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Catherine Savard
Catherine Savard

Deathtrap (1982) and The Last of Sheila (1973)


TVO presents an evening of murder and mayhem on Saturday Night at the Movies with the cinematic adaptation of Ira Levin's Broadway stage play, Deathtrap. Michael Cain plays opposite Christopher Reeve as master and protogé with the entertaining addition of Dyan Canon as Cain's hysterical wife. The twists and turns of this plot will keep you glued to the set and on the edge of your seat right to the bitter end!


I do love a mystery. This Saturday Night at the Movies murder mystery lovers were regaled with a double dose of fun and games, murder and mayhem. Actually, I got a triple dose since I listened on Saturday to one of those classic English country manor house murder mysteries on tape. It was part of my summer holiday ritual; a book on tape on the beach while watching the kids play in the water. I had forgotten that this week’s SNAM on TVO was also full of that kind of cloak and dagger stuff. I think I got an accidental overdose.

Happily, I survived three murder mysteries in one night. It was actually quite entertaining as well as being a real workout for the brain cells. I confess that with the book on tape I had to go back and re-listen to certain parts more than once in order to keep the plot and the characters straight. There was an unfortunate choice of names in Doyles and O’Days, Monaghans and McKinleys, all in a mixed up muddle of Catholic and Protestant Irishmen. At the time, it was very important to keep them all lined up on the right side of the political fence.

The Last of Sheila question mark.jpgWatching “The Last of Sheila” posed some similar problems. You had to really concentrate to keep things straight. James Coburn plays a multi-millionaire producer engaged in a slightly sadistic game aboard his personal yacht in the Riviera with a roster of six guests. The guests have all had some connection with himself or with his late wife, Sheila, killed a year before in a hit and run accident. Coburn takes fiendish delight not only in setting up the game, but in trashing the egos of his six guests. Backstabbing, in the figurative sense, is a pastime for the Coburn character. It is not hard to do given the guests he has on board, an assortment of Hollywood types, each with their overblown or fragile egos. Each guest also has at least one slimy secret that becomes worked into the fabric of the game.

Halfway through the movie, the backstabbing goes from the figurative to the real thing. When bodies start falling out of cupboards, you really have to start paying attention. Steven Sondheim and Anthony Perkins might be an unexpected duo as creators of “The Last of Sheila”, but it seems to me that they did a good job moonlighting as scriptwriters.

Deathtrap cube139580.jpgDeathtrap , originally a Broadway play by Ira Levin, also kept you on the edge of your seat, but for different reasons. In Deathtrap, it was not the overabundance of players or details that kept the mind occupied. Michael Cain plays the has-been playwright, Sydney Bruhl. Cain is desperate to restart his career by generating a new hit play any way he can. The perfect opportunity seems to present itself when a student writer, played by Christopher Reeve, presents him with a wonderful new stage thriller. Soon Cain schemes to knock off his protégé and steal his work. Dyan Canon plays Cain’s hysterical wife, Myra Bruhl, to good advantage.

In case someone has not seen the play or the movie version, I won’t spoil it by going into further detail as to what happens next. Let’s just say that the plot winds its way through many and various surprising reversals that keep one in suspense. You just have to keep watching to see the next twist in the action. It can be very addictive. The ending is just as much of a surprise and a bit silly to boot.

The three main characters, Cain, Canon and Reeve give excellent performances.

As someone observed during the Interviews, the genre of the murder mystery, when it is well done, as it is in both of these films, is about looking at the perfectly obvious and then looking again to figure out who did what and why they did it. All the evidence is there before your eyes, but it takes looking at it again to make sense of what you did not see the first time around.

I couldn’t push rewind on the SNAM movies like I did with my book on tape. There are things that I might like to go back to and look at again just to see if I caught it the first time, but there is nothing like the first viewing or the first reading of a murder mystery. There is something very satisfying about that “aha” moment the first time around.

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