Deathtrap (1982)

PG | 116 mins | Mystery, Comedy | 19 March 1982

Director:

Sidney Lumet

Producer:

Burtt Harris

Cinematographer:

Andrzej Bartkowiak

Production Designer:

Tony Walton

Production Company:

Warner Bros. Pictures
Full page view
HISTORY

       On 29 Mar 1978, Var announced that Warner Bros. Pictures paid more than $1 million to acquire the motion picture rights to Ira Levin’s Broadway stage play, Deathtrap, which opened that year. The deal marked the then-most expensive purchase of non-musical play rights for adaptation to film. Levin was also hired to write the screenplay. The following year, the 6 Apr 1979 HR stated that Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft were attached to star, although an article in the 16 May 1979 Var predicted that the film would not begin production until 1980, due to director Sidney Lumet’s possible commitment to another project with Warner Bros. According to the 22 Jun 1979 DV, Christopher Reeve had met with Warner Bros. executives to discuss the role of “Clifford Anderson,” although he expressed his desire for the screen adaptation to “lose the homosexuality angle” featured in the original play. The 15 Apr 1980 HR stated that principal photography was scheduled to begin in NY in 1981, and a few months later, a 25 Sep 1980 DV news item reported that Dustin Hoffman was in negotiations for a lead role. On 15 Oct 1980, HR speculated that actor Burt Reynolds was considering purchasing rights to the play, despite Warner Bros. already having made the acquisition two years earlier.
       A brief in the 5 Jan 1981 DV indicated that Reeve would end his participation as an actor in a Broadway production of July to film Deathtrap in Mar 1981. On 16 Mar 1981, HR announced that a ... More Less

       On 29 Mar 1978, Var announced that Warner Bros. Pictures paid more than $1 million to acquire the motion picture rights to Ira Levin’s Broadway stage play, Deathtrap, which opened that year. The deal marked the then-most expensive purchase of non-musical play rights for adaptation to film. Levin was also hired to write the screenplay. The following year, the 6 Apr 1979 HR stated that Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft were attached to star, although an article in the 16 May 1979 Var predicted that the film would not begin production until 1980, due to director Sidney Lumet’s possible commitment to another project with Warner Bros. According to the 22 Jun 1979 DV, Christopher Reeve had met with Warner Bros. executives to discuss the role of “Clifford Anderson,” although he expressed his desire for the screen adaptation to “lose the homosexuality angle” featured in the original play. The 15 Apr 1980 HR stated that principal photography was scheduled to begin in NY in 1981, and a few months later, a 25 Sep 1980 DV news item reported that Dustin Hoffman was in negotiations for a lead role. On 15 Oct 1980, HR speculated that actor Burt Reynolds was considering purchasing rights to the play, despite Warner Bros. already having made the acquisition two years earlier.
       A brief in the 5 Jan 1981 DV indicated that Reeve would end his participation as an actor in a Broadway production of July to film Deathtrap in Mar 1981. On 16 Mar 1981, HR announced that a two-week rehearsal session was underway, and principal photography would begin 30 Mar 1981 in New York City, with Michael Caine and Dyan Cannon joining Reeve in the lead roles, and Jay Presson Allen serving as screenwriter. A 10 May 1981 NYT article stated that filmmakers had a $10.5 million budget, and that multiple changes had been made to the script from the original stage play to make the story more suitable for cinema audiences. For example, the opening scenes showcasing “Sidney Bruhl’s” poorly-reviewed play were added to increase his motivations, while additional exterior scenes extended the action outside of the interior set of the Bruhl household and included new characters. Production notes in AMPAS library files indicated that filmmakers used the New York City Music Box Theater stage set from the still-running Broadway production of Deathtrap to serve as the set of Sidney Bruhl’s failed play, Murder Most Fair, with 600 hired background actors portraying the audience. Exterior photography for the Bruhl’s refurbished-windmill house took place in East Hampton in Long Island, New York, while the interior of the home was recreated at Pathé Studios in East Harlem, New York. In the Jun 1981 edition of Hollywood Studio Magazine, actress Patsy Kelly had reportedly turned down the role of a “tough New York lady taxi driver,” due to excessive profanity in the dialogue. However, this role does not appear in the final film.
       A 14 May 1981 HR article included Deathtrap among the multiple films Warner Bros. planned to open 18 Dec 1981. DV stated on 5 Jun 1981 that the film was in the process of being edited in New York City, and that the production had been completed $500,000 under the anticipated budget.
       On 10 Dec 1981, DV reported that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) Classification and Ratings Administration changed Deathtrap’s rating from “R” to “PG” after Warner Bros. filed and won an appeal on 8 Dec 1981.
       A news item in the 12 Dec 1981 HR announced Dan A. Polier and David A. Knopf would serve as “producers’ representatives” during the film’s release. An 11 Feb 1982 Warner Bros. press release announced that the studio’s marketing team had begun constructing a large cube puzzle measuring 34-feet high by 28-feet wide, which was scheduled to be completed 18 Feb 1982. According to an undated studio press release, the world premiere of Deathtrap was scheduled to take place 16 Mar 1982 at the Criterion Center 2 in New York City, as a gala benefitting the New York City Police Athletic League.
       Following the film’s opening to mixed reviews on 19 Mar 1981, LAT announced on 24 Mar 1981 that Deathtrap had acquired about $2.2 million in box office returns. The following month, an article in the 20 Apr 1982 HR indicated a total gross of $12,602,954, to date. In addition, advertising for the motion picture had also increased ticket sales for the play, which continued its Broadway run simultaneous with the film’s release. When rights to the material were purchased by Warner Bros., the original agreement stipulated that the film adaptation could not be released until four years after the Broadway opening. However, due to its success, the show extended its run into a fifth year.
       A news brief in the 27 Apr 1982 NYT reported that one of the major financial backers of the Broadway production of Deathtrap, Claus von Bülow, who at the time was recently found guilty of murdering his wife, had also invested money in Lumet’s film. Although he was supposed to have contributed $44,000 in the stage show, exact details of his involvement in the movie remain undetermined.
       On 24 Feb 2005, DV announced that Frank Pierson planned to write and direct a motion picture remake, which DV referred to by the title, Death Trap. However, Pierson’s production did not move ahead and as of Nov 2013, a remake has not been produced. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
22 Jun 1979.
---
Daily Variety
25 Sep 1980.
---
Daily Variety
5 Jan 1981.
---
Daily Variety
10 Dec 1981.
---
Daily Variety
24 Feb 2005.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jun 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Apr 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Apr 1980
p. 3, 6.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Oct 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 Mar 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 May 1981
p. 1, 4.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Dec 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Mar 1982
p. 3, 26.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Apr 1982
p. 1, 4.
Hollywood Studio Magazine
Jun 1981.
---
Los Angeles Times
19 Mar 1981.
---
Los Angeles Times
18 Mar 1982
p. 1.
New York Times
10 May 1981
p. 1, 10.
New York Times
19 Mar 1982
p. 8.
New York Times
27 Apr 1982.
---
Variety
29 Mar 1978.
---
Variety
16 May 1979
p. 7, 44.
Variety
17 Mar 1982
p. 24, 26.
Warner Bros.
11 Feb 1982.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Asst cam
2d asst cam
Stillman
Steadicam
Gaffer
Rig elec
Key grip
Dolly grip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst to Mr. Walton
FILM EDITORS
SET DECORATORS
Scenic artist
Prop master
Set dresser
Const foreman
Const grip
COSTUMES
Cost des
Ward
MUSIC
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom man
Sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec visual eff
MAKEUP
Hairstylist
Makeup artist
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit mgr
Prod on the stage by
Prod on the stage by
Scr supv
D.G.A. trainee
Prod office coord
Transportation capt
Murderous weapons by
Asst to Mr. Lumet
Asst to Mrs. Allen
Unit pub
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Deathtrap by Ira Levin (New York, 26 Feb 1978).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Ira Levin's Deathtrap
Release Date:
19 March 1982
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 19 March 1982.
Production Date:
began 30 March 1981 in New York City
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Brothers, Inc.
Copyright Date:
8 June 1982
Copyright Number:
PA138072
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex® camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
116
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26440
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

British playwright Sidney Bruhl leaves the theater upon hearing disapproving whispers from the audience during the opening night performance of his Broadway play, Murder Most Fair. He enters the restaurant lobby next door and telephones his sickly wife, Myra, who is home in bed. Despite her reassuring words, Sidney gets drunk while watching television critics negatively review his play. He boards a train home to East Hampton, New York, but falls asleep and misses his stop, causing him to take an expensive taxi ride back to his house. When Myra sees her husband in the living room, she screams in surprise and Sidney drops his drink. Agitated, he exclaims that Murder Most Fair marks his fourth consecutive failed production, but Myra reminds him that his play The Murder Game remains the longest-running thriller in Broadway history. Sidney reports that he has received a copy of an amateur, but excellently-written, play titled Deathtrap from one of his former seminar students, Clifford Anderson. Later, after Sidney has rested, he jokingly suggests that he kill Clifford with the mace that hangs among a collection of prop weapons used in his previous plays, and debut Deathtrap under his own name. As Sidney laments his failing career, Myra encourages him to produce the play instead. She then mentions Helga ten Dorp, a Dutch psychic who is renting the neighbor’s house next door. Myra urges her husband to telephone Clifford, but ... +


British playwright Sidney Bruhl leaves the theater upon hearing disapproving whispers from the audience during the opening night performance of his Broadway play, Murder Most Fair. He enters the restaurant lobby next door and telephones his sickly wife, Myra, who is home in bed. Despite her reassuring words, Sidney gets drunk while watching television critics negatively review his play. He boards a train home to East Hampton, New York, but falls asleep and misses his stop, causing him to take an expensive taxi ride back to his house. When Myra sees her husband in the living room, she screams in surprise and Sidney drops his drink. Agitated, he exclaims that Murder Most Fair marks his fourth consecutive failed production, but Myra reminds him that his play The Murder Game remains the longest-running thriller in Broadway history. Sidney reports that he has received a copy of an amateur, but excellently-written, play titled Deathtrap from one of his former seminar students, Clifford Anderson. Later, after Sidney has rested, he jokingly suggests that he kill Clifford with the mace that hangs among a collection of prop weapons used in his previous plays, and debut Deathtrap under his own name. As Sidney laments his failing career, Myra encourages him to produce the play instead. She then mentions Helga ten Dorp, a Dutch psychic who is renting the neighbor’s house next door. Myra urges her husband to telephone Clifford, but he becomes absorbed with his murderous plot, enticed by the play’s box office potential. He telephones Clifford to compliment him on his work and invites him to the house that evening, requesting that the young playwright bring the original draft and all additional notes and copies. Sidney informs Myra that while Clifford is in town house-sitting, he has no car, no companions, no wife, and no one else to know that he is working on Deathtrap. That evening, Sidney picks Clifford up at the train station and brings him home, where the younger man admires the Bruhls’ collection of prop weapons. While the two men discuss Deathtrap, Myra proposes that Sidney collaborate with Clifford as a producing partner. The younger man refuses to make a rash decision, however, and suggests he speak to an agent first. As Clifford prepares to leave, Sidney shows him a pair of prop handcuffs on his wall. When Clifford puts the cuffs on, Sidney pretends to search for the lost key, and Clifford grows nervous. The young man states that he is expecting a phone call from a girl who knows he is visiting the Bruhl household. When Sidney detects Clifford’s lie, Myra believes that her husband is about to kill his protégé. However, Sidney finds the key, and the three laugh to break the tension. As Clifford attempts to free himself, Sidney strangles him with a chain. Sidney then cleans the weapon, and burns Clifford’s original notes and drafts. After he and Myra bury the body in the vegetable garden outside, Myra expresses her disgust. Although she believes they will be caught, Sidney invents various lies to tell the police and promises to donate half of the play’s profits to a dramatic academy. Suddenly, the doorbell rings and Helga ten Dorp enters the kitchen, guided by a psychic vision. She walks through the house and announces that she can sense the physical pain that has occurred there that evening. Picking up a knife that was used in The Murder Game, she predicts that a woman will use it again. She then envisions a young man wearing boots, whom she believes will attack Sidney. Before bed that night, Myra is frightened by a creaking noise in the living room. Sidney forces her to go downstairs, and assures her of her safety. When he claims full responsibility for the murder, the couple retreats to their bedroom. As Myra opens the window, Clifford, covered in blood and dirt, jumps into the room, beats Sidney with a tree branch, and chases Myra downstairs, where she dies of a heart attack. Sidney joins Clifford downstairs and reveals that, although they had rehearsed the entire scenario, Sidney had not planned to kill Myra. The two men kiss, and Sidney burns the copy of Deathtrap, advising Clifford to hide in the bedroom while he reports Myra’s death to the police. Some weeks after Myra’s funeral, the two men live together as lovers and writing partners: Sidney suffers from writer’s block, while Clifford types up a new play, which he claims is a departure from his usual work in the thriller genre. When Sidney’s friend and attorney, Porter Milgrim, stops by, Clifford excuses himself to pick up groceries. Sidney explains that he has hired Clifford as his secretary, and says that he suspects Clifford to be homosexual. Porter informs Sidney of the money he will receive from Myra’s death, which the playwright exclaims to be a much higher sum than he had anticipated. As Porter leaves, he informs Sidney that he noticed Clifford suspiciously locking his work in the desk drawer. Sidney attempts to open the drawer, but is thwarted by Clifford’s return. Once Clifford unlocks the drawer, Sidney switches his lover’s documents with his own. As Sidney reads, he discovers that Clifford is actually writing another draft of Deathtrap, containing a plot mirroring their scheme which killed Myra, with many of the details preserved. Distraught by the possibility of being caught, Sidney threatens to burn the pages, but Clifford insists that even if the play’s debut does raise suspicion, there is no quantifiable evidence that could put Sidney in jail. Additionally, his status as a man who got away with murder could enhance his celebrity and increase ticket sales. Despite hesitating to trust Clifford, Sidney admits that his inheritance from Myra is disappointingly insufficient, and agrees to help Clifford write the play for the money. Clifford expresses concern about the action of the second act of Deathtrap, but Sidney promises to think about possible edits. During a thunderstorm that night, Helga ten Dorp visits the house while Sidney is out to dinner. When Sidney arrives home, she warns him that Clifford is the man in boots who will attack him. Sidney says that he planned to fire Clifford anyway, and she leaves, comforted by the lie. While Clifford is upstairs, Sidney takes one of his guns from the wall and hides it on the mantelpiece. As Clifford and Sidney act out a scene from the play, Sidney points his gun at Clifford, explaining that his inheritance and insurance money actually total nearly $1 million. Reciting the story that he will tell the police, he pulls the trigger, but the gun does not fire. Clifford pulls another gun off the wall and reveals that the copy of Deathtrap Sidney read was a decoy. He commands Sidney to handcuff himself to a chair as he recites the action of the play’s final act, in which the protagonist, modeled after Sidney, commits suicide. Clifford says he will leave and finish Deathtrap himself, instructing Sidney to never interfere. Sidney breaks free from his handcuffs, grabs a crossbow, and climbs onto the roof and into the upstairs bedroom. Descending to the living room, he shoots Clifford in the back, pulls the spear from his lover’s body, and manipulates the scene so it appears as if Clifford had been attacking him. When the power goes out, Helga ten Dorp appears in the house and points Sidney’s prop gun at him. Reviving, Clifford grabs Helga’s ankle, tripping her, pulls himself up, and swings an axe at Sidney. As actors recreate the final scene onstage during the opening night performance of Deathtrap, the audience roars with applause and Helga ten Dorp, the play’s writer, jumps with glee at her success. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.