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Film / Deathtrap

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Deathtrap is a 1982 American Black Comedy thriller film directed by Sidney Lumet, starring Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, and Dyan Cannon. It was adapted from the 1978 play of the same name witten by Ira Levin, author of Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives.

Sidney Bruhl (Caine) is a well-known and formerly very successful Broadway playwright whose career is on the skids after a series of flops. The film starts with Bruhl demoralized after his latest play bombs, with the reassurances of his supportive wife Myra (Cannon) failing to help his mood. Bruhl is further irritated by receiving a script from Clifford Anderson (Reeve), his former student in a writing seminar. The play, called Deathtrap, is excellent, much to Bruhl's disgust. Anderson's script is accompanied by a letter in which Anderson asks to visit in order to get Bruhl's editing advice. Bruhl, desperate to turn his career around, hits on an evil scheme—kill Anderson, and pass the script off as his own.

But all is not as it seems.


  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Myra gets sexually aroused by Sidney after the latter has killed Cliff.
  • Armored Closet Gay: Sidney, who's married to Myra while carrying on an affair with Cliff, and who makes disparaging remarks about Cliff's alleged homosexuality during his conversation with Henry.
  • As You Know: Sidney's wife reminds him that his play "The Murder Game" was the longest-running thriller in the history of Broadway.
  • Batman Gambit: Sidney and Clifford's plan requires Myra to die of a heart attack from stress and shock. Had she not died, they would either have to kill her outright (leaving Sidney to hide/explain her disappearance), or else put aside their plot with an unconvincing explanation that it was all a game.
  • Book Ends: Theatrical productions at the start of the movie (Sidney's bomb of a play) and at the end (Helga's hit play Deathtrap).
  • Carpet-Rolled Corpse: Sidney wraps up Cliff in the carpet Cliff fell down on. He has to yell at Myra to help him carry Cliff out.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • When play-acting the fake murder for Myra, Sidney restrains Cliff in what is supposedly a set of trick handcuffs once owned by Houdini, which allow the wearer to snap out of them easily. Cliff can't figure out the trick. Towards the end of the film, Cliff locks up Sidney in a different set, which turn out to be the real Houdini handcuffs: Sidney knows how to work them and releases himself.
    • Also used in the traditional sense — a crossbow on the Wall of Weapons is fired in the final act.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Sets the scene for the final dramatic confrontation between Sidney, Cliff, and Helga. Lampshaded by Cliff, who notes, "Dramatic effects by God himself!"
  • Drowning My Sorrows: "I'm getting pissed!", says Sidney to Myra, and by "pissed" he means drunk, as he is getting plastered following the disastrous opening of his play.
  • Foreign Remake: The film is basically Les Diaboliques with gay lovers.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • A couple of references to how Myra is independently wealthy, and has a heart condition that requires her to take pills. Myra also says "My heart won't take it!" after Sidney kills Cliff.
    • Helga foresees a woman (herself) using the knife from the wall and a man in boots attacking Sidney.
  • Fright Deathtrap: Trope Namer? The "Scared Stiff" variant—The Reveal is that Cliff didn't write any play, Sidney didn't kill him, and they're in cahoots. The whole charade was a scheme cooked up by Sidney and Cliff to frighten Myra, who has a weak heart, to death. When a bloody but not-dead Cliff reappears with a club in hand and starts chasing Myra around, she has a heart attack and dies.
  • Funny Foreigner: Helga Ten Doorp, the Dutch neighbor, who is prone to malapropisms, has a thick accent and poor grammar, and is named "Ten Doorp." She's a psychic, and her distressingly accurate impressions are less funny to Sidney.
  • Gambit Pile Up: The Cat-and-Mouse-Play between Sidney and Cliff.
  • Gun Struggle: A combined gun-and-knife struggle ensues between Helga and Sidney in the climax.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: A variant on this, as Sidney establishes by careful questioning that Cliff hasn't shown anyone else his manuscript.
  • Here We Go Again!: In the theatre version, Helga uses her psychic powers to reconstruct what happens and figures it would make a good play. Unfortunately the man she's telling this to has the same idea and it ends with them getting ready to murder each other over it.
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: Myra's heart attack comes with the standard clutch-your-chest pose.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Sidney pounds down a drink after strangling Cliff. Also, Myra needs her brandy after the incident.
  • Instant Death Stab: The crossbow arrow seems to kill Cliff instantly. Subverted when he regains consciousness later and attacks Sidney with the axe before finally succumbing to the arrow wound.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: After the murder, the next murders come from one of the perpetrators who writes a play about the events.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Unbeknownst to Sidney, Cliff removed the bullets from his gun.
  • Jaded Washout: Sidney's career trajectory as a writer. He went from being a somewhat successful and respected writer to something of a laughing stock with his recent plays. His murder scheme is at least partly fueled by financial need.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Lots of this in the latter portions of the film after Cliff reveals that he is writing a play called Deathtrap, based on what happens in the first part of the film.
    Cliff: Everything we did to convince Myra she was seeing a real murder would have the same effect on the audience.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: Sidney is lying through his teeth on the phone with Cliff, claiming that he's writing a new play of his own. He turns to see Myra scowling at him, and announces that his new play is called The Frowning Wife.
  • Match Cut: The final struggle between Sidney and Cliff smoothly cuts from the scene of Cliff stabbing Sidney in the back, to that same scene as it's being staged in the play Deathtrap, written by Helga.
  • Metafictional Title: The film is about two guys writing a murder mystery called Deathtrap who indulge in some murder themselves.
  • Minimalist Cast: There are other speaking parts in the theater scenes that begin and end the film, but most of the movie, set at Sidney and Myra's house, features only five characters: Sidney, Myra, Cliff, Helga the neighbor, and Sidney's lawyer Porter.
  • Mutual Kill: The Match Cut to the play at the end implies that Cliff killed Sidney with the axe and then succumbed to the wound inflicted by Sidney with the crossbow.
  • Newscaster Cameo: Three different TV theater critics, including ABC's Joel Siegel, appear on television to pan Sidney's latest play.
  • Not-So-Phony Psychic: Helga does have genuine seer powers but she often misinterprets what she is seeing.
  • Prison Rape: Discussed by Sidney when he paints his and Cliff's future after getting caught because of the revealing play Cliff was planning to publish.
  • The Reveal: It comes about midway through. Clifford didn't write any play, and he isn't dead. Cliff and Sidney turn out to be lovers who deliberately frightened Myra to death. See Fright Deathtrap above.
  • Roman à Clef: In-Universe. Sidney is horrified to find out that Cliff really is writing a play called Deathtrap, which is nothing more than a retelling of their plot to murder Myra, with the names changed around. Cliff calmly tells Sidney that no one can prove anything, and the scandal that will ensue will only make them more famous and successful. Sidney is not mollified by this, and decides to kill Cliff.
  • Rule of Symbolism: When Sidney picks up Cliff at the train station, the star on his Mercedes Benz hood aims at Cliff like crosshairs.
  • Screaming Woman: Myra's reaction to almost anything unexpected is to shriek at the top of her lungs, even doing so when Sidney opens the French windows to reveal absolutely nothing. It is very annoying.
  • Sexy Sweater Girl: Myra wears some flattering sweaters.
  • The Sociopath: Discussed Trope, as Sidney calls Cliff this after finding out that Cliff is writing a play called Deathtrap about their murder of Myra, and doesn't care if Sidney doesn't like it. Cliff is untroubled by this.
  • Straight Gay: Sidney and Cliff are secretly homosexual lovers, but neither exhibits any stereotypical mannerisms (and Sidney maintained a sham marriage to Myra until her death).
  • Suddenly Shouting: Cliff when Sidney refuses to hand him back his draft of the play.
  • Title Drop: Besides the in-universe play called Deathtrap, Helga mentions the title when describing the house as inviting death.
  • Undisclosed Funds: When the lawyer hands Sidney the sheet with the numbers about the expected inheritance from his late wife, we only get a surprised facial expression from the latter. This is done to fool the audience when Sidney claims to Cliff that the figure was quite low when in fact it turned out pretty high.
  • Your Television Hates You: A friendly bartender reassures a depressed Sidney that maybe the reaction to the play will be better than he thinks. The bartender then turns on the TV, and flips to three different channels, turning to each exactly in time to see three different critics pan Sidney's play.