Here, Caine stars as Sidney Bruhl, a playwright who has just suffered his fourth straight Broadway flop. Much to the dismay of his wife, Myra (Dyan Cannon, who appeared in an equally keep-’em-guessing film in 1973’s The Last of Sheila), his solution is to kill Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeve), the former seminar student who has sent Sidney a first draft that smells like a solid hit. Sidney reasons that with Clifford out of the way, he can claim credit and return to the top of the heap.
The murder is really quite easy, but hell, that’s merely the start of this movie. Based on a long-running play by Ira Levin (Rosemary’s Baby), it takes place almost entirely in Sidney and Myra’s out-of-the-way Long Island home — and even then, mostly in the living room. That’s hardly “cinematic,” but the legendary Sidney Lumet (Network) does what he can to keep it lively and interesting. If it’s not the tension of the story weaving this way and that, it’s the color gels of backgrounds that seem to suggest sinister undertones of the characters.
For about half the running time, which is too long at nearly two hours, he succeeds. One gets tired of Cannon shrieking like a banshee, or the general exercise overall. The ending is not so much of a twist as it is a cheat, but I can’t explain why without ruining the entire plot.
Acquitting himself nicely is Reeve, who never got the proper deserved attention as an actor. He was too good playing Superman that audiences had difficulty accepting him in anything other than blue tights. Unfortunately, the furor over — slight spoiler — Clifford’s gay kiss with Sidney doomed the prospects of not only the film, but accolades for Reeve. That wouldn’t happen today.
Deathtrap represents Warner Archive’s dip into manufacturing Blu-rays on demand, as it has been doing with DVDs for several years. While the print itself is not pristine, the picture is perfect when paused. —Rod Lott