Monday, June 2, 2008

TCM's Sydney Pollack tribute

I've been remiss in posting the details of TCM's tribute to the late Oscar-winning director Sydney Pollack. That tribute is airing tonight, and features four of Pollack's movies:
The Slender Thread at 8:00 PM ET;
Three Days of the Condor at 10:00 PM;
Tootsie at midnight; and
Jeremiah Johnson at 2:00 AM.

I commented on Tootsie when Pollack died, so today I'll recommend The Slender Thread instead. Sidney Poitier stars as a psychology student who, as part of his coursework, is manning a crisis hotline. One day, he gets a call from Anne Bancroft, who tells him that not only is she suicidal, she's actually taken the pills necessary to kill herself. It's now a race against time: Poitier has to keep her on the line in order that the phone company can trace the call, but there's another good reason for keeping her on the line, namely, that keeping her talking makes it slightly less likely that the sleeping pill overdose will knock her out and hasten her death. I can imagine this would be a difficult enough situation for an experienced psychologist, and for a student like Poitier's character, it must be extremely nerve-wracking. Of course, Hollywood has a relative amateur put into the situation, as it's a natural part of the formula for creating more tension and suspense. Indeed, the formula had been used before by Hollywood, in movies such as Fourteen Hours, where Paul Douglas plays the part of the inexperienced man trying to prevent a suicide to Richard Basehart's man threatening to jump off a building ledge.

Despite the fact that it may seem formulaic, The Slender Thread delivers an effective dose of tension and suspense. Pollack got excellent performances from the two leading stars, and the rest of the cast is filled with names that should be familiar from watching TV: Telly Savalas plays the professional psychologist who set up the hotline; Ed Asner is a police detective; Steven Hill, who spent many years on one of the "Law and Order" shows, plays Bancroft's husband; and Dabney Coleman has a small role, too. For those living in Seattle, watch for the vintage location shots.

Unfortunately, The Slender Thread does not seem to be available on DVD, so you'll have to catch it tonight.

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