Deathtrap Blu-ray Review
Few would have to ponder very long to conclude who would win in a standoff between Superman and Alfred the butler. However, as lopsided as that contest might be, the one involving those characters’ custodians, Christopher Reeve and Michael Caine, was considerably more balanced in 1982’s DEATHTRAP.
Sindey Bruhl (Michael Caine) is a famed and successful playwright whose recent streak of flops is threatening the significance of his career. In an effort to end his slump, Bruhl seeks inspiration from a pile of scripts submitted by students of his writing seminars. When he comes across one from Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeve) titled “Deathtrap,” Bruhl is so taken aback by its perfection that he devises a plan to steal the script with foul play. Bruhl’s wife Myra (Dyan Cannon) tries her best to talk her husband out of the insane plot, but when Clifford accepts Bruhl’s invite and arrives at his home, layer upon layer of conspiracy and deceit begin to unfold.
Adapted from Ira Levin’s play of the same name, DEATHTRAP could be loosely considered a possible source of inspiration to one of Michael Caine’s future directors, Christopher Nolan. But instead of the “dream within a dream” scenario in Nolan’s INCEPTION, DEATHTRAP is a film of a play about creating a real play from a fake play. It’s chock full of plot twists and if nothing else, the pure entertainment value of Reeve’s and Caine’s battle of wits is worth creating some space for in your cinematic memory bank.
There’s also the added, yet morbid, allurement of watching Reeve postmortem in a role that is not Superman. It’s unfortunate that his pure acting talents were always overshadowed by the iconic character that jumpstarted his career, as it’s easy to see from this role as Clifford that he had a substantial amount of range. Reeve decisively matches the great Michael Caine’s intensity levels, even out performing him in many scenes where Caine tends to overplay his anger. Reeve had an innate and uncanny ability to elicit shock from audiences any time he displayed aggression as it was such a sharp juxtaposition to his all-encompassing calm and trusting demeanor.
The only raspberry that inhibits DEATHTRAP as a great film is the disastrous portrayal of Myra Bruhl by Dyan Cannon, who was actually nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for “Worst Supporting Actress” for this role. Although, part of the blame has to be placed on the head of director Sidney Lumet for allowing Cannon to play the character with a seemingly infinite ceiling of hysteria. Myra is obviously supposed to be a fragile woman with health issues, but Cannon’s performance is nothing short of obnoxious, evoking zero amount of empathy for Myra’s situation.
DEATHTRAP’s built-in audience of people who love plays and play adaptations will find the film a worthy addition to their collections, but it also has a strong appeal to anyone who’s ever been a writer, professional or otherwise. At times, the dialogue can be a little too manic, making it hard to follow, but it also systematically breaks down the creative process to a point seldom glorified, miles beyond the boundaries of ethics.
Now if you’ll excuse me, the true writer of this review is requesting his daily bread and water.
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen, 1080p: This is billed as a Warner Bros. “Archive Collection,” which is advertising spiel for they just took the old source material, upscaled it to 1080p and slapped it on a Blu-ray disc. The hail sized grain and diluted color pallet are proof positive that Warner Bros., doesn’t think to highly of this title and not worthy of true HD treatment.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0: Audio usually benefits more than video when it comes to a no frill, straight upscale of a film. However there were still plenty of noticeable problems. The dialogue in this film is hard to follow as it is, but even more so in the low registers where music also muffles out lines in some scenes.
If the lame visual presentation wasn’t enough of a hint, Warner Bros. pathetic idea of special features for this “Archive Collection” installment of DEATHTRAP is simply the theatrical trailer.