Sidney Bruhl is said to have written the longest-running mystery/thriller in Broadway history. In real life, that record was broken by the play 'Deathtrap' itself where it played for 1793 performances.
The original Broadway production of 'Deathtrap' by Ira Levin opened at the Music Box Theatre on 26 February 1978 with six preview from 21 Feb 1978. It played for almost four years there until 5 January 1982. The play then moved to the Biltmore Theatre on 7 January 1982 where it played for about another six months, until 13 June 1982, when it closed. In total, the play ran for a massive 1793 performances at both theatres combined. The play was nominated for four 1978 Tony Awards including Best Play, Best Direction, Best Featured Actor, and Best Featured Actress. The play though did not win any Tony Awards. The 'Deathtrap' play still holds the record for being the longest ever running comedy-thriller in Broadway history.
For playing Myra Bruhl in the play 'Deathtrap' on the New York stage, actress Marian Seldes was nominated for the 1978 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress. In this movie version, Myra Bruhl was played by Dyan Cannon. Seldes became famous for playing Myra for the entire run of 'Deathtrap's' Broadway season of 1793 performances, never missing a show. According to the 8 June 1982 edition of 'The New York Times', Seldes "won a listing in the next edition of the 'Guinness World Book of Records' as 'most durable actress'". Seldes apparently held this record for a time before the record was eventually beaten.
For playing as Clifford Anderson in the play "Deathtrap" on the New York stage, actor Victor Garber was nominated for the 1978 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor. In this movie version, Clifford Anderson was played by Christopher Reeve.
Michael Caine was cast in this film as Sidney Bruhl having previously appeared in the successful related mystery-thriller genre piece, Sleuth for which he was nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award Oscar. Caine also appeared in its remake Sleuth playing instead the role played by Laurence Olivier in the original.
Dyan Cannon was cast in this film as Myra Bruhl having appeared in such related mystery-thriller genre pieces such as The Last of Sheila and The Murder Game. Cannon was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for "Worst Supporting Actress" for her performance in this film.
This movie's main poster featured its three major characters inside a Rubik's Cube puzzle but artistically represented as also a puzzle-box. When this film was made, the Rubik's Cube was at the height of its popularity in popular culture.
The actors on Broadway who played the parts played in the movie by Christopher Reeve (Clifford Anderson) and Dyan Cannon (Myra Bruhl) were nominated for Tony Awards but the part played by Michael Caine (Sidney Bruhl) was not. The Sidney Bruhl character is the central character of this piece but John Wood was not nominated for a Tony Award for playing him on Broadway.
Film and stage director Robert Moore who directed the 'Deathtrap' stage-play on Broadway did not direct this film version which was directed by Sidney Lumet. Moore had for the movies directed the related genre piece Murder by Death written by Neil Simon but was actually still directing 'Deathtrap' as well as 'Woman of the Year' on Broadway when this movie was made and released.
This film (and source play)'s title 'Deathtrap' evokes Agatha Christie's play, 'The Mousetrap' which like the 'Deathtrap' play was also a long-running play but not on New York's Broadway but in London's West End. 'The Mousetrap' first opened there in 1952 and is still running making it the known longest running play in history.
In 1980, the 'Deathtrap' play won Ira Levin his second Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. It won for Best Play. Levin won his first Edgar Award for 'A Kiss Before Dying' in the category of Best First Novel. In 2003, Levin was awarded The Grand Master Edgar Award.
The exteriors of the beautiful home of Sidney and Myra Bruhl in the film was portrayed by a lavish mansion on Long Island complete with its own old-world windmill. Interiors of the house were filmed at the Pathe Studios in New York's East Harlem. The stage scenes that bookend the film were filmed at Music Box Theatre on 239 West 45th Street, New York where the 'Deathtrap' stage-play was still running. The 'Deathtrap' play's set was used for the two theatrical stage sequences in this film.
Sidney Lumet, this film's director, once commented on the real stage-play scenes seen in this movie: "We used the original set of 'Deathtrap' as our set for Sidney Bruhl's flop play. The Music Box [Theatre] is dark on Mondays, so we shot there on a Monday, along with six hundred dress extras as first-nighters. Thus, the opening scene is a movie of a play-within-a-play which takes place within the play on which the movie is based. If that's not completely clear, it's at least a 'first'!".
Christopher Reeve once commented on his Clifford Anderson character he plays in this movie: "There's a certain 'gee whiz' quality about Clifford when you first meet him. But once you get to know him better - an experience that's just about as comfortable as dining with the Borgias - he's a very peculiar fellow."
When this movie was made and released, actor Christopher Reeve was at the peak of his fame from playing Superman having appeared in Superman and Superman II and was about to be appearing in Superman III. Reeve accepted this part because it had nothing to do with neither the Clark Kent nor Superman character and he wished to avoid being typecast by his superhero persona. Reeve said around the time: "I've had a lot of training as an actor, and I want to use it."
Director Sidney Lumet once said of this movie: "You know that there will be a murder - perhaps several murders. Sidney Bruhl [Michael Caine] collects weapons as a hobby, and his home contains enough implements of torture and death to outfit the Tower of London. But who will do what, to whom, and with which, keeps shifting."
Some people confuse this movie as being a remake of Sleuth where Michael Caine gets to play the Laurence Olivier role with Christopher Reeve playing Caine's role from that movie. It can be said that the Michael Caine's part of Sidney Bruhl in this film is similar to Olivier's role in Sleuth (1972)_. This movie is not a remake of Sleuth but interestingly, twenty-five years after this film was made, Michael Caine did actually appear in a remake of Sleuth. The Sleuth remake had the same title and actually really did have Caine playing the Olivier role from the original Sleuth.
Michael Caine once said of this movie: "We all swore an oath in blood - well, perhaps it was chablis - not to spoil the fun by running off at the mouth. This thing has more twists than the Grand Corniche. And there is nothing worse than seeing a mystery after some twit has told you the butler did it. That's hypothetical, of course. There's no butler in 'Deathtrap'. We're very democratic that way."
The 15 June 1982 edition of 'The New York Times' reported that stage 'Deathtrap' actor "John Wood created the starring role of Sidney Bruhl, a playwright who dreams of writing a thriller that will earn him a fortune. In a case of life imitating art, Mr. Levin [Ira Levin] once said that the stage production of 'Deathtrap' and the sale of the film rights had brought him earnings close to $2 million - although his producers have said he has earned even more."
According to director Sidney Lumet, "A melodrama like 'Deathtrap' requires a different set of movie muscles. You shoot, write, act and edit for story. The object is to have fun and, if you take yourself seriously, you're dead. The line between good mystery and good comedy is very thin, a knife edge. Both take delicate timing. And when an audience is really scared, their natural reaction is to laugh."
The movie features an armory of weapon props which line the study of Sidney Bruhl's study as was the case with the 'Deathtrap' play. These various weapons feature in close-up during this film's opening titles sequence. They include handcuffs, guns, a morning-star / flail, daggers, broad-swords, a scimitar, battle-axes, pistols, maces, machetes and a cross-bow.
Michael Caine once described his character of Sidney Bruhl in this movie: "He's a very successful mystery writer, with expensive tastes and a sick wife, whose macabre muse has deserted him. He has always assumed that committing crime on paper siphons one's hostilities. But now, after a lifetime of vicarious murder, Bruhl finds himself fantasizing the real thing. Even so, I kept asking myself - how do you explain his strange behavior? Childhood trauma? A deep-rooted compulsion? The stigma of a name like Sidney? No, that's all too simple. The answer is that he's mad - stark raving mad! It's a lovely role."
This was the first and only time actor Michael Caine worked with director Sidney Lumet. Caine originally was going to star in Lumet's The Hill seventeen years prior to this movie but pulled-out to star as Alfie. Caine once commented: "This is terrible Sidney, and you may never want to work with me again. But I've been offered the role of a lifetime - and I want out of 'The Hill'." Lumet has said: "I couldn't turn him down. The other role of course, was 'Alfie', and it was the turning point in Michael's career. Despite that rocky start, we became good friends. And we've been trying to get together professionally ever since."
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
According to separate interviews with Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve, they had hesitations regarding the filming of the infamous "kissing" scene. Once they decided to go through with it they both consumed large amounts of alcohol in order to keep themselves calm and drunk enough that they'd do anything anyone asked them to do. Caine reportedly later regretted the scene and vowed to never film another homosexual sequence. To this day he never has.
Some mild controversy erupted with the on-screen gay kiss between straight actors Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve. This scene did not appear in the Ira Levin source play of the same name. According to the book 'The Celluloid Closet ' by Vito Russo, Christopher Reeve said that this scene was booed by preview audiences in Denver, Colorado, USA. Moreover, apparently a 'Time' magazine expose revealed the gay kiss story element plot twist which cost the movie an estimated US $10 million in box-office receipts.
One of this film's main posters shows a cartoon drawing of the bottom half torsos of three characters from this movie. There is an implication that they are dead as they are all lying on the ground and the title of the film is 'Deathtrap'. They are all seen in clothing and shoes befitting their characters. The three characters that these people are implied to be (from left to right) are Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine; Myra Bruhl (Dyan Cannon and Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeve. As all these three characters effectively die by the end of this movie, in essence, this poster of the film gives this away.
Christopher Reeve once said of the gay love scene with Michael Caine in this movie: "We kiss on the mouth. We handle it straight on. But I hope that audiences will not over-focus on the homosexual aspects of a thriller."