Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. USA, . , , . Screenplay by . Cinematography by . Produced by , Steve Shagan. Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by . Academy Awards 1973. Golden Globe Awards 1973.
Screenwriter Steve Shagan barely conceals his contempt for contemporary culture with this drama about a clothing manufacturer ( in full Angry Everyman mode) who is sinking under the weight of his company’s financial failure. Unable to find a way out of his situation, he convinces his right hand man () that the best option is to hire someone to torch his factory and make off with the insurance money, something that a World War II veteran should be above but for the fact that the American values of the golden fifties are now lost in a haze of post-Watergate and Vietnam bitterness. Hippy culture in the form of a friendly hitchhiker (played by a lovely ) is a sign of the times that Lemmon doesn’t fear but cannot understand, while corruption in economics is something he doesn’t agree with but feels he cannot avoid. Lemmon is strong and consistent in the role that won him his second Academy Award (his first in a leading category) but it doesn’t come near showing him off as well as The Apartment or Some Like It Hot did; the man was capable of playing layers of suffering, to see him in a bad situation that he deals with in a consistently bad mood while giving dinner theater-worthy monologues about his baseball dreams is painfully on the nose Oscar bait that reads as pretentious and not enlightening (his one scene in the stadium in Missing is so much better than this entire movie). It doesn’t help that American cinema made much better examples of the era’s disillusionment in the years to come, like Taxi Driver and All The President’s Men, while the following year’s Harry and Tonto examined the disappointed dreams of the older set without being so sharply didactic about it. Director John G. Avildsen himself did a better job of examining the frustrations of a culture in contradiction with Joe, where the lesser cast pedigree allowed him to avoid the flavourless conservatism of this one.