Saturday, July 23, 2011

I Hate the Seventies

When America looks back on vintage decades, its concentration is solely on the good: the soaring power ballads, the chic fashion, the Valium, the rotary phones, etc. But, as Henri Matisse said, "What I dream of is an art of balance..." Don't we need some bitching to pair with the nostalgia?

Let me begin to fulfill Matisse's dream by reviewing the 1973 John G. Avildsen film Save the Tiger. The movie screams "seventies era": We've got a teased-haired receptionist operating a soundboard and speaking in a nasal Staten Island-y accent, a moon-eyed hippie-era leftover informing Jack Lemmon's Harry Stoner that she just happens to have "some really great grass", a prostitute pouring what appears to be blood-colored candle wax on a john, and so on. It all adds up to nothing in a meandering drama that can't be saved by strong acting.

Stoner horrifies his wife by reminiscing about professional ballplayers of the '50s with a fervor skirting hysteria and tells the hippie hitchhiker that he's thirty-three when he could easily pass for sixty, and the audience stares blankly as his bizarre behavior is barely explained (is it all from stress over his failing business? Is he being tormented by prophetic nightmares about starring in The Odd Couple II?)

Ancillary characters mention Stoner's snappy gray suit roughly 19,874,284 times. Fine, the movie wants to remind you that fine threads cover a wreck of a human being, but why is he a wreck? Why is he suddenly tormented by WWII flashbacks rivaling Lifetime movies in terms of cheesiness? We're talking stuff a half-step above this:

The focal point of the movie is the decision of Stoner's and his colleague's to hire an arsonist to torch their warehouse and send insurance dollars their way. The movie ends before the action: no perfect-scheme-gone-wrong, no tense aftermath, nothing. The movie's final payoff is Stoner watching some obnoxious kids in a playground baseball game. Fine, not all dramas have to take the traditional route, but if one isn't going to, it still has to work to engage the audience. This movie consists of compliments on a silk suit, a guilt-ridden call girl who is never fleshed out, and a wife who keeps saying her husband should see Dr. Frankfurter. Grade: D

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