Theatrical poster by Bill Gold
|Directed by||Sidney Lumet|
|Produced by||Burtt Harris|
|Written by||Ira Levin (play)
Jay Presson Allen (screenplay)
|Music by||Johnny Mandel|
|Editing by||Jack Fitzstephens|
|Distributed by||Warner Brothers|
|Release date(s)||March 19, 1982|
|Running time||116 minutes|
The cast includes Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, Dyan Cannon, Irene Worth and Henry Jones. Real-life movie and theatre critics Stewart Klein, Jeffrey Lyons and Joel Siegel have cameo appearances as themselves.
Famed playwright Sidney Bruhl debuts the latest in a series of Broadway flops and returns to his opulent Long Island home and his sympathetic but sick wife, Myra. Although their financial situation is not dire, Sidney is hungry for a hit. They are starting to feel the limit of his wife's fortune, so he shares with her a plan. He has received a manuscript written by one of his students that he considers near perfection. Clifford Anderson recently attended one of Sidney's writing workshops and now asks for his input on his play "Deathtrap." Myra's weak heart is not improved when her husband does not rule out eliminating Clifford and producing the play as his own. He invites Clifford to their secluded Long Island home to discuss it.
Clifford arrives by train. Myra tries desperately over the course of an evening to convince Sidney to work with Clifford as equal partners, but to no avail. Sidney attacks Clifford, strangling him with a chain.
Sidney removes the body but still has to convince Myra to conspire with him. She reveals nothing when they receive an unexpected visit from the psychic Helga Ten Dorp, a minor celebrity who is staying with the Bruhls' neighbors. But Helga senses pain and death in the house; before she leaves she warns Sidney about a man in boots who will attack him.
As she prepares for bed, Myra is managing to come to terms with Sidney's diabolical deed. All is calm until Clifford bursts through the bedroom window and beats Sidney with a log. Clifford chases Myra through the house until her heart gives out; she collapses and dies. Sidney calmly descends the stairs, uninjured, and sidles unperturbed to Clifford's side. They exchange a few words about what to do with Myra's body, then exchange a passionate kiss.
Clifford moves in with Sydney. The two work together at a partner's desk, Sidney suffering from writer's block but Clifford busily typing page after page of a new play that he keeps suspiciously under lock and key. While Clifford is out grocery shopping, Sidney breaks the lock and is horrified to discover that Clifford is using the true story of Myra's murder as the basis of a play called "Deathtrap." Unashamed, Clifford offers to share the work and the credit. Sidney demurs until Clifford insists he's prepared to leave him and write the play without him.
A few days later, Helga stops by, ostensibly for candles in anticipation of a predicted thunderstorm. Almost immediately after meeting Clifford, she warns Sidney that Clifford is the man in boots.
Sidney doublecrosses Clifford by asking him to arm himself with an axe to demonstrate a bit of stage business, then producing a gun to dispose of Clifford and "Deathtrap." But Clifford has loaded the bullets into a different gun, and he secures Sidney to a chair with manacles, unaware they were once the property of Harry Houdini. Sidney easily releases himself, grabs a crossbow and fells Clifford with a single arrow.
Before Sidney can dispose of the body the storm hits with full force, plunging him into darkness. A flash of lightning illuminates the living room and a fleeting figure scurries through. It is Helga, aware of the mortal danger at the house.
Sidney finds a knife while Helga grabs a gun. Clifford regains consciousness and trips Helga. The gun goes flying and a struggle for it ensues that ...
... culminates on a stage with actors before a full house, where "Clifford" stabs "Sidney" and both die, leaving "Helga" victorious. The opening night audience erupts in thunderous applause, and at the back of the house stands Helga Ten Dorp, now the happy author of a hit Broadway play called "Deathtrap."
The kissing scene between Sidney and Clifford is not in the original play. In his book The Celluloid Closet, gay film historian Vito Russo reports that Reeve said that the kiss was booed by preview audiences in Denver, Colorado and estimated that a Time magazine report of the kiss spoiled a key plot element and cost the film $10 million in ticket sales. The controversy over the kiss inspired the Tom Smith song "Two Guys Kissin' (Ruined My Life)."
Home video release
Deathtrap was released on Region 1 DVD on July 27, 1999. It was re-released on November 8, 2003 as half of a two-pack with the Henry Winkler/Michael Keaton buddy film Night Shift. Warner Home Video has scheduled a release of Deathtrap on Blu-Ray Disc on November 20, 2012 as part of the Warner Archive Collection.