Deathtrap (1982)

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The trap is set… for a wickedly funny who’ll-do-it!

Deathtrap has always to me come off as a poor man’s imitation of the earlier film Sleuth, which also stars Michael Caine. Caine incidentally has played both of the lead roles in the latter on the big screen, just recently having taken on the role formerly played by Olivier in the original adaption.

Much like the film it attempts to recreate Deathtrap has an overall feel of a play, as perhaps well it should.  It is very set-bound, and most of the film happens on just one set.  Here though director Sidney Lumet simply isn’t able to recreate the tension and atmosphere that is really needed to make it all work.

Michael Caine is Sidney Bruhl, a once mega-playwright who is in dire need of a smash to revitalize his flagging career.  Along comes protégé Christopher Reeve with a dazzlingly great play; he is looking for Sidney’s help in producing his masterpiece.  The idea comes in fairly short order to Bruhl that he could take the play for his own and revitalize his fame.

But this can come only with the demise of young Christopher Reeve.  Unsurprisingly this isn’t a showstopper and Bruhl begins concocting his plan to off the young star.  His wife, played here by Dyan Cannon, becomes his partner in crime.

That is the basic outline, which runs well for the first half of the picture.  Then the fun starts, with the second half being so full of oddball twists and turns that you lose track of the plot although somehow the film just manages to keep itself together.  There is also the much hyped kissing scene between Caine and Reeve, which comes off as forced and unnecessary.  This scene, which is as important as a weak afterthought is often the most remembered simply because of the significance of it at the time of release.

What makes Deathtrap so interesting isn’t really anything to do with the picture itself.  Along with Gypsy the film marks Warner Archive’s entry into the world of HD and blu-ray discs.  Although I might have wanted stronger initial entries, the launch is definitely well overdue.

Even though Deathtrap isn’t a particularly old film, being made in the early 1980s, technology has come a long way since then.  And thankfully here the folks at Warner Archive have done a great job and not just slapped any old transfer on a disc and gone to market.

This isn’t to imply that they’ve done that in the past, as I think in all areas they have made strong efforts to get the best quality source material for their releases.  But I have questioned at times the effectiveness of their remastering process, though it appears to have improved dramatically over time.

The video transfer of Deathtrap has definitely had some cleaning up done and looks spectacular- and is much the better for it.  Colors are strong and there isn’t any sign of digital tinkering during the process.  The audio also is quite good, although here the limitations of the original source material play a larger role.  It is an extremely good release and still with a good price point.

Concurrently with Deathtrap the Warner Archive also released 1962’s Gypsy on blu-ray.  This film as well has been treated very nicely by the WB overseers and the transfer is a strong upgrade over the earlier release that I have in my collection.

Here as well though the audio doesn’t quite pop as well as the video and we get a hint of some of the production values of the original picture in this way.  Inadvertently these are exacerbated by the advent of HD.  Backdrops are more obviously painted and the variability of the audio track between dialogue and the musical pieces is at times annoying, though not overly obtrusive.

For my money these are both great releases and hopefully herald a litany of similar strong blu-ray releases from the Archive.  For my money is the better picture is Deathtrap as it is more my style, although most may prefer Gypsy.

And although both are very impressive releases Gypsy is probably the stronger of the two simply because of my own presumed assumptions regarding source material quality.

Bravo Warner Archive!

Thanks for the review discs, provided by Warner Brothers.

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