Monday, October 11, 2004

Review: "Deathtrap" (1982)

This past weekend, actor Christopher Reeve died at the age of 52. His passing has been very emotional for a lot of people who viewed him as the very definition of the word hero. To their endless praise, I would like to add this: In terms of activism, he succeeded in bringing the debate over stem cell research to a broader populace. In terms of the Man of Steel, he succeeded in filling the tights better than anyone before or since. In terms of an actor in general, however, the man is mostly forgotten. Because of this, I am offering my own small tribute to the talent of a man who could play other roles beside that of hero.

"Deathtrap" concerns Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine), a once successful playwright that is currently in a slump. On top of all his other troubles, he's insanely jealous of a brilliant play he's just read that was written Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeve), a young student he once taught in a writing class. Bruhl tells his wife Myra (Dyan Cannon) that he could invite Anderson over, kill him, bury him in the garden and then take the play as his own. He then proceeds to plan out all the little details. Myra thinks he's just kidding, but she's about to find out how serious he really is when Anderson arrives one night.

The film "Sleuth", which I've previously reviewed here, is remarkably similar to "Deathtrap": Aside from both featuring Michael Caine, both are based on stage plays taking place in the home of an older writer of mystery/thrillers who goes toe-to-toe with a younger rival. Also, both films have surprising turning points halfway through. "Deathtrap" actually steals it's surprise from the finale of a classic thriller made in the 1950's (and, no, I'm not telling you which one). Suffice to say that, as with "Sleuth", I'm cutting my review short at the risk of revealing too much.

In terms of acting, Caine is captivating as always. It's also interesting to see the tables turned as he plays the older man role after his younger turn in "Sleuth". Cannon is, well, Cannon. I've never considered her anything special, and I sure as hell can't see what Cary Grant saw in her. And then there is Reeve, who used this film as a departure from the role that made him famous just four years beforehand. He got to show a bit of his darker side here, and it's great fun to watch him tear into it. In terms of what their known for, some actors are able to rise above such iconic roles (Consider Sean Connery and James Bond), but Reeve was never able to. I only hope that he knew some of us appreciated and enjoyed his work in other films.

In short, see "Deathtrap" for the mystery, the thrills and, most of all, for Reeve. It would be a fitting tribute.

(A DVD sidenote: In the early days of the new format, studios rushed older films into the market to see how they would sell. These discs mostly contained average transfers, bare bones supplements and, worst of all, were full screen. Even though DVD has broken through in a big way and more people are requesting widescreen, many of these select titles have not been re-released and nor do the studios have plans to do so. Truly great films like "Deathtrap", "The Paper" and "Fearless" all fall into this category. For the sake of these great films, Let's all hope this is corrected soon.)

Nine out of Ten

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