Deathtrap (1982): Lumet’s Mystery Thriller, Starring Michael Caine, Christopher Reeves, and Dyan Cannon

Though not one of Sidney Lumet’s best (or even good) films, the mystery thriller Deathtrap, adapted by Jay Presson Allen from Ira Levin’s popular Broadway play, is perfectly watchable so long as your expectations are low, and you hope for no more than escapist commercial entertainment.

The film offers three well-written parts for three proficient actors, Michael Caine, Christopher Reeves, and Dyan Cannon.

Many critics pointed out the plot similarities between Deathtrap and Mankiewicz’ 1972 Sleuth, a better movie, which had also starred Michael Caine (opposite Olivier).

The New Yorker critic Pauline Kael noted that the movie unfolds as a wisecracking whodunit, a pastiche of murder-mystery tricks that’s meant to be played by slick and smooth actors.  And indeed, director Lumet deserves credit for casting the roles with the right actors.

Neither actors nor viewers should take this kind of material very seriously, and as Kael observed, the movie (which is still a play) should be done frivolously and artificially in order to compensate for the fact that it’s just a machine for making money, cranking its way across the stage.