Deadfall Review

A beautiful woman hires cat burglar Michael Caine for one big job in Deadfall from 1968, on DVD from Optimum.

Henry Stuart Clarke (Michael Caine) is a cat burglar. He is approached by the beautiful Fe Moreau (Giovanna Ralli) and her much older, and gay, husband Richard (Eric Portman) to mastermind a robbery of millionaire Salinas (David Buck).

Deadfall used to turn up on TV now and again (though the last showing I can trace was on BBC1 in 2003) but it hasn’t been commercially available in the UK since its cinema release in 1968. There are those who consider this an unfairly neglected film. I am not one of them, finding this very dated, talky and overlong film tiresomely overdirected and ponderous. If you disagree with that, then you will welcome Deadfall becoming available on DVD. At least you have, as I did, the opportunity to make up your mind. (I hadn’t caught any of those TV showings and am too young to have seen it in the cinemas, so this DVD was my first viewing.)

This is a film more than a little in love with its own daring, earning its X certifcate (then – it’s a 12 now) by its mentions of homosexuality. This was at a time when the subject, with the decline of the Production Code (replaced in the same year, 1968, with a ratings system) finally coming out of the closet, as it were. Many of those films seem terribly earnest nowadays, often perpetuating the “self-hating gay” stereotype. Often you suspect characters are gay (or from another minority) simply because the story is solely about the experience of being from that minority – and we’ve moved on from that. Deadfall, to its credit, doesn’t do that, but you suspect that Richard’s being gay is not much more than a plot device to facilitate Henry and Fe’s getting into bed together.

Michael Caine gives a standard Michael Caine performance, which isn’t a bad thing. He’s always watchable and he’s made far worse films than this. Giovanna Ralli looks stunning but is somewhat of a blank. (She is still acting to this day, but mostly in her native Italy. She made a few international appearances in the mid 60s. She can also be seen in Blake Edwards’s What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?.)John Barry’s score is good – you can see him onscreen conducting a symphony orchestra – and Gerry Turpin’s camerawork does well by the Spanish locations. Shirley Bassey gives her usual fortissimo on the title song, “My Love Has Two Faces”.

As a director, Bryan Forbes certainly made some good films in his career, with his directorial debut Whistle Down the Wind being justly well-loved. As a former actor, he’s very good with his casts. But visually, on the content-versus-style scale he’s very much on the content style, and his attempts to show otherwise in Deadfall quickly become irksome. Leonard Rossiter’s one scene – a dialogue with Caine – is a case in point, with the direction becoming positively distracting. Collectors of long takes should take a look at the final shot. And the film is sluggishly paced and at two hours long outstaying its welcome.


Deadfall is released on a single-layered disc encoded for Region 2 only. The title is one word, incidentally, not two, and for some reason it appears twice in the opening credits. The BBFC pass in November 1967 gives a running time of 126:37, while the usual running time quoted in reference sources is 120 minutes and the DVD running time (114:57) corresponds to that, with PAL speedup . Given that the onscreen copyright date is 1968, I suspect the film had some re-editing before release.

The DVD transfer is in the ratio of 1.66:1 (which seems correct to me) and is anamorphically enhanced. This film was shot in the kind of colour often seen in films of this era, which looks more than a little heightened nowadays. But the original materials seem to be in good shape, and I’ve no doubt that the film is meant to look this way. Grain is natural and filmlike and blacks are solid.

No problems with the soundtrack, which is mono (as per the original) and clean and well balanced. As usual – and broken-record time here – there are no subtitles for the hard of hearing.

“A triangle so strange and twisted the screen could never dare to film it before now!” The only extra is a trailer which looks like it came from a video source (it’s in 4:3) and has a hissy soundtrack. It runs 2:30.


Updated: Feb 20, 2011

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