Monday, October 12, 2009

Lumet's film of Levin's "Deathtrap" (1982) seems to fit today's debates


Sidney Lumet as a director is certainly fond of irony, and his 1982 film-adaptation "Deathtrap" for Warner Brothers of Ira Levin’s 1978 play of the same name, is a witty exercise. I do recall seeing the play near the end of the time that I lived in New York.

The plot is ironical in a couple of ways. On one level, the idea that a writer would kill another for his work is, well, funny. That is, in a pre-Internet world of typewritten drafts, carbons and xeroxagraphy, it’s clever. But of course there’s more. Sidney (Michael Caine) wants to get rid of his heart-weak wife Myra (Dyan Cannon), and run off with his student Clifford (a young Christopher Reeve, of the Superman type, long before his tragedy). In the end, Clifford can outsmart the old “f”—or does he?. To watch the film today might seem appropriate (or maybe warped) given the gay marriage debate and the times, such as the recent National Equality March.

The play has other minor characters, like a psychic, that give it a kind of Shakespearian flavor.

And the script has funny lines about what kind of writer has the right kind of imagination to pull off a perfect crime. Somehow a playwright is more talented in this regard than a novelist, although I don’t think that’s the case.

And the play-movie does test the concept of art predicting or creating life – the whole problem of “fiction” being too close to or inciting real events, that I discussed elsewhere as on my main blog (as with the Bindrim v. Miller case in California in 1979). Here, when writers plot a play, they may or may not be plotting getting away with real murder. And there is the squabble over who really “owns” the idea. That’s why I like to work alone!

The DVD is presented full-screen, and it looks more like a play than a movie.

The film includes a snippet with Gene Shalit discussing “Murder Most Fair”.

The very end is a “surprise” and it encapsulates the rest of the film (with the play).

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