by Anthony King
I'm 99% positive I saw Richard Donner's Superman when I was a child. Even then I just couldn't get into superhero movies. And as far as I know, that is the first and only time I've seen Christopher Reeve act. While I'm not eager to go back and watch the series of movies that made him a star, I will be going back and watching everything else Reeve acted in after watching the beautifully restored Warner Archive Blu-ray of Sidney Lumet's Deathtrap. I have just recently realized the world was robbed of the wonderful talents of Mr. Reeve.
Deathtrap is the film adaptation of Ira Levin's Tony-nominated stage play of the same name. Starring Michael Caine as playwright Sidney Bruhl, Dyan Cannon as his wife Myra, and Reeve as aspiring playwright Clifford Anderson, the story opens with Sidney pacing in the back of the Music Box theatre in New York City (where Deathtrap the play originally opened) on the opening night of his new play. Sidney heads next door to the Ziegfeld Cafe during the second act to drown his anxiety in whiskey as he awaits the first reviews. Spoiler alert: the play is a bomb; his third consecutive bomb, actually, which usually spells bad news for an artist. Sidney stays out all night sulking, returning to his country home in cold and windy Montauck where his wife has been up all night worried sick about him. The next morning, Sidney reads a script sent to him by one of his students, Clifford Anderson, whereupon reading it, realizes it's the greatest play he's ever read. “I’ll tell you how good it is,” Sidney broods. “Even a gifted director couldn’t hurt it.” Sidney begins to formulate a diabolical plan wherein he will invite Anderson up to the house on the auspices of giving notes, and proceed to kill Anderson with one of the many antique weapons hanging on the wall of his writing study. While Mrs. Bruhl is reluctant at first, she eventually comes around to the plan.
We also get to see Michael Caine in a light we rarely experience. I think it's safe to say the Caine we're all used to seeing is a cool, mostly-relaxed, distinguished Brit (think Goldmember or The Dark Knight trilogy). From minute one we're introduced to a man with obvious hypertension, whose brain never stops working, and who can turn into a monster with the flip of a switch. Out of all the Caine performances I've seen, not once have I seen him as worked up as he gets in Deathtrap. There's an instance where he screams – nay, roars – at the top of his lungs and I felt the earth tremble beneath me. All three of our co-leads – as well as the hysterical turn by Irene Worth as the psychic neighbor, Helga ten Dorp – have turned themselves to 11 and deliver balls-to-the-wall performances that will live in my head forever.