A Tony Award-winning 1970 mystery/thriller play by Anthony Shaffer, which has twice been adapted for the screen.
Andrew Wyke, a successful mystery author, realizes his wife is having an affair with the middle-classnote Milo Tindle. Finding in Milo an opportunity to divorce his wife, but wishing to avoid having to pay alimony, Andrew proposes for the younger man to burgle the couple's stately country house; Milo can get rich off his loot, while the insurance company will handsomely reimburse Andrew. Milo complies, but just as he pulls it off, things get really complicated.
Shaffer himself wrote the adaptation for the 1972 film, which was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and stars Laurence Olivier as Andrew and Michael Caine as Milo. The second film version, released in 2007, was directed by Kenneth Branagh and scripted by Harold Pinter; Michael Caine stars again, this time as Andrew, with Jude Law appearing as Milo.
The play features examples of:
- And You Thought It Was a Game: Several times the line between game and real life thread becomes blurred.
- Aristocrats Are Evil: Andrew basks in his upper class status while taking pleasure in using and humiliating everyone in his life. The latter side of his personality takes increasingly sinister turns as the story progresses.
- Blatant Burglar: The first disguise Andrew proposes for Milo to wear during the staged burglary is the classic outfit complete with striped jersey and a bag with SWAG written on it.
- The Chessmaster: Both Milo and Andrew.
- Chromosome Casting: A male example. Granted, it does have a Minimalist Cast.
- Disney Death: Milo. He's not so lucky the second time.
- Downer Ending: Milo has been shot dead and Andrew breaks down realizing he's going to prison.
- Eviler than Thou: Andrew is at first clearly the more reprehensible man. However, when Milo retaliates he does so in a manner that will completely ruin Andrew's life rather than just humiliate him. You could say that Andrew is still the worse person since he responds to Milo's game by murdering him, but the fact that Milo was trying to bait him into this all along serves as an argument that he's even worse.
- Evil Plan/Kansas City Shuffle: The scheme in the opening paragraph was just a precursor to Andrew's real scheme: to humiliate Milo, by means of shooting him with blanks, because he, a middle-class son of immigrants, dared to mingle with the upper class. It's the former because it starts and drives the plot. It's the latter because the one being schemed thought they knew where to look and what was going on but the real scheme is coming from another direction. From there it gets a lot more complicated.
- The Film of the Play: The 1972 film is a faithful adaptation by Anthony Shaffer of his 1970 play; the 2007 remake takes considerable liberties.
- Genre Savvy: Both characters try to use their knowledge of detective stories to their advantage.
- Gold Digger: Marguerite, according to Andrew.
- Face–Heel Turn: Milo is at first the better man of the two, but after Andrew's trick, his diabolical revenge makes him just as bad, if not worse.
- Hazy-Feel Turn: Andrew is an awful person at the start, but not really evil. Once he's had enough of Milo's plans though he's all too glad to murder him, meaning he's certainly crossed over to that line by the end.
- He Who Fights Monsters: Milo, who initially disapproves of Andrew's gameplaying, starts playing back to prevent Andrew getting the last laugh, and proves disconcertingly adept.
- I Never Said It Was Poison: Discussed during Inspector Doppler's conversation with Andrew.
- Lightmare Fuel: The story jumps from funny to horrifying within a second. Some scenes you might alternate between smiling and being afraid for the characters' lives several times within one moment. You could even find yourself grinning while thinking "I think something horrible is going to happen any minute".
- Meaningful Name: Inspector Doppler.
- Minimalist Cast: It has only five characters. And only two actors.
- Mood Whiplash: The initial burglary plot is quite silly, as Milo disguises as a clown and makes a mess of the robbery attempt, but after the first or second plot twist it becomes extremely dark.
- Most Writers Are Writers: Andrew, has become wealthy as a successful writer of popular, though now old-fashioned, crime fiction novels, which feature an aristocratic amateur detective, St. John Lord Merridew.
- Only One Plausible Suspect: When Inspector Doppler turns up and announces that Milo has been murdered, Andrew is the only plausible suspect; since he and Milo are the only two significant characters up this point, and it obviously wasn't Milo, the rules of drama dictate that nobody could have done it if not Andrew. Subverted: nobody did do it; it's all a bit of fakery as part of Milo's revenge.
- Police Are Useless: Early on Milo complains that in Andrew's detective books the Police are always incompetent and leave the work to the amateur sleuth. Later he has to experience the fact firsthand.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Relatively subtle, but in addition to being a snob in general, Andrew throws some anti-Italian slurs at Milo.
- In the original play, Andrew tosses out a couple of casual racist remarks.
- "Reason You Suck" Speech: Andrew gives Milo a "Reasons Why I Hate You" speech at the end of the first act.
- Reverse Whodunnit: The theme of the second act, as the inspector arrives to unravel the events shown in the first act. Subverted as no actual murder happened. In fact, the inspector is actually the supposed victim in disguise, putting his own plan in motion to get even.
- Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Sort of. Andrew sees it this way.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Andrew lectures Milo about the upper class being smarter and better, and believes his amateur sleuthing is superior to real-life detective work. Milo and Inspector Doppler basically the same person go out of the way to prove Andrew so very wrong about both.
- Smug Snake: Andrew is convinced that his superior upper class "breeding" and his background as a writer of crime fiction make him invincible against the middle class commoner Milo and law enforcement. It doesn't take long for the tables to be turned against him.
- Thanatos Gambit: In reprisal for the Kansas City Shuffle, Milo manipulates Andrew into killing him for real and getting caught red-handed.
The 1972 film adds examples of:
- Blood from the Mouth: Milo in the final scene.
- Brief Accent Imitation: Laurence Olivier gets to do several.
- Casting Gag: More of a casting pun, one of the fake names in the credits is Eve Channing, a reference to director Mankiewicz's All About Eve.
- Concealing Canvas: Discussed. When looking for the safe, Milo dismisses the painting of Andrew's wife as the hiding place as he has seen it too often on TV.
- Creepy Circus Music: Playing in the closing scene.
- Hedge Maze: Milo bumbles around an ornate one trying to find his host when he first arrives to his meeting with Andrew, whose voice he can hear recording his latest detective novel.
- Hollywood Blanks: A particularly egregious example. Pressed right against the head, the gun will kill you, blanks or not. Of course, it's possible that Andrew was using specially made blanks where nothing comes out of the gun, used for simulating shooting oneself in the head. But it would still probably cause serious hearing damage.
- Mobile Maze: Andrew's got one.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: An In-Character example. Michael Caine struggles a bit with Milo's Inspector Doppler accent.
- Psychopathic Manchild: Andrew. The creep factor is dialed up with long shots of his moving, dancing, watching-you toys.
- Shout-Out: Andrew, a popular detective writer, has a sign that reads "221 B Baker Street" in his basement.
- Spoiler Opening: Subverted; despite what the credits may tell you, Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine are the only actors who appear in the film.
- Trailers Always Spoil: The trailer features shots from the film's third act, which gives away the twist that Milo was not killed at the end of the first act.
- Villainous Breakdown: In the closing scene, Milo's final act before succumbing to his gunshot wound is to jam the button that operates Andrew's creepy toys, who suddenly spring to life and start laughing, but now at Andrew and not with him. Coupled with the police lights illuminating his wall, the detectives hammering on his front door having heard a gunshot inside, and Milo's dead body right in the middle of the floor, it is made very clear that Andrew has no way out, and he breaks down sobbing.
The 2007 film adds examples of:
- Anti-Hero: Milo is revealed to be a sociopath on Andrew's level.
- Casting Gag: Michael Caine, who played Milo to Laurence Olivier's Andrew in the 1972 film, starred as Andrew to Jude Law's Milo in the 2007 version. Jude Law had played Michael Caine's part in the remake of Alfie.