too adult in its orientation. This is true of both the pacing, the atmosphere and the thematic content.
Michael Caine, at the peak of his career, plays Henry Stuart Clarke, a smart, subtle and successful jewel thief who’s meticulously planning his every move. While maneuvering a future target, he is approached by an elderly gentleman of the same persuasion, proposing a partnership for another job. Well, actually, Henry is approached by the elderly gentleman’s surprisingly young wife, Fé, whom he soon finds out is “part of the deal”, as her enigmatic relationship with her husband is apparently Platonic.
The proposed heist concerns breaking into a thoroughly secure mansion and opening a safe. The entire middle of the movie chronicles this single job. The mansion belongs to a classical guitarist, who is giving a concert on this night and is therefore not home, and the break-in is intercut at length with scenes from the concert. One wonders a bit what the point of this is, but apparently it is to showcase the quality of the music, which was specially made for this movie (and the copyright issues of which has prevented the earlier release of this DVD). The effect is not great, however, as the intercuts are quite quick, causing grating interruptions in the soundtrack.
After the job the plot shifts to the escalating romance between Henry and Fé. Henry attempts to find out what Fé’s relationship with her much-older husband is really all about, and is so obsessed with her that he considers killing the husband just for being a third wheel – which I don’t think seems enormously to be in character for Henry. This plot indeed thickens (hubby is a homosexual, but that’s not even the half of it), and into something rather muddy and silly which is unbelievable, venturing into the ridiculous, and never properly explained.
The end of the movie features the heist that Henry was researching at the beginning. The job itself is pulled off in a somewhat strangely convenient manner, but Henry, who used to have luck on his side, is now involved with (a) Fé(mme fatale), which means his luck is changing.
The production values are fair for a 1968 movie, and the picture quality of the disc is crisp, but the movie contains very little excitement of any kind. Actual action is spread too thinly, and the single heist during the middle of the movie, and what we get of the final job, are not really enough substance to carry it. The fact that the story takes place in Spain could be expected to lend it some much needed exoticism, but this too fails to materialize to any satisfying degree.
Considering that the movie is based on a novel, one would think that it would have been very easy to put much more detail into the adaptation. But the directorial effort approaches the minimalistic, and while it will probably fit some tastes, my guess is it won’t fit that of most present-day audiences, unless one is particularly interested in the music. Shirley Bassey also does a very 007-like theme song during the opening credits.
I can’t say I think the movie is very good. The most interesting thing I can say about it is that, in some ways, one could see it as an early adventure of Michael Caine’s character from the classic 1988 comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which is a great favorite of mine.
The DVD is bare-bones with no special features besides a trailer and the usual scene selections. There are no subtitles, which is always a disappointment (esp. when some characters speak with heavy accents). But sound and picture are quite excellent.
Director: Bryan Forbes
Cast: Michael Caine, Giovanna Ralli, Eric Portman
Runtime: 120 min