Henry Stuart Clarke (Michael Caine) is a successful cat burglar and jewel thief who happens to have a drinking problem, so has checked himself into a clinic in Spain to rid himself of the habit. He thinks he's progressing rather well, and tells his doctor (Vladek Sheybal) so; the medical man is forced to agree, but suggests instead of rushing off Henry should stick around for a few more days, just to relax. The masseuses are very good here, so there's an incentive, but as he takes the opportunity to make use of their services he is interrupted by a message that someone is here to see him. Intrigued, he is confronted by an attractive European lady calling herself Fé (Giovanna Ralli) with a proposition...
Bryan Forbes' directorial career was a curious thing, starting out with widespread acclaim for his acutely observed drama Whistle Down the Wind at the beginning of the nineteen-sixties to being more or less written off as a talent with Deadfall at the other end of the decade. He really did breed a contempt in the general view of him by this point, and when he moved into the production side of the business as a studio head, the knives were out for him all the more, but now enough time has passed to put his career into perspective, was the drop off in quality as bad as all that? Certainly Deadfall has its fans, though most of them appreciate the work of one of Forbes' collbarators on the film, whose contribution helped the big heist scene immeasurably.
He was John Barry, still in the shadow of James Bond, and more or less embracing that as we kick things off in a seagull-tastic title sequence with one of his songs sung by... you guessed it, Shirley Bassey, as if to rub the audience's faces in what we would best know Barry for. Indeed, the composer dominated the film when he offered something of quality in contrast to the constipated style of the acting and the needlessly posed direction choices, so what you went away recalling was the central heist, and that wasn't because it was superbly shot, it wasn't, in fact it was implausible at best with Caine demonstrating incredible feats of acrobatics that even Jackie Chan might have found beyond him, but because of those strains of music wafting over the sequence.
As for the plot and how Henry ends up halfway up a Spanish mansion hanging by his fingernails to a window sill, it was because Fé is the representative of her older husband Richard Moreau (Eric Portman in his final big screen role) and they wish to coax him to work with them to liberate a hoard of treasure from a safe within a heavily guarded house. Sounds like we have a thriller on our hands, right? Well, there were elements of that, but Deadfall was more a psychological drama where the perversions of one man's mind bring everyone else down into the depths of despair and degradation. That man being Moreau, who is homosexual, presumably meant to explain why he goes as far as he does in messing up the lives of those around him, which as can you imagine doesn't stand up to much scrutiny.
This sensational angle was against the overall mood of the piece as low key and brooding, and the mixture was too indigestible to really be a success. Caine for one was disappointed in how it ended up, and you can see why, his usual charisma muted into being the fall guy - yes, that title does pointlessly give away the ending - and Portman doing his best to steal scenes with dissolute and suave demeanour, but fighting a losing battle against a script, adapted by Forbes from Desmond Cory's novel, that couldn't prevent its aims to divine great depth in the characters' minds coming across as a bit daft when the whole plot was so artificial. When the movie seeks to find something concrete in its probing of their mental foibles, it strikes nothing but mush, and this was a flaw the whole affair never recovered from. When the big revelation hits near the end, it's hard to take seriously when Forbes was so obviously banking on its shock value and has nothing more to it than making the viewer go "eugh". Too often it courted that dreaded description "pretentious", and that was the kiss of death.