What dark prospect it brings
To think on morbid things
In fantasy or in play.
‘Tis but a bit of fun
To execute someone
In thoughts you’d never obey.
Though violence can and will
Not make its viewers kill,
Were not all black hearts first gray?
MPAA rating: PG (PG-13 might be better)
Forget Batman v. Superman. With the pairing of Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve, Deathtrap is Alfred v. Superman! Based on Ira Levin’s hit stage thriller that produced this film adaptation at the end of its original four-year run on Broadway, this five-character shocker has enough twists and turns to satisfy any mystery lover.
Caine is the once-great playwright Sidney Bruhl, whom after despairing at his latest flop, complains to his wife Myra (Dyan Cannon) about a young up-and-comer with a killer script for a play called Deathtrap. After commenting half-jokingly that he’s tempted to kill the author and claim Deathtrap as his own, Sidney’s wife is rightfully nervous when he invites the young man (Reeve) into his beautiful, weapon-decorated home for a supposed collaboration and…stuff happens. You didn’t really think I was going to reveal anything, did you? Maybe in the callow early days of this blog but not anymore.
Both Caine and Reeve are excellent here, playing off each other with a gripping unpredictability and a surprising subtext that wasn’t exactly well-received in 1982. Dyan Cannon aids the early uncertainty with her anxiety over Sidney’s intentions, though she goes overboard in one frantic scene and was nominated for a Golden Raspberry accordingly. After the first major plot twist, I didn’t know what to anticipate, and even toward the end, I was half-expecting an even wilder conclusion than what happened.
Deathtrap’s main flaw for me was the ending, not in its substance but in its execution. Like North By Northwest, it jumps wildly from the height of tension to the closing credits within one rushed scene, and the effect is sudden and jarring. (I believe the proper literary term is peripeteia. Put that in your vocabulary and smoke it!) Despite the imperfect final scenes, Deathtrap easily kept me guessing with its unstable characters, clever and menacing dialogue, and self-referential nods to murder tale conventions. Just don’t read about it beforehand!
Best line: (Myra, about the play Deathtrap) “Is it really that good?” (Sidney) “I’ll tell you how good it is. Even a gifted director couldn’t hurt it.”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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