By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Desperate cry for help.
Inga (Anne Bancroft) is a middle-aged woman who has fallen into despair. She swallows a bottle of barbiturates and then in a last plea for help calls the local suicide hotline. On the other end is college student Alan Newell (Sidney Poitier) who is volunteering his time at the center and ill prepared for such a call. Despite this he manages to build a connection with her and the rest of the film deals with their conversation and Alan’s attempts at finding her location as well as flashbacks showing what brought Inga to such a desperate state.
This film will finally get its much awaited release onto both DVD and Blu-ray on October 16th and I highly recommend checking it out especially for those that can appreciate great film directing. This was Sydney Pollock’s directorial debut and his calculated touch is clearly what makes what could have otherwise just been a talky script into an intriguing visual showcase. The opening sequence showing an aerial shot of sprawling Seattle is excellent and sure to connect with those that live there. Pollock nicely adds some of the city’s unique architecture into the shots giving the fragmented narrative distinction. He also makes full use of the stark black and white photography. One of the most emotional and memorable scenes in the film is when Inga walks along a lonely beach and tries to help a crippled bird, which wouldn’t have been half as effective had it been done in color. Even the small things like watching a phone technician walking through rows and rows of telephone switchboards is captured with a pristine style that makes it intriguing. The pacing and editing is perfect and at no time does the film ever drag despite the fact that it could have done so if it had been put in less competent hands.
Poitier is exceptional in the lead. Initially I was put off with the idea of a 38 year old man still trying to play a college student, but Poitier is completely believable. It was nice seeing him in a role where the race card never came into play. The film cuts back and forth to the dramatic search by the police to find the woman, but in many ways I found Poitier’s banter with Inga and the many different psychological ploys he uses to try to connect with her far more riveting. Bancroft is equally as good and her distraught facial expressions leave an imprint. Steven Hill lends terrific support as her unhappy husband.
In the complaint department I felt that the music at the beginning seemed much too upbeat and jazzy for a film with such a somber subject. The Inga character gets unraveled too easily and quickly and certain viewers may be put off by her selfishness of trying to kill herself and abandoning her young son. The biggest issue though was with the ‘Hollywoodnized’ ending that devolved a bit too much into the cliché. Otherwise this is a sleeper waiting to be discovered.
Twenty-one years later Bancroft again starred in a film dealing with suicide only this time she played the person trying to talk the other one out of it. That film was entitled ‘Night Mother and will be reviewed on Monday.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: December 23, 1965
Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes
Rated NR (Not Rated)
Director: Sydney Pollock
Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray