Deathtrap is a 1982 film directed by Sidney Lumet, starring Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, and Dyan Cannon. It was adapted from a 1978 play by Ira Levin, the 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.
- 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.
- Coincidental Broadcast: 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 is named "Ten Doorp." She's a psychic, and her distressingly accurate impressions are less funny to Sidney.
- Have You Told Anyone Else?: A variant on this, as Sidney establishes by careful questioning that Cliff hasn't shown anyone else his manuscript.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: Sidney pounds down a drink after strangling Cliff.
- 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.
- Minimalist Cast: There are other speaking parts in the theaters 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.
- Newscaster Cameo: Three different TV theater critics, including ABC's Joel Siegel, appear on television to pan Sidney's latest play.
- 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.
- 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.
- Sweater Girl: Myra wears some flattering sweaters.