Blu-ray review: “Save the Tiger” (1973)

“Save the Tiger” (1973)


Running Time: 100 minutes

Written by: Steve Shagan based on his own novel

Directed by: John G. Avildsen

Featuring: Jack Lemmon, Jack Gilford, Laurie Heineman, Thayer David, Lara Parker and Liv Lindeland

Myra: “Are you OK? Do you want something?”

Harry Stoner: “Yes. I want that girl in a Cole Porter song. I wanna see Lena Horne at the Cotton Club – hear Billie Holiday sing fine and mellow – walk in that kind of rain that never washes perfume away. I wanna be in love with something. Anything. Just the idea. A dog, a cat. Anything. Just something.”

Released recently on Blu-ray by the Imprint Label is the Oscar winning film “Save the Tiger” (1973) featuring Jack Lemmon in a career defining performance that also takes place in Los Angeles which itself plays a kind of role, especially looking back fifty years a kind pf time capsule as parts are filmed on external locations.

“Save the Tiger” is a character driven film that has a small plot contained within a fairly straight forward narrative, it has a man lying about his age, lying about his position in the community, unable to reconcile his present with his past, including his own experiences in World War II which relates to the Vietnam War carrying on in the background of the narrative. There is no doubt that Lemmon portraying Harry Stoner (whose name is itself not only a pun but reflective of his attitude) is a complex individual who for much of the running time is a lost in a milieu or friends, associates and family who do not understand him at all. This is a film that is of a time and place that we can never know fully but it does point to the future of how the world be shaped as well as the outcome of this period in US history.

The film itself is based around Harry Stoner (Jack Lemmon) the owner of a struggling Los Angeles apparel company. He and his partner Phil Greene (Jack Gilford), have kept it from collapsing by fraudulent accounting. While driving to work he picks up a young free-spirited hitchhiker on Sunset strip, Myra. She offers to have sex with him but he declines. With no legal way to keep the company from going under, Stoner considers torching his warehouse for the insurance settlement. Through it all, Harry drinks, laments the state of the world, and tries his best to keep the business rolling as usual.

Directed by John G. Avildsen who would become known later in his career as a director of sports movies such as “Rocky” (1976), “The Karate Kid” (1984), “The Karate Kid II” (1986), “The Karate Kid III” (1989) and “8 Seconds” (1994). However before these movies Avildsen directed some of the best counter culture movies including the Peter Boyle feature “Joe” (1970) and “Save the Tiger” fits in with this aspect of his career.

Harry Stoner is a man who, according to his own insights , is a good citizen. He employs something like 40 people, he contributes to the economy, he cares about his family, and he takes care of his business, although this last element is in dispute. That might be true although the 40 people he has on his machines are immigrants working for probably below the minimum wage, and he is an entitled white man who would not be looked at twice in the times we now live in. However even thought that is the case there are still elements of this story that resonate in today’s world, the idea of fighting for your county and the scars that leaves as well as survivors guilt and what loss actually means to a person. It also asks what it means to be a man in the early 1970s, the lengths that a person will go to just to keep the status quo and defy stepping into the unknown especially when the last time you did that you ended up in a war.

There is no doubt this is a flawed film, especially looking back to a time that seems quaint, although times have not changed that much and this is proven in Harry’s actions throughout “Save the Tiger”, which is apparent from the start. He speaks Spanish to his housekeeper, he gives a girl a ride in the city, when he is propositioned he declines her, we think he is an ok if not a little depressed middle aged man, we even laugh when tells Myra, the girl he gives a lift to, that he is in his early 30s. Once Harry gets to work things take a little turn when he has an argument with his designer and we find out that he is seriously in trouble with the IRS, his bank and with his customers. Harry not only organises someone to burn a warehouse of his to the ground for the insurance money, but also gets one of his customers a Hotel room with a couple of escorts. All of this speaks to a lot about the human condition, the most obvious thing is that as human beings we are able to more than one thing at any one time, even when these elements conflict with one another. Within the narrative of “Save the Tiger” it is the idea that historic trauma is real and can physically manifest itself when we least expect it, the film also illustrates how a life can be altered fundamentally from an event. All of this is told through Jack Lemmon’s performance which is excellent, it also shows an actor who is changing with the times, it is also an echo of his performance as Shelly in the amazing Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), one of Lemmon’s greatest along with “Save the Tiger”.

I recommend this highly as a true classic and an important film in terms of Jack Lemmon but also as a snapshot of how times were and how they really have not changed a whole lot.

Special Features

  • 1080p High-definition presentation by Paramount Pictures on Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary by director John G. Avildsen and producer/writer Steve Shagan
  • Audio commentary by film historian/filmmaker Daniel Kremer
  • Ammo for Shooting Clouds: John G. Avildsen Before Rocky – video essay by film historian/filmmaker Daniel Kremer
  • Interview with film director Lloyd Kauffman
  • It’s All Just Good Acting – interview with actress Laurie Heineman
  • Vintage Interview with Jack Lemmon (1973)
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1

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