From start to finish, Bryan Forbes’ Deadfall (1968) glimmers with the gloss of a 1960’s classic heist thriller, very much in the vein of Ocean’s Eleven (1960) or Topkapi (1964), and presents itself as a truly attractive film with its easy-on-the-eye cast, wonderful cinematography, and classical camera work.
During a stay at a sanatorium for recovering alcoholics, cat burglar and proffesional conman Henry Stuart Clarke (Michael Caine) is approached by a mysterious and beautiful woman, Fe (Giovanna Ralli), who has a business proposition for him; her husband Richard (Eric Portman), is planning the most ingenious of robberies, and with Clarke’s ability as a thief it seems they cannot fail. Inevitably a love triangle ensues, but not in the most traditional of senses; Fe doesn’t love Richard in the same way a married woman is “supposed” to love her husband, and as the love between Fe and Clarke begins to grow, secrets emerge that threaten to destroy them all.
Deadfall’s plot provides us with a number of layers and a twist that Hitchcock himself would be proud of. Yet, some parts of the narrative drag and feel overdone, leaving us wishing that the film would just “get to the point”. Some would argue that such impatience is a result of modern day society and the speed at which we require everything to be available to us, and that a 1960’s audience may not feel the same way about the film. However, that does not account for the fact that amongst similar films from that era, Deadfall has not received the same level of critical acclaim. In comparison, Forbes’ film is a little bulky and could arguably have done with some of its unnecessarily long scenes cut a little shorter in order to speed up proceedings
However, such criticism should not detract from a selection of wonderfully crafted scenes that make Deadfall well worth a watch; the most notable being the first heist scene where Forbes utilises an exquisite combination of image and sound to create a unique visual and aural relationship that has an enchanting effect on the audience.
Deadfall is a near classic with a Hitchcockian air to it, yet director Forbes appears to have missed the point slightly. He may have made a beautiful film, with wonderfully crafted shots, and a powerfully evocative visual/aural relationship, yet, minus a significant twist in the plot – that in itself doesn’t do much to affect the narrative – he fails to deliver the painful anticipation and suspense so wonderfully conveyed by a Hitchcock thriller. Nevertheless, regardless of some unnecessarily long scenes, there is a lot to be credited here.