Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A DELICATE BALANCE

Katharine Hepburn and Paul Scofield













A DELICATE BALANCE (1973).  Director: Tony Richardson. Play by Edward Albee. AFT [American Film Theatre] production.

"I can't stand the selfishness. Those who want to die and take their whole lives to do it." 

"I was not and never had been an alcoholic. I had nothing in common with them. They were sick. And I was merely willful."

Agnes (Katharine Hepburn) and Tobias (Paul Scofield of A Man for All Seasons) are a married couple who live in an upscale Connecticut community.  Also living with them is Agnes' sister, Claire (Kate Reid of She Cried Murder). who has a "drinking problem" whether she wants to admit it or not, and is continuously berated by Agnes. The couple's daughter, Julie (Lee Remick of The Omen), is also coming home when it looks as if her fourth marriage is going to wind up on the rocks along with the first three. But the strangest house guests are Agnes and Toby's best friends, Harry (Joseph Cotten) and Edna (Betsy Blair), who come over to stay when they suffer a panic attack [over encroaching age, fear of death, fear of losing one another?] that absolutely terrifies them. They move into Julia's bedroom, but when she returns Julia is horrified to realize that her parents aren't going to ask them to leave. They are friends, yes, but she's their daughter. Yet Harry and Edna seem to think they have more right to the room than she has. This situation brings out all the tensions in the family (albeit most of them were out already) making the atmosphere even more poisonous... A Delicate Balance won Edward Albee a Pulitzer Prize --  although it was back in the days when most Pulitzers went to wealthy white guys like Albee. Albee isn't the first person to write about a dysfunctional family and others have done it better [for instance, this in no way compares to O'Neill's brilliant Long Day's Journey into Night]. If Delicate Balance  has anything going for it it's some excellent -- if occasionally dated --  dialogue, but the people are perhaps more dreary than interesting. As with Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe the playwright resorts to black comedy -- and much of this is quite funny -- when all else fails. The characters (archetypes that border on stereotypes) are more obscure than well-developed, as if they were all people Albee knew but he isn't able to make them really come alive for anyone who didn't personally experience them. This is left for the actors to do, and they do their best, even if the casting isn't perfect. Hepburn and Scofield are quite good, Remick is fine, Reid quite intense, Cotten actually gives one of the best performances of his career, and Blair, while a cut below the others, has some excellent moments. The acting and situations hold your attention, but ultimately this is unsatisfying, and hardly a really great drama.

Verdict: A lot of talk, some of it interesting, that ultimately goes nowhere. **1/2.

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