Deadfall was one of two films Michael Caine did for 20th Century Fox in 1968, because he had signed a contract that he (or his agent) didn’t remember signing! The other film was The Magus (Signal One also released that), and Caine isn’t terribly fond of either film. It’s also one of many caper films Caine did throughout the ’60s and ’70s, which must have seemed like an endless stream of films at the time.
The film is based on the novel of the same name by Desmond Cory, who wrote his own debonair British secret agent Johnny Fedora before Ian Fleming’s Bond. Michael Caine always had a complicated relationship with Bond. He had played Harry Palmer, another British secret agent, so he didn’t want to be typecast as a spy and turned down Bond a few times. However, he was always attracted to films that had aspects of the 007 world, whether it was exotic locations or an archetypical Bond girl, even if it wasn’t actually a Bond film. Deadfall also includes a John Berry score, which adds to the Bond connection, even though there was no way this film would become a franchise. They got Shirley Bassey to do the theme for the same reason.
It starts with Caine in a sanitarium for alcoholics, where his real plan is to get close to another patient so he can rob his house. There’s a twist, but the audience are aware of it long before the big reveal happens.
The most interesting aspect of Deadfall, however, is the fact that Robert Towne had the initial crack at the script. The film has a major plot point of a father who has married his daughter, and of course Towne would later write his magnum opus Chinatown, which dealt with a similar situation. In the supplementary interview included on the disc, Chris Poggiali says he believes Towne might have taken that aspect of the Chinatown plot from his time working on Deadfall. However, in this case the villainous father is actually a gay man who betrayed his lover to the Nazis and impregnated the man’s wife!
It’s a complete mess of a film, because obviously they couldn’t explore the scandalous father too much. The heists through which the father forms an alliance with Caine’s cat-burglar are fairly anti-climactic, and the sequence that shows the dry run for the final heist is actually the big setpiece! The film is insanely baggy at a solid two hours, with a love interest subplot that takes up a quarter of the film, despite being really bland.
Clearly the studio wanted to make a Bond-alike, but it went down a different path and ended up being something rather strange. It was directed by Bryan Forbes, a British director who had done some kitchen-sink dramas but was best known for doing the original The Stepford Wives. Forbes was also a screenwriter, novelist, actor and head of a British film studio—quite a career!
It’s such a bizarre mash-up that there is obviously plenty of curiosity value for the viewer. There are some extras such as the interview with Chris Poggiali, a featurette about John Barry from the old 20th Century Fox DVD, plus a stills gallery, trailer and booklet. This is also the first time the film has been released in it’s original aspect ratio in the UK.