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SLENDER THREAD, THE (director: Sydney Pollack; screenwriters: David Rayfiel/Stirling Silliphant/suggested by a story in Life magazine by Shana Alexander; cinematographer: Loyal Griggs; editor: Thomas Stanford; music: Quincy Jones; cast: Sidney Poitier (Alan Newell), Anne Bancroft (Inge Dyson), Telly Savalas (Dr. Joe Coburn), Steven Hill (Mark Dyson), Edward Asner (Det. Judd Ridley), Indus Arthur (Marian), Greg Jarvis (Chris Dyson), Paul Newlan (Sgt. Harry Ward), Dabney Coleman (Charlie); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Stephen Alexander; Paramount; 1965)
“Suffers from a slight soap opera story that fails to hold together for 98 minutes.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The feature film directing debut of actor-turned-director Sydney Pollack (“Out Of Africa”/”The Firm”/”Absence of Malice”) is more or less a showy acting exercise for the two featured talented stars, Poitier and Bancroft, but it’s also a well-crafted work for the first-time director. It mostly suffers from a slight soap opera story that fails to hold together for 98 minutes. Pollack was short-changed by Stirling Silliphant’s banal screenplay, who adapted it from a story in Life magazine by Shana Alexander (her husband Stephen is the film’s producer). The hotline suicide melodrama, shot in black and white, seemed more artificial than realistic, though being realistic seemed to be the goal. It was filmed on location at the University of Washington and in Seattle.

It’s set in Seattle’s Crisis Clinic, where ambitious university student Alan Newell (Sidney Poitier) is a volunteer working the phones. When the paid office psychologist Dr. Coburn (Telly Savalas) is out, Alan receives a phone call from Mrs. Inge Dyson (Anne Bancroft) who has taken an overdose of barbiturates but will not reveal where she can be reached. The film’s slender thread is that Alan has to keep the determined suicidal woman on the phone until the police can trace the call, or else she’s a goner. There’s a sign hanging in the clinic that says “Every two minutes someone attempts suicide in America.”

In the phone talk, it’s found out that Inge is distraught because her fisherman hubby Mark (Steven Hill) can’t forgive her for deceiving him all these years into believing their 13-year-son Chris (Greg Jarvis) is his when he in fact has a different biological father as a result of a premarital affair. Sgt. Harry Ward (Paul Newlan) leads the police investigation in tracing the call and gathering information about Mrs. Dyson that will help, including her previous hospitalization for a suicide attempt. Det. Judd Ridley (Edward Asner) plays the dedicated police detective who drives around the city trying to find her as leads turn up. At the last minute Mark is brought to the Crisis Clinic when located on his fishing boat, as the suspense builds as to whether his wife can be rescued in time.

This might be a real slice of life movie but even though it covers something that’s a life or death situation that has the potential to be a moving story, that never materialized as the story never connected dramatically and the tension never hit home. Only the black man Poitier seemed to be elated that he was able to keep the rich white lady on the line, as others in the cast seemingly had unexcited looks by the time the climax rolled around (mirroring my boredom).


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”