Just prior to the dawn of the Reagan era, Jay Presson Allen and Sidney Lumet teamed up for this fine, overlooked adaptation of Allen's 1975 novel of high comedy, that brutally satirizes the New York elite from within. Alan King stars as Max Herschel, an industrial overlord in the Trump and Buffett mold. At the outset, Max's manipulations have sent his fragile wife (Dina Merrill) to a mental institution, threaten to drive his mistress/protégé, "Bones" Burton (Ali MacGraw), into the arms of a failing playwright, and leave Max vulnerable to canny movie studio head Seymour Berger (Keenan Wynn). Lumet and Allen ultimately set the stage for a series of near-conniptions and nervous breakdowns when everything that Max has learned to rely on as stable and predictable comes raining down onto the poor man's head. By the second half, the film explodes into a battle of egos between lovers Herschel and Burton, as Lumet and Allen aim their sights, more broadly, at kissing off the Manhattan elite, with its grotesque subculture of Bergdorf-Goodman garments, Bulgari jewels, and private planes. This material is tricky enough that the film could have gone dreadfully wrong, but much of it works, thanks largely to its pitch-perfect tone that enables us to never lose sight of Max's vulnerabilities. The onscreen events might come across as hostile or even tragic were it not for the razor-sharp precision -- and glee -- with which the filmmakers unveil the desperate, whiny child at Max's core, the need for say in every arena that he can get his mitts on. He's obnoxious and grating, but also - as scripted by Allen and played by King - too hilarious and pathetic to ever warrant any serious dislike or disgust. Even before the roof over his head begins to collapse, Herschel perpetually breaches the edge of absurdity. Other elements of the film are also uniformly strong, including its satirical dialogue and a superb ensemble cast including MacGraw, Myrna Loy, Tony Roberts and Peter Weller. Unfortunately, audiences didn't agree with this assessment, and the film bombed, practically opening and closing overnight. Lumet and Allen's careers continued unabated, however, and they reteamed immediately afterward for the better-received
Prince of the City (1981).
All Movie Guide - Nathan Southern