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USA 1982
Directed by
Sidney Lumet
115 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Sidney Lumet's transposition of Ira Levin’s stage play,Deathtrap, will immediately suggest Anthony Shaffer's’ stage play, Sleuth, adapted for the screen by Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1972. Both are cleverly plotted deadly parlour games involving playwrights who have built successful careers on entertaining audiences with murder stories. No doubt the casting of Michael Caine as the playwright here is a clear acknowledgement of the connection although it also owes a good deal to Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap. Like that play in London’s West End,  Levin’s play was similarly successful on Broadway

Lumet keeps the screen version close to the theatre experience with Caine as Sidney Bruhl, a burnt out playwright whose new playhas just bombed on Broadway, Dyan Cannon as his wife, Myra, and Christopher Reeve as an aspiring young writer whose script they plan to appropriate in one way or another.

That’s about as far as one can go with the plot, the twists and turns of which provide a good deal to the fun to be had here. In the latter stages of the film this perhaps get too Byzantine with writer Jay Preston Allen providing a ending that is somewhat of a fizzer, bringing the madly escalating plot to an abrupt stop but without matching the wit of what had gone before  (apparently it was different from the Levin’s stage version). Caine gives an atypically animated and often amusing performance and Cannon, although over-disposed to yelling is entertaining as his highly-strung wife. Reeve, looking quite like Tom Cruise is also good as the eager young writer.  People’s less admirable qualities are always good comedy material and Deathtrap has a lot of fun with them.  If only it would have handled that ending better it might have been a classic




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