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. Moreover, apparently a 'Time' magazine exposé, revealed the gay kiss story element plot twist, cost the movie an estimated ten million dollars in box-office receipts.
Director Sidney Lumet 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'!".
When the film was made and released, Christopher Reeve was at the peak of his fame as a result of playing the title character in both Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980) and was about to appear in Superman III (1983). Reeve accepted the role of Clliford Anderson, because it had nothing to do with neither Clark Kent, nor Superman, and he wished to avoid being typecast by his superhero persona. During the making of the film, he said, "I've had a lot of training as an actor, and I want to use it."
The last two "Ten Dorp" words of the name of the psychic character Helga ten Dorp (played by actress Irene Worth) are an anagram for "portend" which means a phenomenon that is believed to foretell the future.
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."
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."
The original Broadway production of 'Deathtrap' by Ira Levin opened at the Music Box Theatre on 26th February 1978, with six previews held from 21st February 1978. It played for almost four years there until it closed on 5th January 1982. The play then moved to the Biltmore Theatre opening on 7th January 1982 where it played for about another six months until 13th June 1982 when it closed. In total, the play ran for 1,793 performances at both theaters combined.
This film's (and source play's) title evokes Agatha Christie's play, 'The Mousetrap', which like the 'Deathtrap' play, was also a long-running play, but not on 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.
Christopher Reeve once commented on his character Clifford Anderson: "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."
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 exteriors of the beautiful house 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 Pathé 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 play's set was used for the two theatrical stage sequences in this film.
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 1,793 performances, never missing a show. According to the June 8, 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.
According to 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."
This movie's main poster featured its three major characters inside a Rubik's Cube, but artistically represented as also a puzzle-box. When this film was made, the Rubik's Cube was at the height of its popularity.
This was the only time that Michael Caine worked with Sidney Lumet. Caine was originally going to star in Lumet's The Hill (1965), but pulled-out to star as Alfie (1966). 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 (1965)." Lumet has said: "I couldn't turn him down. The other role of course, was Alfie (1966), 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."
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 1,793 performances.
According to the book 'It's a Hit!: The Backstage Book of Longest-running Broadway Shows, 1884 to Present' by David Sheward, the central character of Sidney Bruhl in Ira Levin's play was loosely based on Levin himself. Though Levin had written successful thriller novels which had frequently been filmed (See: A Kiss Before Dying (1956); Rosemary's Baby (1968); The Boys from Brazil (1978); The Stepford Wives (1975); A Kiss Before Dying (1991); Sliver (1993) and The Stepford Wives (2004)), his success as a playwright was only modest. Levin, like Sidney Bruhl, only ever had one hit Broadway play, and 'Deathtrap' was it.
The June 15, 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 two million dollars - although his producers have said he has earned even more."
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 (1976), 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.
In 1980, the 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.
Some people confused this movie as being a remake of Sleuth (1972), where Michael Caine gets to play the Sir 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 (1972), but interestingly, twenty-five years after this film was made, Michael Caine did appear in a remake of Sleuth (1972). The Sleuth (2007) remake had the same title, and did have Caine playing the Olivier role from the original Sleuth (1972).
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.
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.
The movie features an armory of weapon props, which line the wall of Sidney Bruhl's study, as was the case with the 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 crossbow.
Michael Caine was cast in this film as Sidney Bruhl, having previously appeared in the successful related mystery-thriller genre piece, Sleuth (1972), for which he was nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award Oscar. Caine also appeared in its remake Sleuth (2007), playing the role played by Sir Laurence Olivier in the original.
Names of plays that playwright Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine) had written were "The Murder Game (a hit) and his latest "Murder Most Fair" (a flop). Co-star Dyan Cannon actually once had appeared in a movie called The Murder Game (1965), directed by Sidney Salkow, having the same first name as Caine's character.
The film's source stage play of the same name by Ira Levin was nominated for four Tony Awards in 1978 including Best Play, Best Direction (Robert Moore), Best Featured Actor (Victor Garber), and Best Featured Actress (Marian Seldes). The play though did not win any Tony Awards. The play still holds the record for being the longest running comedy-thriller play in Broadway history.
The 29th March 1978 edition of show-business trade paper 'Variety' reported that the Warner Brothers studio purchased the film rights to Ira Levin's stage play 'Deathtrap' for over US $1 million. At the time, this was apparently the most ever expensive purchase of the movie rights for a non-musical play.
The 15th October 1980 edition of show-business trade paper 'The Hollywood Reporter' reported that star 'Burt Reynolds' was interested in acquiring the film rights to Ira Levin stage-play "Deathtrap" despite the fact the Warner Brothers studio had already purchased them about two years ago.
The 5th January 1981 edition of show-business trade paper 'Daily Variety' reported that star Christopher Reeve would be resigning from his stage role in the Broadway production of "July" in order to play the role of Clifford Anderson in this picture with principal photography commencing in March 1981.
The 16th March 1981 edition of show-business trade paper 'The Hollywood Reporter' stated that rehearsals for this movie had commenced, and these would run for about two weeks, with principal photography on the picture starting on 30th March 1981.
The June 1981 edition of 'Hollywood Studio Magazine' reported that actress Patsy Kelly had been offered the part of a "tough New York lady taxi driver" but rejected the role due excess amount of swear language dialogue, with the character in the end not appearing in the finished movie at all.
The 22nd June 1979 edition of show-business trade paper 'Variety' reported that actor Christopher Reeve had had a meeting with studio executives from Warner Brothers Pictures about playing the part of Clifford Anderson in this film.
A main movie poster for director Sidney Lumet's earlier picture Child's Play (1972) featured the board of a Monopoly-like board game as the dominant image. Similarly, in Deathtrap (1982), the film's main movie poster also feature a game, its dominant image being a Rubik's Cube.
The 24th February 2005 edition of show-business trade paper 'Daily Variety' reported that writer-producer-director 'Frank Pierson' was planning a remake, which would be similarly titled "Death Trap" but this film production never eventuated.
The 27th April 1982 edition of 'The New York Times' announced that Claus von Bülow, one of the financial investors in the Broadway stage production of 'Deathtrap' by Ira Levin, estimated at being US $44,000 for the theatrical play, with von Bülow as well this also investing finance in this movie adaptation, had been found guilty himself of murdering his wife. A movie about these circumstances called Reversal of Fortune (1990) and starring Jeremy Irons was later made. Irons won the Best Actor Academy Award (Oscar) for portraying von Bülow in this film.
The 5th June 1981 edition of show-business trade paper 'Daily Variety' reported that this movie was being edited in post-production with the picture having been completed about US $500,000 (or half a million dollars) under budget.
The Warner Bros. Pictures studio appealed the film's "R" rating in the USA, which had been classified by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), with the classification being down-graded to a "PG" on 8th December 1981, upon the results of this successful appeal. This outcome was reported in the 10th December 1981 edition of show-business trade paper 'Daily Variety'.
Movie posters for the film featured a Rubik's Cube as the key image in the film's promotions as it evoked the idea of a "puzzle", and as such, a mystery. A press release from the Warner Bros. Pictures studio dated 11th February 1982 reported that a gigantic Rubik's Cube, with dimensions measuring twenty-eight feet wide by thirty-four feet high, was being constructed by the studio's Marketing Department to promote the picture, having an estimated practical completion date of 18th February 1982.
A press release from the Warner Bros. Pictures studio announced the Charity World Premiere of the movie Deathtrap (1982) would be held at the Criterion Center 2 in New York City in New York State, USA on 16th March 1982 with proceeds going to benefit the New York City Police Athletic League.
Reportedly, box-office ticket sales from the publicity generated by this pictured actually in turn acted as publicity for the source stage play which was still playing on Broadway in New York City and actually helped the box-office ticket sales of the concurrent Broadway stage production.
When the film right's to Ira Levin's source 'Deathtrap' stage play were first acquired by the Warner Bros. studio there was a contractual condition that the movie version could not be distributed until four years after the start of the source stage play's Broadway season which had commenced on 26th February 1978 thereby embargoing the release of the film which actually world premiered on 16th March 1982. But due to the ongoing success of the Broadway stage-play production of 'Deathtrap', the show continued its season run into a fifth year, and the contractual stipulation not applied, as the increased publicity proved both the play and the movie were popular.
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.
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 kissing 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."
This comedy-mystery-thriller is famous for its gay plot twist. In Sleuth (2007), which also starred Michael Caine, a possible gay plot twist was added by writer Harold Pinter to Anthony Shaffer's story, which was not in the original Sleuth (1972), which likewise starred Caine.
The 22nd June 1979 edition of show-business trade paper 'Variety' reported that actor Christopher Reeve had had a meeting with studio executives from Warner Brothers Pictures about playing the part of Clifford Anderson in this film. Apparently, Reeve wanted to "lose the homosexuality angle" in the story.
The story-line involves the murder of a playwright's wife by the playwright. Bizarrely, the 27th April 1982 edition of 'The New York Times' announced that Claus von Bülow, one of the financial investors in the Broadway stage production of 'Deathtrap' by Ira Levin, estimated at being US $44,000 for the theatrical play, with von Bülow as well this also investing finance in this movie adaptation, had been found guilty himself of murdering his wife. A movie about these circumstances called Reversal of Fortune (1990) and starring Jeremy Irons was later made. Irons won the Best Actor Academy Award (Oscar) for portraying von Bülow in this film.