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The Slender Thread

Posted by martinteller on December 15, 2012

It’s the night before finals, and student Alan Newell (Sidney Poitier) is working his volunteer gig at the crisis line.  He’s flying solo while boss Dr. Coburn (Telly Savalas) catches some time with his family.  Alan tries to hit the books, but a distressing call comes in.  “I need someone to talk to,” says the voice on the other end.  It’s Mrs. Inga Dyson (Anne Bancroft), and having been tormented by herself and her husband’s coldness after a past transgression came to light, she’s swallowed a handful of pills.  Now Alan needs to track down Coburn for assistance, and keep Inga on the line long enough for the authorities to find her.

Sydney Pollack’s directorial debut is an all-around solid piece of work.  Except for a few artful moments here and there (especially in Inga’s flashbacks) there’s nothing great about it, but there’s nothing to complain about either.  Despite being a little overcooked at times — Poitier tends to overdo it — it holds your attention with the simple premise and compassionate human drama.  The race to trace the call (reminiscent of The Night Holds Terror) and the flashbacks add variety so it’s not just 98 minutes of watching Poitier on the phone.

Race isn’t an issue in the film, it’s never mentioned but there are occasional subtle references to its being something that gives Alan empathy for Inga’s feelings of being an outsider.  As I said, Poitier cranks it up just a little too much in spots, but in general he’s in good form, and Bancroft runs a wide gamut of emotions.  One of the more unusual scenes takes place in a discotheque where Inga’s sexual desire is ignited by the rock music and gyrating dancers.  When her husband gives her the cold shoulder that night, the disappointment registers well on her face, not too much but just enough.  Savalas is okay, and you can keep an eye out for some early screen appearances by Dabney Coleman and Ed Asner.

The film also sports a good (though, like everything else, not exceptional) Quincy Jones score, some fine cinematography, and serves as an interesting location document for anyone curious about 1965 Seattle.  Again, it’s not an amazing film, but it’s completely watchable with a few nice flourishes.  Rating: Good (78)

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