cast: Maximilian Schell, Lois Nettleton, Luther Adler, and Lawrence Pressman
director: Arthur Hiller
112 minutes (12) 1975
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
inD Classic DVD Region 0 retail
reviewed by Gary Couzens
Alfred Goldman (Maximilian Schell) is a seriously rich Jewish businessman living in a New York penthouse. But he’s beginning to see things – his father, who was killed at Auschwitz, selling pretzels in the street, a man in Nazi uniform. Then one day, Israeli intruders burst in and abduct him to Israel. For this man is not Goldman, but Carl Adolf Dorff, and is to be put on trial for war crimes. Or is he?
Robert Shaw was well known as an actor, but he also wrote novels and plays. The Man In The Glass Booth began life as a novel, but at the urging of Harold Pinter he turned it into a play. This film version became part of the American Film Theatre, an effort to film contemporary and classic plays and to preserve some fine performances. Until the very end we’re unsure if Goldman/Dorff is really a Nazi in disguise or a Jew overwhelmed by survivors’ guilt. It’s even possible to read the film as in part a fantasy playing inside the central character’s head, with reality breaking down entirely around the halfway mark. Either way, he’s obsessed with the nature of Jewishness. Shaw – and screenplay writer Edward Anhalt – give their central character a torrent of dialogue, laden with allusion and quotation, which is a pleasure to listen to, and quite appropriate for a character who is to some extent a self-constructed one. (Shaw disapproved of changes to his play and had his name removed from the credits, though apparently he changed his mind when he saw the final film version. However, by then it was too late, and Shaw died suddenly of a heart attack shortly afterwards.)
At the centre of The Man In The Glass Booth is an overwhelming performance from Maximilian Schell, which received Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. (Donald Pleasance played the role on stage, undoubtedly very differently.) It’s a very flamboyant performance, just this side of overacting and outright scenery chewing, but is saved by the recognition that for all the intellectuality, wit and dazzle, there’s nothing inside this character.
The film isn’t flawless. Arthur Hiller has always been a particularly style-less director, and he does nothing to aid, or to be fair stand in the way of, this film. It has a flat, almost televisual look – which at least is no impediment to small screen viewing. But the dialogue and the leading performance are what matters and they hold a grip on you until the very end.
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This DVD, encoded for all regions, is part of a series of releases of American Film Theatre productions. The transfer is anamorphic, in a ratio of 16:9, and tends to be rather grainy and soft. The soundtrack is Dolby digital 2.0 mono. For such a dialogue-dependent film, the distributor’s decision not to include English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing is unforgivable.
As with other AFT releases, there are quite a few extras. Arthur Hiller talks about The Man In The Glass Booth and Richard Peña, director of the New York Film Festival, gives an overview of the entire AFT project (an interview also featured on the DVD of The Homecoming). Both interviews are substantial ones, lasting over 20 minutes each. There are trailers for The Man In The Glass Booth and other releases in the series: A Delicate Balance, Butley, The Homecoming, The Iceman Cometh, Rhinoceros, Three Sisters, The Maids, Luther, and Lost In The Stars. The AFT cine-bill for The Man In The Glass Booth contains two articles: A Note From Arthur Hiller and On The Trial And The Mind Of Adolf Eichmann. The remaining extras are a stills gallery, poster reproductions, an article Robert Shaw And The Man In The Glass Booth by Michael Feingold, and a filmed message from AFT producer Ely Landau.