Deathtrap (Film)

The screen rights to Levin's stage play Deathtrap were purchased by Warner Brothers less than a month into its original Broadway run, for a record-breaking 1.5 million dollars. Levin had initially contemplated writing the screenplay himself, telling 1978's Christian Science Monitor: “I've always felt it’s better to go to something else. Still, I think I am going to do the screenplay for ‘Deathtrap,’ because it should be enough of a challenge to be stimulating, rather than just doing the same job over again. I think it will have to be changed quite a bit for the screen. I'm not even sure if it can be done, but I'm thinking of switching the whole background from playwriting to moviemaking.”

Ultimately, Levin passed, and Warner's contract – which required they wait four years before releasing their film version (an unfathomably long stretch for a standard play) – premiered just weeks after that waiting period expired. And just three months later, Deathtrap's four and a half year Broadway run ended. (At that time, the existence of a cheaper movie ticket alternative to its far-costlier Broadway counterpart was a virtual death sentence for any play.)

No fault can be found with the 1982 film's Michael Caine/Christopher Reeve-led performances, its direction, or its baroque-flavored Johnny Mandel musical score. Levin was not however enamored of screenwriter Jay Presson Allen's newly-imagined opening and ending scenes, telling legendary talk-host Larry King in 1991: “The opening and ending of that movie sort of set my teeth on edge, really.”

Moreover, Levin was not thrilled with Allen's toning-down of the comedy half of his comedy-thriller. Allen told the New York Times: “Ira Levin's script is very, very clever and a little profligate. He gives you six laugh lines in a row. And reversal, reversal, reversal. When you take his script and go down the page, there's feed line, laugh line, feed line, laugh line. A film audience won't buy that. There must be reality about the situation." ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  • Deathtrap was one of the inspirations for 2019's Knives Out.


(Above) Trailer (1982)


(Above) An informative Michael Caine Deathtrap interview

(Above) Deathtrap was one of "Knives Out"'s influences