By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Mailman kidnaps suburban housewife.
Ben Harris (Eli Wallach) is a middle-aged mailman living in a crummy, rundown basement apartment. He is bitter and angry at the world around him, which he feels is filled with a lot of vapid followers to a rigid and dehumanizing system. When his upstairs neighbor puts a hole in his roof and both his landlord and the housing authority refuse to do anything about it he decides to kidnap a young beautiful women as a form of insurrection. Instead he mistakenly nabs middle-aged housewife Gloria (Anne Jackson) who has similar issues and the two slowly form a budding friendship.
The screenplay is written by Murray Schisgal and is based on his one-act, two-character off-Broadway play ‘The Tiger’. The film is filled with a lot of diverting, offbeat humor some of which works and some of it doesn’t. I liked the part where Gloria’s neighbor Leo (John Harkins) gets his entire family on their knees to pull out crabgrass from their otherwise ‘perfect’ lawn and we eventually see them tear the entire lawn to bits from a bird’s-eye view and in fast-motion. Wallach’s confrontation with Sudie Bond inside the housing authority office is also amusing, but his attempts at kidnapping a woman come off too much like Wiley E. Coyote trying to get the roadrunner and turn the film into an ill-advised live action cartoon.
Director Arthur Hiller does a fabulous job of disguising the fact that this was originally a play. The editing is quick and the locales varied particularly at the beginning. The pace has a kinetic late 60’s feel, which gives it a certain time capsule quality. However the choice of music, which includes a studio group singing the film’s theme, is quite sterile.
Wallach gives a flawless performance and Jackson is also good. The two have been married since 1948 making them Hollywood’s longest lasting couple. Unfortunately the scenes of the two of them inside the apartment are rather stagnant and the one-time that the film gets boring.
There are also some great supporting performances including Rae Allen as a paranoid woman who thinks every man is a potential stalker and Charles Nelson Reilly as a goofy college registrar. The film also marks the film debuts of Dustin Hoffman and Mariclare Costello as his jilted girlfriend, Bob Dishy as an exasperated husband and John P. Ryan as an escort to a female impersonator. You can also spot a young Joe Santo inside the housing authority office and Frances Sternhagen as a passenger on a bus as well as Barbara Colby who in 1975 ended up getting murdered in mysterious and yet unsolved circumstances.
The one error that I noticed in the film is the gaping hole in Ben’s apartment ceiling somehow gets strangely taken care of and is nonexistent when he comes back to the place with his victim. I realize this movie borders on the bizarre and quirky to begin with, but I still felt there needed to be some explanation for that and none is given.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: August 18, 1967
Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes
Director: Arthur Hiller
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Available: None at this time.