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Deathtrap Blu-ray Review

Deathtrap (1982) movie poster Deathtrap

Theatrical Release: March 19, 1982 / Running Time: 116 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Sidney Lumet / Writers: Ira Levin (stage play); Jay Presson Allen (screenplay)

Cast: Michael Caine (Sidney Bruhl), Christopher Reeve (Clifford Anderson), Dyan Cannon (Myra Elizabeth Maxwell Bruhl), Irene Worth (Helga ten Drop), Henry Jones (Porter Milgrim), Joe Silver (Seymour Starger), Tony DiBenedetto (Burt, the Bartender), Al LeBreton (Handsome Actor), Rev. Francis B. Creamer, Jr. (The Minister), Stewart Klein (Stewart Klein), Jeffrey Lyons (Jeffrey Lyons), Joel Siegel (Joel Siegel)

Buy Deathtrap on Blu-ray at WBShop.com / Buy from Amazon.com: Blu-ray • DVD • Instant Video

Last week, after three and a half years of generating profit from their abundant catalog in spite of a declining marketplace, the Warner Archive Collection, the leader of the catalog DVD manufacturing on demand movement, took the next logical step: Blu-ray.
Warner Archive's first two high definition releases weren't obvious choices, but both are well-regarded, were released on DVD a long time ago, and originated on the Broadway stage. Comprising this pioneer wave were the 1962 musical Gypsy and the 1982 comic thriller Deathtrap.

You would think Deathtrap to be the more obscure of the two, but it has actually received more than twice as many user votes on IMDb, where it holds a respectable 6.9 average rating. The film is adapted from the play of the same name by Rosemary's Baby author Ira Levin. Opening in February 1978, the show was nominated for six Tony awards including Best Play. It would be performed at the Music Box Theatre through January of 1982, making it the longest running thriller in Broadway history. From there, it moved to the Biltmore Theatre, where it played for another five months, then closed on the very same June Sunday that the film version ended its weekend box office tracking.

Adapting Levin's play was Jay Presson Allen, the Oscar-nominated Cabaret scribe who also penned Hitchcock's Marnie, Funny Lady, and the stage and screen versions of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Deathtrap was her last of three official collaborations with director Sidney Lumet, whose triumphant film credits include 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, and fellow 1982 release The Verdict (on which Allen performed an unused, uncredited rewrite).

"Deathtrap" stars Michael Caine as a playwright who fears his greatest success may be behind him. Christopher Reeve plays protιgι Clifford Anderson, who brings his former professor a promising script.

Deathtrap opens with the opening of the latest thriller from accomplished Broadway playwright Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine). It is a dud both with critics and audience members. Convinced he's lost his touch and uncertain of his financial future, Sidney is dejected. Adding insult to injury, he receives a script from a student in his previous year's seminar. The submission, which comes with a humble request for guidance, is more than just promising. It's perfect and Sidney sees it as a surefire hit certain to earn up to $5 million in profits. Those big numbers get his mind racing and soon he's plotting on how he can take the work and call it his own, by killing its young writer. It's a morbid plan, but one that Myra (Dyan Cannon), Sidney's excitable, weak-hearted wife of eleven years, reluctantly agrees to.

That premise establishes Deathtrap as a dark comedy, something comparable to Arsenic and Old Lace. Held by Victor Garber on stage, the role of the guileless student Clifford Anderson is here played by Christopher Reeve, who made this only his second film role after Superman and its sequel. The plot advances more quickly than you would expect and we come to discover that nothing that has occurred is as it seems.

Deathtrap relies heavily on twists, ones major enough to feel like spoilers, even if they come early and are undercut by the billing and case artwork. If you haven't seen this 30-year-old movie and would like to without any knowledge of surprises, then feel free to skip to the disc parts below.

German psychic next door Helga Ten Drop (Irene Worth) warns of the ominous airs she picks up inside the Bruhls' Long Island house. Uncertain about how the night is progressing, Myra (a Razzie-nominated Dyan Cannon) sheds some tears.

Still reading? I don't really want to spoil anything for you either. Suffice it to say, the leading character killed off early on is not the film's first death, a development that makes the abrupt second/truly first death suspicious.
Deathtrap emerges as much more of a twisty thriller than the comedy advertised. The unpredictable incidents fuel Sidney's creative juices but come with consequences, guilt, and an intrusive psychic German neighbor (Irene Worth).

Lumet, who began his long show business career as a child actor on Broadway and began directing plays in the mid-1950s, often treats the film as a product of the stage, favoring long takes, distant shots, and minimal camera movement. That is a fitting approach for a play that is the very thing it explores at length, as Sidney and his collaborator ruminate on the elements and keys to a successful stage thriller.

It's easy to imagine Deathtrap as captivating theatre, but it only makes for adequate cinema. At 116 minutes, it is much too long and slow. I'm of the belief that films succeed or fail on characters and story. The small cast of five principals gets ample opportunity to define their bold, distinctive parts. But, as in most non-musical theatre, the convoluted plot unfolds with an abundance of dialogue. Allen's Wikipedia entry not so encyclopedically claims that she cleaned up Levin's "weak confusing ending for a more directly resolved one." The next point it makes seems more meaningful, that Allen's screenplay didn't open things up, keeping us in Sidney's rustic East Hampton, Long Island mansion for nearly the entirety. On stage, a lack of set changes reduces distraction and adds intimacy and comfort. On film, it tends to provide stagnancy. And so it does here, especially once we become aware of our manipulation and the fact that we're expected to take any twist in stride.

There's still a good deal of intrigue found in Deathtrap's tense, complex plotting, which is important in light of the lack of jokes and laughs. "Directly resolved" though it may be, the film's ending isn't too satisfying, especially following a climax that alternates between gimmicky lightning strikes and darkness.

Pretty progressive for its time, Deathtrap features some gay content, including a kiss by two men not found in the original play. Quoting (without citation) Reeve via gay film historian Vito Russo (the author of The Celluloid Closet), good old Wikipedia claims the kiss was booed by Denver, Colorado preview audiences and that Time magazine's report of the kiss supposedly cost the film $10 million in ticket sales. Earning $19 million in spite of that, the movie performed well enough. Adjusted for inflation, it actually stands as Reeve's highest grossing movie not to dress him in tights and a cape. Nominated for four honors in the genre-minded Saturn Awards and one Razzie (Dyan Cannon for Worst Supporting Actress), Deathtrap came away from each empty-handed.

Though originally a Warner Bros. release, the film is for some reason fitted with a more recent version of the studio's logo.

Deathtrap Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extra Not Subtitled
Release Date: November 20, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $19.95
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Blue Keepcase
Still available on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released on DVD (July 27, 1999) and VHS


Warner Archive Collection's DVDs rarely offer truly impressive picture and sound. But this, from their first batch of Blu-rays, is a different story, since the film was already released to DVD. You'll find no disclaimers to set your expectations low. Nor should you, because Deathtrap looks pretty great.
The 1.78:1 presentation, approximating the theatrical aspect ratio as the fullscreen-only DVD never did, is comparable to a strong general retail Blu-ray. The picture retains a light and appropriate amount of grain and features minimal intrusions. For the most part, the element stays clean and boasts great detail.

The monaural 2.0 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is equally fine. It's crisp and intelligible throughout, but like the picture, isn't anything that will quite wow you. One of the nicest things about the disc is that Warner has included English SDH subtitles, which are clean and quick to activate and deactivate. While the studio generally hasn't extended that luxury to manufactured on demand DVDs, this must be different, since it already had been subtitled on DVD. It's worth noting, however, that the French dub from the film's DVD has been dropped, a fact that I think could dismay as many as a handful of people.

A dagger bumps out the title's first T in Deathtrap's original theatrical trailer. Like the cover and poster, the menu places its three lead actors inside a Rubik's Cube with weapon faces.


Not mentioned on the case, Deathtrap is joined by a bonus feature: its short theatrical trailer (0:54), which is clearly missing at least some frames at its beginning but presented in grainy 16:9 high definition. That is one more extra than it had on its 1999 DVD (which was curiously bundled with Night Shift in 2003) and probably all you can expect from a Warner Archive Blu-ray debut.

The Blu-ray has a single silent, static menu, making further use of the cover's recycled poster art,

Official Shop of Warner Bros
whose weapon-adorned Rubik's Cube image strikes one as an interesting way to excite moviegoers in 1982. The lack of a scene selection menu is unfortunate but standard for Warner Archive. The movie is at least kindly divided into plenty of chapter stops, 38 to be exact.

Like other Warner BDs, this one doesn't support bookmarks. Nor, unfortunately, does it resume playback, something that Warner should figure out right away, as much smaller studios have. In addition, while a pop-up menu is available over playback, choosing to watch the trailer does not return you to where you were in the film, causing you to deal with unskippable FBI warnings all over again and having to find your place.

The disc is held in a standard Blu-ray case, its single-sided artwork being the typical Warner Archive Collection quality, which close inspection reveals to be just a smidge below general retail product.

Sidney Lumet's film version of "Deathtrap" still looks like a play much of the time with its fixed long shots.


The twisty thriller Deathtrap holds your interest through its slow but competent execution. The Blu-ray's terrific picture and sound bode well for the Warner Archive Collection's future in high definition. There are a few minor technical kinks to work out, but no worse than what you can find in other studios' general retail catalog releases. Overall, though a tad pricy compared to in-store offerings, this is a pleasing release that Blu-ray-collecting fans of the film shouldn't hesitate to pick up.

Buy Deathtrap: Blu-ray at WBShop.com / Buy from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Sidney Lumet: The Verdict | Based on Ira Levin: Rosemary's Baby
1980s on Blu-ray: Clue • Annie • New York Stories • Planes, Trains & Automobiles • Pet Sematary • Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
Michael Caine: The Muppet Christmas Carol • The Prestige • The Dark Knight Rises • Journey 2: The Mysterious Island • Cars 2
Dyan Cannon: That Darn Cat (1997) | Henry Jones: Arachnophobia • Napoleon and Samantha • Rascal
Adapted from the Stage: A Thousand Clowns • The Odd Couple • Doubt • Vanya on 42nd Street
Misery • Gentlemen Broncos • Ed Wood • North by Northwest
New to Warner Archive Collection: The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show

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Reviewed November 29, 2012.

Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1982 Warner Bros. Pictures and 2012 Warner Home Video.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.