Friday, March 31, 2023

The Play's The Thing Watch: Deathtrap (1982)

Watched:  03/28/2023
Format:  TCM
Viewing:  First
Director:  Sidney Lumet

We watched Deathtrap (1982) in 2 parts, watching the first 30 minutes or so the night before we wrapped it up, finishing the last hour.  In between, I made comment to some pals that you don't see many movies about plays and the theatre, especially based on plays.  There are some, but not a lot.  There's a gulf in many folk's knowledge of Broadway other than that the tickets are pretty expensive when Spamelot! comes to town, but you pay it.  I expect this is a bit different for New Yorkers or Londoners, which an overwhelmingly vast majority of us are not, so movies have to be careful and ensure folks living in the suburbs know wtf they're talking about.

Still, you can do it and get away with it.  I can't name one of the movies we kicked around that I'd seen (Noises Off!, Rosencrantz and Gildenstern, Chorus Line) that I don't like.  Probably should have squeezed in Cabaret for good measure.  

And, of course, I'm a Michael Caine stan, and the co-star is Christopher Reeve.  Plus: Dyan Cannon!  

It's a movie with a small cast, with Caine on screen > 75% of the time.  Sticking to the stageplay, it mostly takes place inside a single location of an East Hamptons house - something I assume means something to people from NYC and only marginally something to folks from Austin, TX.  

It's Caine as a failing playwright of comedic thrillers, his wealthy wife Dyan Cannon, and Christopher Reeve, who has written a brilliant play on his first go.  Caine realizes he can steal the play if he bumps off Reeve and takes it, putting his own name on it.

The set-up and set allows for amazing staging with props left over from Caine's prior shows scattered around, also his vintage collection of weapons, etc... 

For a play about plays, it doesn't get too in the weeds, I think, even as it probably was making jokes I wasn't quite getting referring to the theater scene.  It also has a very tight grip on the mechanics of thrillers - as it both is a thriller and talks about thrillers, and sometimes passes through the looking glass in a single scene where it becomes clear the action is mounting even as the characters discuss mechanics as they perform them.

That is really the astounding bit.  Loved it.

It's a sort of light-chuckle comedy for the most part - that's part of the mix when you're also writing a script with the fairly serious business of murder for personal gain.  Cannon's character is a Simon character with daffy quirks you know aren't just set dressing, and tossing in a psychic with an accent is a lot, but in it's better moments the thing works splendidly.


But the last scene was... not great.  Already it's hard to deal with a thriller that requires a wacky character to have what seems to be functioning ESP.  You've just entered magic into your thriller, plus a complete lack of boundaries from a stranger in a way that feels dishonest.  

Ha ha.  Got it.  She used her abilities to suss out the situation and made a buck off the two guys bumping each other off...  it's just not narratively very satisfying.  But it also feels very much like something in 1980 people would have found cute.  And cute is a weird f'ing turn for this movie to pursue in the final minutes of run time.  

Overall, I liked the movie, but it's really weird to watch something and feel like the movie absolutely fumbled on the one yard line.  Maybe a re-watch would get me to reconsider, but I don't know how inclined I am to a re-watch.

That said, Caine is typically phenomenal Caine, Reeve is fucking great, and Dyan Cannon is an absolute delight.

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