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When DEATHTRAP was first released, the poster--reproduced on the cover
of this DVD--offered a graphic akin to a Rubik's Cube. It is an
appropriate image: originally written for the stage by Ira Levin, who
authored such memorable works as ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE STEPFORD
WIVES, the play was one of Broadway's most famous twisters, and under
Sidney Lumet's direction it translates to the screen extremely well.
DEATHTRAP is one of those films that it is very difficult to discuss, for to do so in any detail gives away the very plot for which it is famous. But the opening premise is extremely clever: Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine) is the famous author of mystery plays, but these days he seems to have lost his touch. After a particularly brutal opening night, an old student named Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeve) sends him a script for a play he has written. It is called "Deathtrap," and Sidney recognizes it as a surefire hit. Just the sort of hit that would revive his career... indeed, a hit to die for. And when Clifford visits to discuss the play, events suddenly begin to twist in the most unexpected manner possible.
Like Anthony Shaffer's equally twisty SLEUTH, DEATHTRAP is really a story more at home on the stage than the screen--to reach full power it needs the immediacy that a live performance offers. Still, under the expert guidance of director Sidney Lumet, it makes a more-than-respectable showing on the screen. Much of this is due to the cast, which is remarkably fine. Michael Caine gives a truly brilliant performance, Dyan Cannon is funny and endearing as Sidney's relentlessly anxious wife, and Christopher Reeve gives what might be the single finest performance in his regrettably short acting career. If you can't see it in a first-rate theatrical production, this will more than do until one comes along.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
The comparison to Sleuth, the earlier stage-play-turned-film, is
obvious and upon my first viewing I too thought Sleuth was better, but
Deathtrap has, at least for me, many more repeat viewings in it than
I purchased Deathrap in the bargain bin at Wal-Mart, figuring that it had Caine and the underrated Reeve and was worth the 6 bucks. It was one of the finest DVD purchases I could've picked up.
It's one of those best-kept-secrets that movie buffs always are always delighted to discover. And it's totally worth repeat viewings.
Though Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine turned in bravado performances in Sleuth, I was doubly impressed with Christopher Reeve as Clifford Anderson. Reeve, rightfully associated with his now legendary portrayal of Superman, stole the show in what should've been an Oscar worthy performance. I've always felt Reeve was a type-cast actor who didn't get much of a chance to shine outside of the Superman films and a few other flawed but entertaining films like Somewhere in Time, but this film shows that his potential was truly tapped and put to use, thank goodness.
I absolutely relished Michael Caine's performance. He was glib, deliciously manipulative and sadistic. And watching him work with Reeve and Dyan Cannon was an absolute pleasure. In fact, it was thanks to this movie that I got into a "Michael Caine phase" and started renting as much of his stuff as humanly possible.
As for Deathtrap, there's enough juicy dialogue in here to fill up its "memorable quotes" section. (Unfortunately, much of the dialogue would inherently spoil the immensely entertaining plot).
It's really, really hard to talk about the movie without spoiling important plot points that are infinitely more fun to discover on your own. Needless to say, it's a must-see. But for me, it was the greatest and most rewarding blind purchase of all time.
Repeat viewings are a must.
And it deserves to sit alongside Sleuth on your DVD shelf.
I'll leave you with this beautifully written quote from the film: "I wonder if it wouldn't be...well...just a trifle starry-eyed of me to enter into such a risky and exciting collaboration...where I could count on no sense of moral obligation...whatsoever."
Nothing's more enjoyable for me than a who-dun-it or suspense tale that
keeps you guessing throughout as to how the whole thing will end. And
that's precisely what happens in DEATHTRAP, based on a chilling play by
Ira Levin ("Rosemary's Baby").
And in it, MICHAEL CAINE and CHRISTOPHER REEVE get to do the kind of stunt that Caine and Laurence Olivier pulled off in SLEUTH--with just about as much skill and as many puzzles as ever existed in that extraordinarily clever play.
But because it's meant to scare you, surprise you, and keep you guessing as to the outcome, it's difficult to write a review about the plot. Let's just say that what we know in the beginning is all you have to know about the film for the present. MICHAEL CAINE is an insanely jealous playwright whose latest play has failed miserably. When a young aspiring writer CHRISTOPHER REEVE sends him the manuscript of his play, Caine realizes that passing it off as his own would solve all his problems and get his reputation back.
From that point on, it's a matter of fun and games for the audience as Ira Levin's story unwinds, managing to trump Agatha Christie for the number of twists.
Caine and Reeve play off each other brilliantly, each bringing a certain dynamic tension to the tale as well as some humorous touches that come from a script that laces drama with humor.
Summing up: Well worth seeing--but not everyone is pleased with the ending.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Every time you think you have a handle on Deathtrap, another plot twist
comes along. Best to just sit back and enjoy the ride on this one. Most
noted for its on screen kiss between Michael Caine and Christopher
Reeve (which was unfortunately cut from the televised version I saw),
this movie has a great deal more to recommend it.
Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine) is a very unhappy man. Once a successful playwright, his last several plays on Broadway have flopped. And while his wife Myra (Dyan Cannon) is nothing but supportive, in both the monetary and emotional sense, this does little to make Sidney feel any better. To add insult to injury, young playwright, Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeve), has just sent Sidney a play to look at. It's Anderson's first, and Sidney can see that the young man is a gifted writer. He jokes to his wife that he should invite Anderson over, kill him, and submit the play as his own. She laughs with him at first, but when Sidney actually invites Anderson over for dinner, she worries that he may really be putting his scheme into action. And her fears just may be justified...
It's a brilliant script. There are twists and turns all through the plot, and they come faster and more furious as you get closer to the end. It's the kind of film that has you on the edge of your seat from the beginning, and keeps you there the entire time. An absolute masterpiece of suspense and mystery.
The acting is excellent. Caine gives his usual excellent performance, and he does exhibit a knack for playing cultured, refined, and intellectual men. Reeve also gives an excellent rendering of a man who isn't nearly as wide eyed or innocent as he seems. Cannon's franticness works well for Myra. And Irene Worth gives a nice performance as a nosy neighbor who is also a psychic.
This is a film with an ending you'd never expect, and repeated watchings help to pick up on things missed in earlier viewings. An unsung classic that is unfortunately only remembered for a scene which ruffled some sensibilities at the time - and that is a real shame.
Definitely one of the most witty and twisted who-dunnit I ever seen.
Christopher Reeve and Micheal Caine were brilliant and kept me going
through the whole affair.
Very classy set pieces and the props really lend a sense of atmosphere to the proceedings. The minimalist feel works for the whole picture.
My only complain isn't with the film itself but the lack of a decent widescreen edition of the movie on DVD. I own the fullscreen version (which proves I love the film enough to endure fullscreen presentation) but a awesome Deluxe or 'special' edition would most surely get my cash.
No one better spoil this piece of work! Awesome movie! Written expertly by the likes of Ira Levin and depicted with the best performance of Christopher Reeve's career and one of Caine's very best, this is simply excellent. I wish I could catch a staged version somewhere...maybe someday I will. I hope this grossly underrated, overlooked film has not become too difficult to locate because it a 'must' for any Hitchcockian, Agatha-phile or lover of great film. One of very few movies I couldn't instantly solve or predict and worth a second or even third viewing, "Deathtrap" gets a 9/10 and earns every iota of it. We need and deserve more movies like this!
Unlike Tinseltown's version of HELLO, DOLLY!, Jay Presson Allen's screen
adaptation of Ira Levin's hit Broadway thriller couldn't wait for it's
incarnation to shutter before putting it up on the silver screen, so
producers wisely decided to make the most of it's lengthy White Way run!
The film's opening and closing scenes are shot inside New York's intimate
Music Box Theater where DEATHTRAP played for nearly five years. Even the
film's final fadeout on the theatre marquee is a version of the
famous logo. (Although marketeers decided to go with a more fun Rubik's
Cube icon for the movie.)
Now on a low-priced DVD release, DEATHTRAP seems just as fresh and inventinve as ever. The cast is just right (better than their stage counterparts) and location scouts should be applauded for finding a suitably spooky house for our "one room, two act thriller" to take place in. Opened up in surprisingly simple and innovative ways, director Sidney Lumet wisely tags any "new" material onto the beginning and end of the film and leaves Levin's wickedly twisty center alone.
The film's last scene is a major Hollywood departure from the boards, and slightly undermines one of Levin's plot points from earlier in the film [Helga (about a dagger): "Will be used by another woman BECAUSE of play."]. Like Robert Altman's THE PLAYER, however, our new finale helps the film fold in on itself once again and blurs the lines between stage, screen, and (could it be?) real life!
Deathtrap runs like a play within a movie about who did what to whom, as it
primarily takes place on one set. The premise is that an accomplished
playwright, whose star is falling, receives a magnificent manuscript from a
former student and so he plans to off his protege and appropriate his play,
to the (loud) protests of his wife. Or so you think, for the first half of
the movie. Past the halfway mark, Deathtrap begins to throw in twists and
surprises that turn its premise on its head, then right around, and then in
a mad spin, all the time keeping its title appropriate. It's an excellent
mystery movie soaked in wit.
Michael Caine, as the senior playwright, plays himself in this movie - a slightly loony and very dramatic Brit. No surprises here - he does his usual good work. He gets the best line of Deathtrap, which he executes perfectly: "What is your definition of success, being gang-banged in a state penitentiary?"
Christopher Reeve, on the other hand, juggles comedy and drama in a surprisingly strong performance playing the ambitious (and psychopathic) young playwright. He also gets to show off his very toned body, which he must've retained coming off the Superman movies.
Caine and Reeve have collaborated in another movie that's one of my favorite comedies - Noises Off. It similarly revolves around a play as well, although this time Caine is the director and Reeve is an actor. They are joined by comic veterans Carol Burnett, John Ritter, Marilu Henner (Taxi) and Mark Linn-Baker (Perfect Strangers). Together, they demonstrate the calamities that befall the bed-hopping cast and crew of a play. On the surface, the movie looks to be mostly slapstick but upon watching you find that they are many subtle jokes that require more than one viewing to catch. Wish this underrated movie was available on DVD.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Christopher Reeve was near 30 when he made this movie, right in the
middle of his various Superman movies, and his character takes quite a
different path here. I think it showcases what a fine actor he really
was, before the unfortunate riding accident cut him short.
Here Reeve plays Cliff Anderson, a young writer who had attended a mystery writing seminar put on by the famous playwright Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine). Cliff contacts Sidney, sends him a manuscript for his first effort, a play called 'Deathtrap.' Sidney tells his wife, Myra (Dyan Cannon) that the play is perfect, there isn't anything that could be improved. So Sidney, now with another clunker opening, needs something to get his fame and, more importantly, his fortune, back on track. So he hatches a plan to invite Cliff over, kill him steal his manuscript for his own, and all will be good again.
I didn't give anything away in what I wrote above, because all that is revealed in the first few minutes of the movie. But nothing, I mean nothing is as it seems from the opening. As the story progresses, new surprises develop. And that is the fun of the movie, which plays more like a filmed stage play. Almost all the movie takes place inside the Bruhl home on Long Island, and there are only 4 characters that matter. The 4th is neighbor Helga Ten Dorp (Irene Worth) who is psychic and can "feel" pain at various parts of the house.
SPOILERS. When you watch long enough you find that Sidney and Clifford are apparently gay lovers, and the whole thing was hatched by them to dispose of wife Myra who has a weak heart. Sidney and Cliff have an apparent fight, Sidney apparently chokes him with a chain, Sidney and Myra bury him in the garden at night, but when Cliff comes back in, alive, Myra has an attack and dies. So Sidney and Cliff set up house together, call each other endearing names, even kiss once on camera. There never was a completed play called 'Deathtrap' but Cliff is writing one which is based on what just happened. When Sidney finds out he does not approve, than the two men begin to distrust each other. This friction caused their disposal, and in the end it is Helga Ten Dorp who writes the play 'Deathtrap' and sees it to amazing commercial success.
Shame really - very rarely do I watch a film and am left feeling
disappointed at the end. I've seen quite a few of Ira Levin's
adaptations - 'Rosemary's Baby' and 'The Stepford Wives' - and liked
both them, but this just didn't appeal to me.
When I read the plot outline - an award winning playwright (Michael Caine) decides to murder one of his former pupils (Christopher Reeve) and steel his script for his own success - I was excited. I like thrillers, Michael Caine's a good actor, Sidney Lumet's a good director and Ira Levin's work is generally good.
I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it yet, but all I'd say is there are LOADS of twists and turns. So many its kind of hard to explain the film's plot line in detail, without giving it away. I enjoyed the first ... 45 minutes, before the twists and turns began to occur and at that point my interest and enjoyment began to fade out. Though I have to give Lumet credit for the very amusing ending which did make me laugh out loud.
The main cast - Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, Dyan Cannon and Irene Worth - were all brilliant in their roles. Though Worth's obvious fake Russian accent got on my nerves slightly (nothing personal Irene, I think any actor's fake accent would irritate me). Not sure if Cannon's character was meant to be annoyingly funny but Dyan managed to annoy and amuse - at the same time.
Anyone reading this - I don't want you to be put-off watching this because of my views - give it a chance, you may like it, you may not. It's all about opinion.
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