Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 1965. Stephen Alexander Productions. Screenplay by Stirling Silliphant, based on the article by Shana Alexander. Cinematography by Loyal Griggs. Produced by Stephen Alexander. Music by Quincy Jones. Production Design by Hal Pereira, Jack Poplin. Costume Design by Edith Head. Film Editing by Thomas Stanford. Academy Awards 1965. Golden Globe Awards 1965.
Sidney Poitier plays a university psychology student who volunteers the odd late night at a local crisis centre. On a routine shift, he takes the call from a woman (Anne Bancroft) who announces that she has just taken a bottle full of pills and just wants to talk to someone as she slowly slips away. Keeping her on the phone while trying not to let her know about all the authorities he has contacted, Poitier does his best to find out as much information as he can, speaking to her about the circumstances of her life that have lead to this point but also hoping to figure out where she is so she can be saved. Bancroft’s narrating her problems leads to flashbacks in which she’s an office clerk whose husband is a fisherman, living a happy life in an attractive suburban home with their son. Her husband has found out something about her past that he can’t get over, and she figures that erasing herself from the equation will straighten things out. This entertaining drama is the debut of the great Sydney Pollack and speaks to his strengths for character and storytelling that he would show in later, more dazzling works like They Shoot Horses Don’t They and Out of Africa. Even without all the dramatized scenes, the excitement of Poitier putting on a one-man show in the call centre would make for great theatre on film, but Bancroft’s sympathetic portrayal of her character’s desperation is a welcome distraction. Added to this is the pleasure of the film’s value as a time capsule of support services and technology, just the scenes of watching telephone operators tracing the call in their giant rooms full of wires and networks is fascinating.