Save the Tiger (1972)

by | Jan 4, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Save the Tiger (1972)

Starring: Jack Lemmon, Jack Gilford, Patricia Smith
Directed by: John Avildsen
Studio: Paramount
Video: 1.78:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital mono
Subtitles: English
Extras: Commentary by director John G. Avildsen & writer Steve Shagan
Length: 100 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

Jack Lemmon won an Academy Award  for best actor in 1973 for his role in Save the Tiger. The story is a tragic tale of a good, decent human being who in a struggle for keeping his business afloat, has lost his soul. The script is excellent, very realistic, covering 24 hours in the life of Harry Stoner (Lemmon). This film could have been a great play! Harry has had a successful clothing manufacturing business with a lot of employees for many years. Lately he’s fallen on hard times and just last year juggled the books with the help of his long time accountant and friend Phil Greene (Jack Gilford, nominated for best supporting actor). So desperate is Harry that he meets with a professional arsonist to plan the torching of one of his buildings for the insurance money.

In the opening scene Harry is slowly waking up from a nightmare. We soon see trappings of his wealth and of his discontent. The strong sense is of isolation, so when his wife Janet (Patricia Smith) finally emerges from under the covers on her side of the bed, it is a surprise to see another person in the room. She’s flying to a funeral that day. Harry is moving at high velocity, arriving at his factory he deals with a bitter conflict between a valued elderly Jewish-emigre craftsman, Meyer (William Hanson) and a haughty young gay designer, functions as “pimp” for an important out of town client (with scary and unexpected results), debates with Phil (brilliantly played by Jack Gilford in an uncharacteristic role) over his arson scheme, and on and on. Harry muses with intense nostalgia over baseball and big band music, longing for a more innocent time. He even finds time for encountering at some length a young hippie girl hitchhiking on the sunset strip. In a long distance conversation, Harry’s wife realizes he is falling apart but is helpless to intervene.

Harry  is haunted by survivor guilt–he fought in World War II and is questioning the value of what he’s been doing with his time since the war. In one scene when he’s addressing the chic attendees of his annual fashion show where writing a lot of business is crucial, Harry looks out and sees his fellow soldiers instead of the audience. This film presents a splendid portrayal of the way  in which war erodes the spirit. Particularly poignant is the scene where Harry stands gazing out one morning at a Los Angeles beach, hearing battle sounds he once heard when he was fighting on an Italian beach in  1944.

This country was in a state of revolution in 1972. Nixon was about to be forced out of office, the black movement was gaining greater momentum, cities were burning. Save the Tiger was the first American film that mentioned Vietnam and one that showed realistically what the 70’s were like in America.

The audio commentary by director John Avildsen (Rocky, The Karate Kid) and producer/writer Steve Shagan is well worth listening to. They reminisce about the struggles of getting the movie developed and produced , what Lemmon was like to direct (he was “a peach”), working with the great cast, etc. They have some great stories to tell.  Avildsen and Shagan describe how the limitations of money and time meant having to shoot long scenes with a minimum of cuts – which actually benefited the film. It is an oversight that the audio commentary is not listed on the DVD box.

This 30 year old film could have been cleaned up better. The transfer lacks sharpness, and is only average in terms of contrast and detail. The vibrancy of the color is inconsistent. But considering that there’s a grittiness about many of the scenes (the locations used were real to cut costs–the factory, other interior locations,  many street scenes), it does not seem like a loss that all the colors are not vibrant. The Dolby Digital mono is unimpressive with some hiss during quiet parts. These are only imperfections and they do not impact in a significant way the value of viewing this movie.

Recommended primarily for Lemmon’s fine acting and an insightful story of America in the 1970s. The directing, writing and every member of the support cast are all superb.

– Donna Dorsett


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