Sydney Pollack's feature film directorial debut The Slender Thread is a moody and tense dramatic picture shot in stark black and white that succeeds more on the strengths of the performances it showcases more than on the storytelling itself.
The picture tells the tale of a middle aged woman named Inga Dyson (Anne Bancroft) who has grown incredibly unhappy with what her life has become. Fed up with it all, she opts to chug down a large quantity of barbiturates and expects that they will kill her in the next hour and a half or so. At this point, she calls a suicide hotline where a young man named Alan Newell (Sidney Poitier) is putting in some volunteer hours manning the phones for the man who runs the place, Dr. Joe Coburn (Telly Savalas). Complicating matters for Inga is the fact that her husband Mark (Steven Hill), a fisherman who is away from home on his boat a lot, has just learned that the nine year old boy she gave birth to is not his. His reaction to this news is basically the main cause of Inga's suicide attempt, something which Alan is trying desperately over the phone to prevent. As the minutes pass, Inga's time quickly running out, Alan does what he can to get her address out of her and get help on the way before she passes on.
While the story, as simple as it is, is effective enough, as mentioned it's the acting here that really sells this one. At this point in his life, Poitier was in his late thirties but it's not hard to buy him at all as a college age young man and he really sells himself in the role. Not only that, but he's completely believable in the concern that he shows for Bancroft's character and it's interesting to see his character change as they develop this relationship over the phone (they never do appear on camera together for even one second in this movie - which is rare for leading players). Bancroft is also very good here, using body language and facial expressions to communicate just as much as she is able to with her dialogue. The script has enough solid psychology behind it to pull you in to what is, in essence, little more than a ninety minute conversation between two very different people. Poitier's character is written as intelligent and genuinely caring, Bancroft's as conflicted and obviously quite depressed. Supporting efforts from Hill as the husband, Savalas as the doctor and Ed Asner as a cop are also very strong, all involved really seem to turn in very good work here.
Pollack delivers a well put together film here. We learn most of Inga's story and more specifically the reason behind her choice to take her own life despite having a nine year old kid to care for by way of some well played and well timed flashback scenes. Some interesting metaphors are used in the film as well - the perfect example being when Bancroft's Inga goes to the liquor store and passes some kids trying to help an injured bird, only to see on her way back that the kids have become disinterest and left the poor thing there to die. Some nice photography also captures the Seattle of the late sixties so we get some interesting time capsule footage here as well.
The camerawork is quite good throughout the movie as well, with good use of close ups employed to emphasis drama and feeling throughout the movie. This is one that might have worked better in color than it does but in black and white as it was made, we do get some nice work with shadow that helps to give the movie some nice and moody visual flair. Though the score in the film sometimes feels a little too jazzy to appropriately reflect the dark path which the movie is going to follow, this isn't a constant problem, more of a noticeable but thankfully occasional one. The movie's biggest flaw is that the ending happens a little too quickly and a little too conveniently and as such it does take something from the film's plausibility factor. That's not to say that the movie couldn't end the way that it does, rather, that the circumstances surrounding that finish happen more easily than they might in the real world.
Ultimately, however, the good does very definitely outweigh the bad. At the time that the movie was made it had to have been taking some chances what with the themes and concepts that it so effectively exploits and given the caliber of talent involved with the picture, it's surprising that the picture isn't as well known as it should be. Hopefully this release from Olive Films will help to rectify that.
The Slender Thread arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1.85.1 transfer in 1080p high definition. Like other transfers from Olive Films, this Blu-ray has been mastered from elements that appear to have been in very nice shape but which haven't been given any sort of massive restoration. Mild print damage is present, mostly just small white specks here and there, and there are occasionally small scratches to be spotted periodically. Overall though, the movie does look pretty good. Detail is strong, the black and white image shows nice contrast, shadow detail is pleasing and texture is frequently impressive. This isn't a reference quality transfer but it is definitely a solid representation of the movie.
The only audio option on the disc is a DTS-HD Mono track, in English, with no alternate language options or subtitles of any kind provided. The audio here, overall, is fine. The dialogue is clean and clear and there are no problems understanding the performers throughout the movie. The score sounds pretty strong but doesn't overpower anything and there are no issues with any serious hiss or distortion. A few scenes sounds a bit flat but that's more likely got to do with the original elements than the audio encoding.
There are no extras, just a static menu offering chapter selection - that's it.
The Slender Thread is a decent dramatic thriller with some fairly intriguing scenes of tension that's heavy on dialogue over action. The performances are strong enough that we don't mind so much, with both Poitier and Bancroft turning in excellent work. The film's Blu-ray debut from Olive Films looks and sounds quite good but contains no extras - recommended more on the strength of the movie and more specifically the performances than on the merits of the disc itself.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.