Monday, June 16, 2014

The Deadly Trap (1971)

          Despite starring three Americans and featuring a primarily English-language soundtrack, the murky thriller The Deadly Trap is actually a French film, directed and cowritten by noted Gallic auteur René Clément. Conceived, designed, and marketed in the vein of a Hitchcock thriller, the piece has tension and a measure of cinematic style, but so much information is withheld from the audience for so long that the experience of watching The Deadly Trap is often more befuddling than it is beguiling. Faye Dunaway and Frank Langella star as Jill and Philippe, a married American couple living in Paris with their two small children. Right from the start, the circumstances of the main characters’ lives are unclear. It seems that Philippe has an innocuous office job at the present, and that he belonged to a shady criminal organization in the past. At the moment the story begins, the organization wants Philippe to do one more job for them. (The nature of the task is never revealed.) Meanwhile, Jill and Philippe are experiencing marital difficulties, which are compounded by Jill’s deteriorating mental state—she having inexplicable memory problems, and may or may not be subject to paranoid fantasies of Philippe being unfaithful. (Again, whether she’s actually unwell or not is never revealed.) There’s also some murky business involving the couple’s sexy neighbor, Cynthia (Barbara Parkins), who’s a little too interested in their affairs.
          Throughout the first half of the movie, Jill repeatedly endangers her children (even getting into a car accident), with her irresponsibility reaching its apex when she loses sight of the kids while walking through the streets of Paris one afternoon. Police officers, led by the dogged Commissaire Chameille (Raymond Gérôme), become involved, but they’re unsure whether the children were kidnapped by strangers or harmed by their (possibly) unstable mother. The second half of the picture holds together fairly well thanks to the innate suspense of a missing-children scenario, but getting to the good stuff requires slogging through a lot of vague scenes in which Dunaway and Langella feign intensity for unknown reasons. In fact, it’s a testament to the skill of both actors that their performances feel artful and emotional even though they must have been as perplexed by the script as viewers are by the resulting movie. Beyond the solid acting, The Deadly Trap benefits from abundant location photography, snappy editing, and taut music. In sum, The Deadly Trap feels, looks, and sounds like an excellent thriller, even if the narrative raises infinitely more questions than it answers—and not in a good way.

The Deadly Trap: FUNKY

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