Wednesday, June 2, 2010

'Deathtrap' is perfect adaptation of play

Deathtrap (1982)
Starring: Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, and Dyan Cannon
Director: Sidney Lumet
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

Sidney Bruhl (Caine) is a celebrated playwright who is suffering from burnout. If he has too many more failed plays, his career will be over. Fortunately, a solution has just presented itself: A young writer (Reeve) has sent him a brilliant play for comment. All Bruhl has to do is kill the young man and pass his play off as his own, and he'll be on top again. It's a simple enough plan, but as Bruhl sets about executing it, it becomes unclear who is actually trapped in his death trap.

"Death Trap" is playwright Ira Levin's masterpiece. It's a thrilling parlor mystery with such unexpected twists and sudden reversals that you will sit amazed as the story unfolds and you will be kept guessing up until the very end. What's more, the film has moments that are scarier than what is found in most modern horror movies, and funnier than most modern comedies. It's a classic that is as exciting today as it was when it was released three decades ago.

And it could hardly be anything but a masterpiece, as it remains almost totally faithful to Levin's original script, and it is being performed by two very great actors--Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve. The two are spectacular together, playing off one another with great effect. (Interestingly, Caine was in a movie with a very similar plot years earlier--"Sleuth"--where he played the young writer!)

Usually, when I write the words "the film's origin as a stage play is plainly evident", I mean it as a negative. Here, it's very much a postiive. The way most of the play takes place in one room eventually starts to feel like the titular death trap. If you can't see a well-mounted performance of this play, then this film adaptation will forever remain a worthy substitute.

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