Deathtrap (1986)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, Dyan Cannon
Extras: Trailer

Many films never get the attention they truly deserve and in retrospect Sidney Lumet’s “Deathtrap” seems to be such an example. There is nothing spectacular about the film, no real blockbuster star power and nothing overtly controversial. Although Michael Caine can certainly rank as a star in his own right at least in my personal book, Christopher Reeve unfortunately never managed to break away from his popcorn “Superman” image during his acting career. “Deathtrap’s” real strength lies in the story, the well thought-out cat-and-mouse plotting that keeps the viewer constantly guessing and climaxes in a insidious plot twist.

Warner Home Video has now released “Deathtrap” on Blu-Ray Disc for the first time, making it part of its “Warner Archive Collection” at a low price.

Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine) is having the crisis of his life. Once a highly acclaimed mystery playwright, his recent plays have turned out to be permanent flops, hovering near obscurity, ferociously torn apart by critics and audiences alike. Feeling he has lost his once glorious abilities, the writer is frustrated, disillusioned, desperate and close to bankruptcy. It doesn’t help at this point that one of his former students, Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeve), is sending him a copy of his first own play, “Deathtrap”. It is a script that is absolutely flawless and in the right hands could result in fame and riches in the millions of dollars. A hideous thought befalls Bruhl. What if he killed the former student and published the script under his own name? He proposes the idea to his naïve wife Myra (Dyan Cannon) who is outright shocked that the man she loves could possibly harbor such a horrible thought.

Bruhl devises a plan. He gets on the phone with the young playwright and invites him to his house to go over the script with him and make some adjustments, corrections, just offering an experienced helping hand. During the conversation he asserts himself that no one else knows about the existence of the script, or the proposed meeting. He carefully plans to kill the young man with one of the weapons from his rich collection, and to subsequently claim the fame for the ingeniously written screenplay. But things start to go wrong when Myra can’t stand it anymore and desperately tries to save the young man, almost uncovering Bruhl’s devious plan.
This is just the beginning of the plot but giving away more would completely spoil the fun for anyone who hasn’t seen this witty film yet. It is based on a stage play by Ira Levin, who also wrote the novel for “Rosemary’s Baby,” and has an ensemble piece feel throughout with its limited settings and a very limited number of characters. It gives the movie a tight feel however, one of cohesiveness and almost one of safety, while the story plays with the audience and tosses the viewer from laughter to gasps with ease.

Staged and presented almost like a theater play itself, director Sidney Lumet’s film adaptation of “Deathtrap” is a wicked cat-and-mouse movie, and no matter what you think you know, the film will constantly prove you wrong. Nothing, absolutely nothing is the way it seems and every time the story will take one of its wild twists you will be either completely fixated on the screen, mesmerized by what just happened, or you will slap your forehead in exultation about the sudden turn of events. Either way, you will experience a film that is fresh, entirely unpredictable and funny at the same time. Many times this movie has reminded me of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” in its nature, its wickedness and its cleverly written, oftentimes unexpectedly dead-on dialogues.

The film starts out a bit slow and is overly dialogue-laden in the opening, but don’t let it deter you. Once you pass the 25-minute mark, it picks up speed considerably as the plot takes its first wild turn and hardly leaves the viewer enough time to recuperate from one twist to another.

Part now of the “Warner Archive Collection,” Warner Brothers Home Entertainment makes “Deathtrap” available on produce-on-demand version, which generally means, the studio does not go through traditional retail channels but instead, takes your disc order, produces the disc and ships it to you. It is a step that prevent prohibitive storage costs, as well as the brutal stocking fees imposed by many retailers.

Regardless of the approach, however, “Deathtrap” is a quality release with a clean 1080p high definition transfer in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio that is free of blemishes. Clean and rich with detail, the transfer brings out the best of Lumet’s film, restoring intricate details with ease. The color palette of the film is by design somewhat muted, but warm throughout. Playing almost entirely on interior sets, the lighting is very controlled and the transfer nicely reproduces this feel with deep shadows and brilliant highlights.

The disc comes with a DTS HD Master Audio track that is also clean and free of hiss or distortion. It is a simplistic track that is mostly dialogue-driven, but it has been remastered to make sure it has a natural frequency response without sibilance. The track still sounds a bit thin at times, however, and it is especially noticeable with the music. While the dialogues are generally well balanced, Johnny Mandel’s whimsical score – that is reminiscent to the music from Margaret Rutherford’s Miss Marple movies – comes across a little breathlessly.

Unlike the DVD version released years ago, this version contains English subtitles to complement the film, but the disc entirely lacks a scene menu. The movie’s trailer is the only extra found on the release.
?“Deathtrap” is still as funny and gripping as it was when it first appeared. Even if you are familiar with the film and its plot, you will find yourself trapped in a sneaky mystery game where nothing is as it seemed. Although not highly-marketed and polished release, this film is a fabulous study for minimalist filmmaking and the feature presentation leaves nothing to be desired. Featuring only a handful of actors and limited settings, the intrigue of the entire film comes from the writing and the hairpin twists!