With Jack Lemmon, Jack Gilford and Laurie Heineman.
Myra: “Are you okay? Do you want something?”
Harry Stoner: “Yes…I want that girl in a Cole Porter song. I wanna see Lena Horne at the Cotton Club – hear Billie Holiday sing “Fire and Mellow” – walk in that kind of rain that never washes perfume away. I wanna be in love with something – anything. Just the idea…a dog, a cat. Anything, just something…”
Jack Lemmon is known to most as the comedic partner of Walter Matthau. Those two made excellent comedies together, “The Odd Couple”, “The Fortune Cookie”, “Grumpy Old Men” – they are seriously two national treasures. Few from my generation know Jack Lemmon for his true talent; drama.
“Save the Tiger” is what Lemmon won his second Oscar for, this time in the lead actor category; his first was a supporting for “Mr. Roberts”. In “Save the Tiger” Lemmon gives a tour-de-force performance as Harry Stoner (great, great name) a man who has lost absolute control. He’s an alcoholic; his garment business is being audited by the IRS, and he’s going to have one of his factories burnt down and collect the insurance money to just survive.
We follow Harry through a 24 hour period. He awakes to a nightmare; he is soaked in sweat and begins his mundane morning routine. His wife makes meaningless conversation and all Harry can think about is baseball – old school baseball. He continuously mutters starting line-ups to himself.
As the film progresses, we just see how Harry’s life has fallen apart – everything in his life is broken. He begins to juggle his current problems along with the haunting memories of hitting the beaches of Italy during World War II.
He has frequent flashes and images that obstruct his day – he hears screams, and sees the faces of the fellow soldiers who were killed in action. As the film progresses, Lemmon becomes more and more drained. His suit becomes more wrinkled, and it is as if we can almost smell the cigar smoke and the booze that is imbedded into the fabric.
The only two things that give Harry some sort of ray of hope is his nostalgic musings of baseball and jazz. That’s it. Everything and everyone else is essentially meaningless to Harry and it is so painful to watch.
There is an incredible scene where Lemmon hooks up one of his clients with a call girl, and the client is into really kinky stuff (vibrators and finger paint) and has a heart attack during his time with the call girl. Lemmon rushes up to the hotel room and just gives a command performance. The only reason that he’s concerned for the man’s well being is that the man guaranteed Lemmon a $85,000 purchase. Jack Lemmon is nothing but seedy and awful, but you can’t help feeling bad for him.
Jack Gilford plays Harry’s straight-laced business partner Phil Greene. Gilford is wonderful and is the perfect balance to Lemmon in the film. Gilford picked up a Best Supporting Actor nomination and it is so well deserved. He gives a performance of a lifetime as the man who is trying to save the sinking ship that is Harry Stoner.
The ending of the film is as powerful of an ending that I have ever seen. I would say the last fifteen minutes or so made me cry. Lemmon just opens his heart, and spews all of his emotions onto us. This isn’t a great film – but Jack Lemmon gives a GREAT performance as a man who has fallen so far from grace there is no redemption for him.
All Harry Stoner wants is a second chance.