August is upon us, and with that The Mustache and The Beard have proclaimed it
Murder Mystery Month and I am way out of my comfort zone. Past months have been a breeze for me. With Space May Days, Women’s Empowerment Month and Westerns, these were all things that I knew and enjoyed. Come August and I’m told it’s Murder/Mystery month and the biggest mystery for me was to try and find something to write about.
I could’ve gone the lazy route and written a review on Knives Out. But let’s face it. That’s way too mainstream for me and I wouldn’t be able to add something to a review that hasn’t already been said. It’s a brilliant movie and an amazing take on a modern noir film with some huge star power.
I could’ve gone the comedic route and given you all a raving take on the 1985
classic Clue. Based on the Whodunit board game of the same name, starring Tim Curry at his finest. But alas I needed to dive deep into this and bring you guys something that was truly obscure. With that in mind I landed on something that ultimately fit the bill: Deathtrap.
Deathtrap is a 1982 Black-Comedy, Mystery film based on the play of the same name. The play was written by Ira Levin in 1978. The screenplay was done by Levin and Jay Presson Allen and directed by Sidney Lumet. It starred Michael Caine, Christopher Reeves, Dyan Cannon, and Irene Worth.
Caine plays famed playwright Sidney Bruhl who just debuted his latest play in a long line of recent flops. Though Sidney is not hurting for money, he is hurting for the glory of bringing another hit back to the theater. One night Sidney receives a manuscript from Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeves) who was a student that attended one of Sidney’s Writing Workshops.
Sidney is awestruck by the manuscript as it is near-perfection in his mind. Sidney wants the script all to himself. He tells his wife Myra (Dyan Cannon) that the best idea he has had lately is to kill Clifford and produce the play as his own.
Sidney invites Clifford to his secluded home to talk about the play. Clifford arrives by train and over the course of the evening Myra tries to convince Sidney to work with Clifford as equal partners but to no avail. Sidney ends up attacking Clifford and strangling him with a chain.
Sidney removes Clifford’s body but still has to convince Myra to conspire with him.
Myra ends up revealing nothing when they are visited by an unexpected guest, a
psychic by the name of Helga Ten Dorp (Irene Worth). Helga is a local celebrity and is staying at a neighbor’s house in the area. She states that she feels pain and death in the house and claims to Sidney that he will be attacked by a man in boots.
Later that evening as Myra prepares for bed she heads downstairs for a drink when a noise startles her. She heads upstairs to get Sidney. Sidney goes about the house trying to prove to Myra that there is nothing to worry about. However the calm of the night is broken when Clifford crashes through the bedroom window and beats Sidney with a log. Clifford then chases Myra throughout the house until her weak heart gives out and she collapses and dies.
Sidney descends down the stairs seemingly uninjured and joins Clifford. They have a short conversation about what to do with Myra’s body before exchanging a passionate kiss with one another. The previous few hours are revealed to be an elaborate ruse to kill Myra. But the film does not end there. This is just the beginning of many AH-HA! moments that crop up throughout the film. With one giant one at the end to bring everything together.
The film doesn’t playout as a traditional Whodunit Murder/Mystery but plays on the mystery of what’s going to happen next. Clifford and Sidney never truly reveal what they are going to do until they’re already in the middle of doing it. You as the viewer are completely shrouded in the ambiguity of what will happen next to each character.
Another interesting take is that both Sidney and Clifford see themselves as protagonists in the film; they clearly both come across as antagonists to the viewer. You don’t know which one you want to root for or if you should be rooting for either of them. Something of a rarity and something that is not often done as well as it was here. Much of this is because of the chemistry between Reeves and Caine.
Caine is a consummate professional. Always has been. He does a brilliant job of
balancing comedic value with a touch of seriousness so that the film delivers on the comedic side but still comes off as something that is very dark. And Christopher Reeves, God bless him, he was such an amazing actor.
He’ll always be remembered as Superman, and for me THE Superman, but as an actor he really was so much more than that. He sheds the Clark Kent/Superman persona so effortlessly that it’s easy to forget that he ever played a character like that to begin with.
Eagle-eyed viewers will be able to see the similarities to Michal Caine’s 1972 film, Sleuth. It too was a mystery/comedy based off of a play. And ironically, Caine and Reeves would go on to star in the 1992 comedy, Noises Off, which was also a movie based off of a play. Deathtrap though is a solid Black Comedy Mystery film that is well worth the watch. I give it a solid 3.5 Gray Geeks. And now I’m off to look into my next mystery, which is much like this one. What am I going to write about?