Harry Stoner (Jack Lemmon, in an Oscar-winning role) has his back to the wall the president of Capri Casuals, a struggling fashion house, he's facing an audit, burned out on a life fraught with extravagant trappings (a daughter in a Swiss boarding school, maids, lavish house) and yearning for simpler times, when he was a youth enamored of baseball. In director John G. Avildsen's quietly desperate Save The Tiger, 36 hours in Harry's life unfold like a surreal, blue-collar nightmare with Lemmon's increasingly manic performance, Avildsen's refusal to stoop to melodrama and writer/producer Steve Shagan's keenly observed screenplay, Save The Tiger is achingly relevant and a mesmerizing showcase for Lemmon. After awaking in a cold sweat, Harry groggily rolls out of bed, already exhausted before he's even taken a shower and woken his wife, Janet (Patricia Smith). As she prepares to leave for a family funeral in New York, Harry makes his way into the office, catching up on business with his partner Phil Greene (Jack Gilford) the company's deeply in debt, the fall line is debuting in a matter of hours and buyers are clamoring for Harry's attention. Throughout the day, he encounters a hitchhiking prostitute (Laurie Heineman), arranges for a Capri Casuals warehouse to be torched by a professional, Charlie Robbins (Thayer David) and even suffers a poorly timed flashback to the beaches of Anzio. By the film's climax, Harry is spiritually wrung out, spent from trying to spread himself too thin, both morally and financially. A weary sense of inevitability pervades Save The Tiger from the opening frames, which escalates throughout thanks to its drab, claustrophobic settings and Avildsen's neat device of employing visual references to jail, being trapped and time running out. The restless, episodic narrative, driven in part by a helpless, righteous fury at America's divisive nature circa filming (the production was filmed in 1972, at the height of Watergate, Vietnam and social upheaval) is redolent of Scotch and flop sweat; Save The Tiger's Harry Stoner is quietly mad as hell and by the film's climax, hasn't refused to take it anymore but rather has accepted it as his fate there are, appropriately enough, faint echoes of David Mamet's Shelley "The Machine" Levene in Lemmon's work here, predating Glengarry Glen Ross by a good decade. Lemmon was justly awarded an Oscar for his perceptive, tightly wound performance of a man drowning in a seemingly perfect life.
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