Hal Holbrook, Louise Fletcher, Peter Armstrong, Elizabeth Berridge, Steve Austin and Jose Ferrer
9 out of 10 / A-
REGION CODE: 0
Region All / Free DVD-R (playable worldwide)
Hal Holbrook, as reliably strong an actor as they come, plays Paul Steward, a successful publisher of a scientific journal, and married with three children. The character is introduced to the audience as he begins what will become a tragic day, his gloomy narration immediately setting the tone for the film and, in no uncertain terms, announcing that he intends to kill his family and himself. One of the first hints of Paul's dementia is when he climbs into bed with his sleeping wife, Miriam (Louise Fletcher, tremendous), and masturbates against her back. Waking, she blithely asks for a tissue; clearly she is not new to this routine.
Through his matter-of-fact recitations of a life lived, Paul reveals that his marriage to Miriam is in tatters, partly because she suffered a nervous breakdown years earlier and has not recovered. He describes how he feels estranged from his kids (of whom we learn virtually nothing), and that his work no longer yields even marginal satisfaction. He is implacably unhappy and an inveterate existentialist. Throughout the fateful day chronicled, Paul behaves with finality, summarily and cavalierly rejecting articles proffered for his magazine, spending his lunch hour in an orgiastic session at a nearby brothel, then listening halfheartedly as his friend, Harry (Jose Ferrer, outstanding in a small role), a Holocaust survivor who takes note of Paul's despair, tries to counsel him.
Finally, Miriam, aware of her husband's violent ideation, makes a heartfelt, lucid plea for his heart and mind. Paul listens, stone-faced, before the shot freeze-frames on him, and the soundtrack crackles with a news report of the mass-murder-suicide to come. Writer-Director Kanew, who has yet to again craft something as substantial as this, handles the sensitive material with the earnestness it requires, and he has a top-flight cast to buttress his work. The dialogue is rife with meaningful ruminations on the origins of happiness.