Plot: What’s it about?
I recently began purchasing some of the backlog of titles released by Warner Bros’ Archive Collection. One title that caught my eye was the Ira Levin penned and Sidney Lamey directed Deathtrap. I remember that I had seen the film when I was about ten years old, even though the material was way above my head at the time. I enjoyed the movie, but had not thought about it in years. When I saw that it was available on Blu-Ray, I de died to pick it up and see how well my memory held up.
Playwright Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine) is in serious need of a hit. His most recent play, Murder Most Fair, has bombed during its preview. Returning to his house in the Hamptons to his easily frightened and supportive wife, Myra (Dyan Cannon,) Sidney believes that his career is over. To rub salt in his wound, Sidney has received an absolutely incredible play from a student of one of his seminars. Jokingly he tells his wife that the best thing he could do is just kill the student and release the play for himself. As he thinks about it some more, this idea becomes less of a joke and he invites the student, Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeves,) to their house. Conveniently enough, Clifford has brought all of his notes and the only copies of the manuscript in existence.
Deathtrap is a film adaptation of a three part play by Ira Levin, famous author of Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives. The screenplay was adapted by noted screenwriter Jay Presson Allen. This film is essentially a pitch-black dark comedy and a murder mystery. It aims to constantly surprise the viewer and for the most part it succeeds admirably. I remembered more of the film than I expected, but had forgotten enough that I still found myself happily surprised by the time the film had ended. The direction by Sidney Lumet is excellent, but that should come as no surprise given that the man literally wrote the book on filmmaking (Making Movies.) Michael Caine is excellent in the role of Sidney Bruhl, at turns dryly funny and morbidly morose. Christopher Reeves is terrific as the unsuspecting victim of his plot. Dyan Cannon is good in her supporting role in the film, but is overshadowed by the other two actors.
The cinematography by Andrzej Bartkowiak (whom had worked on Prince in the City with Lumet the year before) is enjoyable. The cinematography makes excellent use of the interiors of the Hampton house with murder weapons draping the walls. More importantly, he makes use of any chance he can get to showcase exteriors to avoid making the film feel dull.
Deathtrap is probably not going to be considered a favorite film of any viewer. There are numerous reasons why critics at the time were very mixed on the film. That said, I disagree with their opinions on the film from those that trashed it on its release. There are not that many good mystery films that are released in the theaters. This is a pretty good one overall. Therefore, I feel that this film deserved more credit and holds more value than the appraisal it was given at the time. If you are a fan of the genre, I recommend checking this one out.
Video: How’s it look?
Warner did a great job on the transfer of the film using an MPEG 4 AVC codec of a brand new 2K restoration. The cinematography is very well served by the Blu-Ray format, allowing much more detail than would have been possible before. There is a lot to look at in the Hampton house, and now you can really see all the murder weapons very clearly. The film mainly works in the grays and browns that were very popular at the time of filming, but I really enjoy the warm look of the picture. Fans of the film will be glad to see the excellent care given to the material. This movie is not exactly going to explode off the screen, but the uptick visually from the Blu-Ray treatment helps allow more nuance to enter the film.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Warner has provided a very capable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that sounds very good. The score from Johnny Mandel is really fun and adds a lot to the film’s devious nature. This is not the most immersive surround track that you will ever hear, but it gets the job done. The dialogue is crisp and clear and I did not notice much hiss. Directionality is somewhat limited, but like other Warner releases fidelity is very strong to the original elements.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Theatrical Trailer
The Bottom Line
Deathtrap is not a perfect film, but it has enough wit and humor to win over most who watch it. The film was unfairly maligned upon its release, and I am glad to see that it has developed enough of a cult status to warrant a release. Fans of the film will be delighted by the excellent technical specs, but may be disappointed by the lack of supplements. I couldn’t help but add this one to my collection and I can’t wait to watch it with my wife who loves movies like this.