There's a whole lot of talent in front of and behind the camera in 1982's box office hit DEATHTRAP.
Based on Ira Levin's successful play of the same name (and sometimes feeling a bit like a filmed stage performance), we meet some decidedly untrustworthy characters.
Playwright Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine) has just had another Broadway flop. He's had more misses than Max Bialystock ("Producers" fans unite) and is beginning to think he’s lost all creative spark. Money is running thin and his wife Myra’s fake enthusiasm is grating on his last nerve. Dyan Cannon (Heaven Can Wait, The Last of Sheila) is at full volume throughout, but brings more than a few smirks with her reactions to Sidney’s pain.
Enter young playwright Clifford Anderson, who just happens to have mailed Sidney the only copy of his first play. It’s a masterpiece. Sidney alternates between fury at the young man’s talent his first time at bat and jealousy of Clifford’s innocence. Clifford is played by Christopher Reeve, who was fresh off of Superman II and looking for a different kind of role.
What follows is a twisting, turning mystery with Sidney inviting Clifford to their house, Myra growing suspicious of her husbands intentions and their next door neighbor, a famous psychic named Helga ten Dorp (Irene Worth) dropping in to portend great impending danger.
Jay Presson Allen (Marnie, Cabaret) adapts Levin’s play into a screenplay with many twists, turns and triple crosses that keep you guessing, while piling on perhaps a bit too much incredulity.
Sidney Lumet (Serpico, Network, Dog Day Afternoon) keeps everything moving, making the most use of the Bruhl’s claustrophobic home (windmill included),which is the setting for nearly the entire film.
The bottom line is that this every-changing, house bound murder mystery has been done much better before, notably with Caine and Laurence Olivier the same year in SLEUTH. Caine and Cannon are good if a bit loud, Reeve is not very good, just as wooden as he was in “Somewhere in Time”. The man could rock a cape, but outside of those films, woof.
Fun but over the top, DEATHTRAP eventually succumbs to its own over indulgences and gets a B-.