Blog Directory CineVerse: Add Harry to the endangered species list

Add Harry to the endangered species list

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Long before he helmed the first Rocky film, John G. Avildsen commanded attention for Save the Tiger, released in 1973 and starring Jack Lemmon as Harry Stoner, a businessman who is struggling to save his failing clothing company in Los Angeles. Stoner is faced with a variety of challenges, including the declining quality of his products, his mounting debt, and the increasing competition from foreign companies. As the pressure mounts, Stoner becomes increasingly desperate and turns to illegal and unethical means to save his business. Along the way, he is forced to confront his values and the toll that his actions are taking on himself and those around him.

The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Jack Lemmon, who claimed the statuette for this role (to listen to a recording of our CineVerse group discussion of this film conducted last week, click here).

What makes Save the Tiger stand out? It depicts merely a day and a half in the life of its main character, representing a relatively small sample size but a consequential short-term period that underscores Harry's midlife crisis and existential angst. Additionally, the performances by Lemmon and Jack Greene elevate this picture to a higher plateau and prevent Save the Tiger from being a dated character study.

The narrative has an episodic nature that strings together several vignettes and key scenes involving conversations between Harry and a single character. It’s the interplay between Harry and each of these other figures that sheds light on his personality and Harry’s dilemmas.

This movie would have spoken more strongly to contemporary audiences in 1973, many of whom would have been fatigued by Watergate, the Vietnam War, sociocultural conflicts between the Establishment and the counterculture, and high inflation.

Unfortunately, Save the Tiger is sometimes a bit too on the nose and its exploration of moral quandaries and thematic quandaries, including the implication that the real tiger that needs saving is Harry and the visually symbolic scene where Harry is suffering a war flashback.

Indeed, it’s hard to miss the movie’s sledgehammered central theme: feeling irrelevant and displaced in a quickly changing world. Harry yearns for the simpler times of his youth, an era, for example, when sports, movies, business, and America overall were better and he had a stronger romantic relationship with his wife. Like the tiger he is asked to sign a petition to save, Harry represents a near-extinct breed of men who made sacrifices for their country in World War II but who now feel out of place and experience traumatic wartime memories and survivor’s guilt.

Save the Tiger also explores compounding immorality. Harry is tempted to do increasingly immoral things to keep his business afloat and find joy and meaning in life, including hiring prostitutes for clients, covering up his client’s heart attack, having an arsonist torch his office for an insurance payout, and sleeping with a hitchhiker he just met. wrote: “The film certainly represents the slippery slope of wrongdoing. It can be inferred, coincidentally just before Watergate came to light, that small crimes only lead to larger crimes. Harry is so cynical, he sees little distinction. “Arson or fraud, it is the same accommodations,” he declares.”

The flaws of capitalism are fully on display, as well. Save the Tiger demonstrates how businesses need to cut corners, make compromises, and even – in extreme circumstances – risk lives to stay alive. Nathan Rabin of the AV Club wrote: “(The film) never allows viewers to forget that it's also about the ethics and morality of capitalism—capitalism as warfare, capitalism as prostitution, and the conflict between a rosy, idealized conception of nostalgic American innocence and the raucous, irreverent rebellion of the counterculture.”

Similar works

  • Glengarry Glen Ross
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • The Paper
  • American Beauty
  • Death of a Salesman

Other films by John G. Avildsen

  • Rocky
  • The Karate Kid
  • Lean on Me

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