The Man in the Glass Booth

1975 movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Arthur Goldman, a Holocaust survivor and successful Jewish businessman, lives in a ritzy pad overlooking New York City. A guy with an afro and an assistant named Charlie help meet his everyday needs, but they can't help noticing that their eccentric boss seems to be getting nuttier and nuttier with each passing day. Seemingly paranoid about the appearance and reappearance of a blue Mercedes, he has Charlie run some unusual errands. Eventually, men with guns burst in and arrest him, accusing him of being a Nazi war criminal instead of one of their victims. He's taken to Israel for a trial and is forced to sit in a dunking booth.

I'm not going to pretend to fully understand this movie, but it's one of those I can't stop thinking about hours after it's finished. I'm perplexed by the plot twists, bewildered by a large percentage of what Goldman said in both his apartment when talking to members of his posse or during the trial, and I'm confused by what was almost an indeterminate ending. But this is undeniably powerful, provocative, and emotionally difficult stuff. This is definitely not an easy movie at all, raising a lot more questions than it attempts to answer. I'm not Jewish and I'm not a Nazi, so maybe that's why I had a difficult time with it all. The movie's based on a Robert Shaw play and is very heavy on the dialogue, a lot of it spoken in a thick German accent. About 90% of what's said in this is spoken by Maximilian Schell as Goldman, essentially making this like a one-man show. And what a one-man show it is! He froths, he pontificates, he raves, he cracks joke, he moans. You feel sorry for him, you're amused by him, you want to watch him die and then fry in hell. Schell puts the audience on his back and, as you grasp some loose skin of his bald head, runs up and down hills and demands that you say, "Whee!" I said, "Whee!" His is truly one of the most remarkable and stunning performances I've ever seen. There are monologues that dropped my jaw and silent moments that he somehow managed to fill with an overwhelming intensity. It's the kind of character he probably needed numerous showers to wash off himself. He was nominated for the Oscar, but the prize went to Jack instead. Unforgettable, gripping stuff here. If you've not seen this, you should see it so that we can discuss it. It's definitely one of those movies you want to talk about immediately after you've watched it.


cory said...

I'll check it out, and call it a "five" if you like. Nobody ever talks about Schell. His performance in "Judgement at Nuremburg" is one of the best I have seen.

Shane said...

If I owe you one, I'll make this a "five"...

cory said...

This is like two films in one. During the first 45 minutes I grew increasingly bored and restless. I began to question your taste in movies and started to think about how I was going to tell you that this film was a major disappointment. The cinematography was washed out, 70's style. The action and acting were very stagey, with Schell over-the-top and the badly acted, wimpy, sycophantic Cohn character just plain annoying (actually, that never changed). I didn't really care for the Schell character and sure as hell didn't know what was going on. My mind began to wander and I wondered how much a penthouse with a Central Park view costs. Then I wondered if there are fewer insects when you are at the top of one of those buildings. Then the Israelis showed up and things livened up. Nobody can party like the Israelis.

Suddenly, I figured out what was going on. Whereas before I didn't care if I missed a word or two heavily accented Schell said, now I was hanging on every word. His hammy performance turned into an amazing one. I am a history buff, but I have rarely seen any film that was as good at bringing home the emotional impact and horror of the Holocaust, all with just one man's performance and words. I was most moved when you just hear the sounds of rallies and screams in his head.

I don't buy everything, and that first 45 minutes was less than it should have been, but this film packed a real punch and deserved to be recommeded. A 15, overall.
Any other recommendations?