As well as being a whodunnit, it's also a comedy- a word which should probably be in inverted commas. Hoary old jokes about the trials of playwriting and the lucre a smash hit will bring become tiresome pretty quickly. Whilst I can imagine it would be amusing if a local am-dram company put it on, I don't really want to see 'am-dram' in a film. Certainly I don't want to see Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve in one.
Being a thriller I'm obliged not to tell you the plot- although to be honest, I couldn't explain it if I tried, seeing as it has so many twists that it frazzles your brain. So let the premise suffice: popular playwright Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine) is on the skids after writing his fourth bomb in a row. When a former writing student, Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeve) sends him a fantastic little comedy-thriller called Deathtrap (just like the name of the film, see?), Bruhl decides to bump him off and pass off this great creation as his own.
As a two-hander this might have worked better, as the two female characters, Sidney's screechy jumpy wife Myra (Dyan Cannon) and Dutch psychic Helga Ten Dorp (Irene Worth) are profoundly irritating and dated creations. Myra is meant to be comically irritating but Cannon's performance is so excruciatingly hammy that it just isn't funny. Caine is similarly heavy-handed, particularly at the start. Were it not for the promise of a twist, I would have turned off after about ten minutes.
The film should have been entertaining, seeing as a whodunnit has plenty to send up. But it straddles a line between being a parody of a comedy-thriller and being a creaky comedy-thriller. I say 'straddles' but it falls clearly into the creaky camp.
Now, the reason why anyone would remember this old warhorse is because it has a kiss between Caine and Reeve- one which can be filed under 'Most Awkward and Unappealing Screen Kisses', with the subcategory of 'Most Stereotypical and Outdated Portrayal of Gay Men'. I winced every time they said 'luv' and 'babe'. Bruhl is a self-loathing homosexual, a straight man in denial, and oh don't we hear the loathing. Caine is clearly uncomfortable with this aspect of the character which makes the film even more confusing. Although really he's probably had to kiss a lot less attractive people in films than Christopher Reeve, at the height of his striking beauty. Reeve is actually relatively game; whilst his portrayal isn't the most convincing, at least it isn't offensive and at least he doesn't look like he's taking a dose of Night Nurse during the kiss. Honestly, after Alan Bates and Oliver Reed wrestled naked in Women in Love (obvious warning that the scene contains full-frontal nudity and that it might feel a bit weird to watch Bill Sikes from Oliver wrestling naked) I would have thought one little kiss would have been a walk in the park (even though in the film, the characters wrestling are straight men engaging in manly spiritual bonding). How ironic that Laurence Olivier was able to do a homoerotic scene in Spartacus on the merits of snails (wink wink) and oysters (ah, I get it now. Naughty!) (deleted from the final cut) at a time when homosexuality was actually illegal in the UK but Caine can't even do a kiss. Saying that though, the kiss isn't even in the original play and it really adds nothing to the film. It's just making an actor feel awkward and look awkward which makes everyone feel awkward.
But homosexuality aside, the film just creaks in every way. The film fails to create any sense of suspense and it's not enough of a comedy to make scares unimportant. Caine and Reeve don't ham it up enough to make this a camp classic and the gay element is so badly dealt with that it spoils whatever little there was to spoil. Let's just be thankful that it wasn't Staircase (be warned, you can't unwatch that).