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The Deadly Trap (1971)

La maison sous les arbres (original title)
PG | | Thriller | 9 June 1971 (France)
Jill is surprised and angry when her computer-genius boyfriend decides to quit his job in a big company for unclear reasons. But when her children disapear mysteriously and seem to have ... See full summary »

Director:

René Clément

Writers:

Sidney Buchman (scenario) (as Sydney Buchman), Eleanor Perry (scenario) | 3 more credits »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Faye Dunaway ... Jill
Frank Langella ... Philippe
Barbara Parkins ... Cynthia
Karen Blanguernon Karen Blanguernon ... Miss Hansen
Raymond Gérôme Raymond Gérôme ... Commissaire Chameille
Maurice Ronet ... L'homme de l'organisation
Michele Lourie Michele Lourie ... Cathy (as Michèle Lourie)
Patrick Vincent Patrick Vincent ... Patrick
Gérard Buhr ... Le psychiatre
Louise Chevalier Louise Chevalier
Tener Eckelberry Tener Eckelberry
Massimo Farinelli Massimo Farinelli
Jill Larson
Robert Lussac Robert Lussac
Franco Ressel
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Storyline

Jill is surprised and angry when her computer-genius boyfriend decides to quit his job in a big company for unclear reasons. But when her children disapear mysteriously and seem to have been kidnapped, she wants to know more, and discovers that she may be caught in a DEADLY TRAP... Written by Matthieu Navarro <navarro@club-internet.fr>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

The FEAR of the unknown...The AGONY Of A kidnapped child...And the CREEPING DREAD of madness! See more »

Genres:

Thriller

Certificate:

PG | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

France | Italy

Language:

English

Release Date:

9 June 1971 (France) See more »

Also Known As:

The Deadly Trap See more »

Filming Locations:

Paris, France

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color (Eastmancolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Italian censorship visa # 59574 delivered on 4 January 1972. See more »

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User Reviews

 
The Amazon with the Scarf of Fire
19 September 2019 | by dpayne-9See all my reviews

This gem may require a bit more patience than your average thriller, but its charms are plentiful and more often subtle than not. Director René Clément (1913-96) delivers an entrancing melodrama, highlighted by the ever-beautiful Faye Dunaway, who gives a tremendous performance as a mother in peril. Indeed, it's hard to imagine a better presentation of such a classic (or cliched) trope: Dunaway mixes her caught-in-the-middle Evelyn of "Chinatown" (1974) with the plucky Kathy of "Three Days of the Condor" (1975). It's unusual to see the actor portrayed as a loving mother (one exception being the great 1988 film "Burning Secret"), but her scenes with young Patrick are very believable (at the expense of so many other scenes - especially those with the enigmatic daughter Cathy). Even that little apartment the family occupies is very realistic too. They move around the place like they really live there.

Clément shows us a beautiful, but decidedly un-touristy side of Paris. The film, shot by Andréas Winding, who lensed Clément's previous "Rider on the Rain" (1970) and Jacques Tati's "Playtime" (1967), looks beautiful: soft focuses throughout, with Faye looking lovely, fading into dark, hazy, almost hallucinogenic settings. It's unclear why Faye and family are in Paris in the first place, but these outsiders inhabit their giallo with all the baggage that comes with strangers in a strange place. This film never quite goes giallo - despite its Italian title - but it comes close. The elliptical script was written by the actor/writer Daniel Boulanger (a writer of two segments of the 1967 Edgar Allan Poe omnibus film "Spirits of the Dead"), with the apparently uncredited Ring Lardner, Jr., who had previously scripted Robert Altman's "M.A.S.H." (1970) and was probably responsible for the convincing English dialog heard here (his credits in film noir are especially notable here).

It is a classic Hitchcockian situation, where a MacGuffin (in this case, a vague threat of "industrial espionage") drives the action. That action, the kidnapping of the children - which the script threatens mercilessly before the film's halfway point, when the kids finally disappear - comes, of course, from Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1956). But it's hard to see Faye Dunaway as a Hitchcock "blonde" or any one of the Master's female leads (only Marnie comes close). She comes from a generation of women Hitchcock could probably not have realistically directed or, really, even properly understood.

There are, however, a number of other film classics are referenced here as well, most notably "Gaslight" (1940 and 1944) and "Rosemary's Baby" (1968). These two references alone make Phillipe (a sexy Frank Langella) suspect; however, they also go to great length to address the painful wrongs society does to women in general and mothers in particular. The jolt, watching the film nearly five decades later, is seeing Jill (Faye Dunaway) taking the moral, public and even legal blame for the disappearance of her children. Once the kids are gone, Jill enters a Kafka nightmare that this film evokes in Wellesian images from the fantastic 1963 film adaptation of "The Trial."

The "brilliant" Phillipe's confusing involvement with "The Organization" also recalls Patricia Highsmith's "Ripley's Game," which is odd as that novel wasn't written for another three years (Wim Wenders filmed the 1974 book as "The American Friend" in 1977 and Liliana Cavani filmed it, beautifully again, in 2002). It's notable that Highsmith's first novel, "Strangers on a Train," was filmed by Hitchcock in 1951 while the novelist's celebrated "The Talented Mr. Ripley" was first filmed by Clément in 1960 as "Plein Soleil" (a.k.a. "Purple Noon" - also with Maurice Ronet, who gets only one brief scene here). It's not inconceivable that the talented Ms. Highsmith was inspired by this film to craft her terrific (and more logically worked out) "Ripley's Game."

The sheer number of beautiful staircases Clément shoots here also suggests the classic woman-in-peril noir "The Spiral Staircase" (1946): Jill's loving mother is "muted" here by her pre-figured criminality and her gaslighted "weak and imperfect" motherhood makes her an absolutely perfect potential victim. She can neither satisfy her husband (!) nor successfully protect her children. Well, it is early 70s French provincial after all. One staircase in particular here actually prefigures another famous staircase seen two years later in William Friedkin's "The Exorcist."

The lush orchestral score is by the renowned French singer Gilbert Bécaud (1927-2001), best known today as the writer of "What Now My Love" (covered by both Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra) and "Let it Be Me" and co-writer of Neil Diamond's "Love on the Rocks" and "September Morn." Bécaud's main theme is a melodic piece that traffics appropriately in both playful childlike wistfulness and melancholy adult malaise. The tension cue that plays over the children's abduction is an eerie Morricone-esque minimalist piece that perfectly reflects a mind on the brink.

As far as the English dub on the 2016 Golem Video DVD I watched, the voices are so badly recorded it sounds as though they were doing it in someone's kitchen or bathroom. At times I couldn't figure out if Ms. Dunaway was dubbing herself or someone else was - or both. And all of the male voices sounded like no one other than Gene Wilder, who made a name for himself as Willy Wonka the year this film was released.

Oddly, this movie is known under many titles, few of which make much sense. Only the source novel's boring title seems reasonable, "The Children Are Gone." Not exactly thrilling, though, is it? So, how about the American title, "The Deadly Trap?" What was the trap? Phillipe's unexplained web of whatever? The French title, "The House by the Trees," sounds exciting - but it only makes sense toward the very end and only for a few brief moments. Then there's the Italian title, "The only clue: a yellow scarf," which is, umm, true but not as exciting as something like "The Amazon with the Scarf of Fire" or something baroquely giallo like that.

Still, the film is a worthy and intoxicating European thriller. It follows a classic dream/nightmare logic that makes it a worthy contender among such kidnap classics as "High and Low" (1963), "Séance on a Wet Afternoon" (1964) and "Bunny Lake is Missing" (1965) and goes some way to informing the giallo classic "Who Saw Her Die" (1972). There are great subtle touches here, notably Barbara Parkins' lovely performance as the significantly named "Cyn," the odd Michele Lourie playing the utterly inscrutable Cathy and the strange ending where a child's drawing is either malevolent or the happy ending that seems intended. All worth watching...


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