By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: He’s lost his memory.
A man (James Garner) wakes up one morning to find himself on a bench in Central Park unaware of how he got there or who he is. He finds a crumpled up piece of paper in his coat pocket with a phone number scribbled on it and when he calls it a woman by the name of Gloria (Angela Lansbury) answers, but talking to her makes him even more confused. He then spends the day wandering around the city while coming up with the name Buddwing after he spots the word Budweiser on a passing truck and then looks up into the sky and sees the wings of a jet plane. He bumps into women who remind him of someone that he knows as Grace, but every time he meets someone it just leads to more dead ends and things get even worse when he’s mistaken as being an escapee from a mental hospital.
The film is based on a novel by Evan Hunter and initially holds some intrigue. I was impressed by the flashy camera work during the opening shot and I was hoping especially with its evocative black-and-white cinematography and jazz score by Kenyon Hopkins that this would have a strong cinema vertite feel, but any potentially artsy style gets lost by a draggy script that bogs down in Buddwing’s past romantic memories that amounts to nothing more than extended talky scenes that cripples the mystery angle until you end up not caring what the answers are.
Garner’s usual appeal gets seriously strained, which is probably why in his memories ‘The Garner Files’ he calls this “The worst movie I ever made” and then asks “What was I thinking?”. Normally I admire actors that are willing to go out of their safety zone, but his constant deer-in-headlights expression becomes tiring to see and the crying that he does while inside Lansbury’s apartment seems insincere.
The one’s that come off best are the four women that he bumps into as he wanders around. All are portrayed by famous leading ladies: the fore mentioned Lansbury as well as Suzanne Pleshette, Katherine Ross, and Jean Simmons who give outstanding performances and helps keep the otherwise rocky picture afloat. However, during the flashback sequences the different actresses all end up playing the same Grace at different times, which I found confusing and off-putting.
The explanation for Buddwing’s amnesia, which apparently ends up being just the result of having some stressful event occurring in his life, is highly suspect as I’ve not read of this happening to anyone in real-life, or if it does it is extremely rare. Not only does the credibility get pushed, but Delbert Mann’s direction, with the exception of the opening shot, lacks creativity, which makes this already flat story even more of a strain to sit through.
Released: October 11, 1966
Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes
Director: Delbert Mann
Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube