The Deadly Trap (La maison sous les arbres) Review
Jill (Faye Dunaway) lives with Philippe (Frank Langella) and their two children in Paris. Philippe is a computer whiz and has a high-powered job, but all of a sudden he leaves his job and she doesn't know why. Jill soon realises that she knows very little of what's going on. And then her children disappear...
StudioCanal's series of four DVDs, one also on Blu-ray, to mark the centenary of René Clèment, now jumps ahead a decade and a half, to a film which is one of the more Hitchcockian of the films in his oeuvre, though not one of his best. His next but one feature after Gervaise was Plein soleil (known as Purple Noon in English), made in 1960. That starred Alain Delon in an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr Ripley (later filmed under the original title in 1999, directed by Anthony Minghella) and is one of the highlights of his career and one of the films on which Clément's reputation as “the French Hitchcock” rests.
However, around that time the New Wave broke in France, and suddenly Clément – a director who worked primarily in the commercial mainstream of French cinema, don't forget – fell out of fashion, and he was one of the older generation of directors that the Nouvelle Vague young turks derided as “Le cinéma du papa”. A later generation of critics and filmmakers, Bertrand Tavernier among them, did attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of these older filmmakers. Tavernier employed Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost, co-scriptwriters for Clément on Jeux interdits and Gervaise, together or separately on four of his early features. But by that time, Clément had retired.
Clément's major production in the 1960s was the epic-length starrily-cast war film Is Paris Burning?, which I haven't seen. But that was the odd one out in a series of with a series of suspense thrillers with international casts, starting with Les félins (also known as The Love Cage or Joy House, starring Jane Fonda and again not seen by me) in 1964 and seeing out the decade with Rider on the Rain (Le passager de la pluie) in 1970, which is also on DVD from StudioCanal (or Optimum as they were then) and which I have previously reviewed for this site. That was followed a year later by The Deadly Trap (La maison sous les arbres).
For much of the film, the viewer is kept in the dark as much as Jill is, and it's never entirely clear what Philippe does, though it's something to do with an early-70s version of IT. That puts us at arm's length from the outset, which is something Langella (then at the height of his smouldering good looks, and older than you might think – he turned thirty-three in 1971 and is three years older than Dunaway) can't really overcome. Dunaway does her best woman-in-peril theatrics, but is undermined by the vague plotting and a pace that tends towards the first word in slow-burning. It's certainly watchable but is the least of the four films StudioCanal have just released.
The Deadly Trap was originally released in the UK as The House Under the Trees, a direct translation of its French title, one explained by the film's final act. It was given an A certificate (the equivalent of today's PG) both in 1971 and again for a presumed reissue in 1973 under the present title. (Another English-language aka is the rather lurid Death Scream.) For this DVD release it has been classified 12, for “moderate violence and brief natural nudity” - I doubt young children will be much interested, but parents be advised just in case. This is the first time the film has been commercially available in the UK since its cinema releases, and the last TV screening I can trace was in 1979.
The Deadly Trap
has been released by StudioCanal on a single-layered DVD encoded for Region 2 only.
The transfer is in the correct ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. The film has a very soft, gauzy look for much of its length, but I've no reason to suspect that that isn't how the film is intended to look and not a fault of the transfer, and the colours are consistent with other late 60s/early 70s Eastman Colour films I've seen, both in cinemas and on disc.
The soundtrack is the original mono. Unlike Rider on the Rain, which StudioCanal/Optimum released in both English and French versions on disc – clearly distinct versions with many scenes reshot and its star Charles Bronson dubbed in the Francophone version – we just get the one version here, with a mixture of English and French dialogue, the latter translated into English by fixed electronic subtitles. As for the soundtrack, it's fine – clear and well-balanced.
There are no extras at all, not even a trailer.