A Delicate Balance (1973)

A Delicate Balance (1973)
6.7
  • 652
  • PG
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release year: 1973 ()
  • Running time: 133 min
  • Original Title: A Delicate Balance
  • Voted: 652

In Connecticut, Agnes and Tobias are an upper-class married couple whose relationship has been uneasy for many years, since at least the time their son died; but they've managed to find a certain comfortable pattern of uneasiness. Agnes's sister, Claire, lives with them and insists that her perpetual drinking is not alcoholism but willfulness. Their daughter, Julia, poised to have her fourth divorce, has come back home. Unexpectedly, her room has been taken over by Harry and Edna, best friends of Tobias and Agnes. Seized by a nameless terror that propelled them out of their own house, Harry and Edna have decided to stay.

#PersonCharacters
1Katharine HepburnAgnes
2Paul ScofieldTobias
3Lee RemickJulia
4Kate ReidClaire
5Joseph CottenHarry
  • The Gentle Terror by 9

    There is no music in this superb autumn melody. The words in the mouths of the characters are by Edward Albee and that is music enough. Katharine Hepburn plays Agatha, a close relative of the actress if I ever saw one, Paul Scofield is amazing playing the mild volcano of a husband promising eruptions that when they come they are so civilized that, irrigate rather than decimate. Kate Reid, took over from the extraordinary Kim Stanley and as sensational as Miss Reid is I can't help wondering what Stanley would have done with "a" alcoholic like Claire. Lee Remick is the perfect offspring for Hepburn and Scofield. Selfish, tenuous, childish, rich failure. Joseph Cotten and Betsy Blair are the catalysts, they and their fear, their plague coming to contaminate the contaminated. For film and stage gourmets this is an unmissable treat.

  • Their Well Ordered Lives by 7

    Probably were it not for the American Film Theater, that noble project which ultimately did fail of bringing productions of classical American works to film, we might never have seen A Delicate Balance. It's like a lot of O'Neill's work, it's all in the creation of the characters.

    Certainly a play which consists of six characters sitting around and talking would not be considered anything film-able today. A Delicate Balance for me seems to take off in the same directions as Edward Albee's other classic, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and also bears no small resemblance to O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night.

    Both of those films however had bigger budgets and were made more cinematic by having the players move into various locations. The one set technique just doesn't work here. This is not for instance a story as gripping as Alfred Hitchcock's Rope or Rear Window. My guess is that the budget was blown on getting the high priced stars.

    Paul Scofield and Katharine Hepburn play a pair of sixty somethings married and living in a posh Connecticut suburb, the kind of place Hepburn grew up in and knew well. Living with them is Hepburn's leach of a sister Kate Reid who they keep well supplied with alcohol and who lives there at Hepburn's insistence. Otherwise Scofield would have tossed this one out with the trash years ago. But he bows to Hepburn's wishes to keep peace and order, a delicate balance if you will.

    They get two intruders in their well ordered lives one day. Their neighbors and long time friends, Joseph Cotten and Betsy Blair just ring the bell and announce that something unknown has frightened them in their home and they need to move out and move in with them. Scofield offers them his daughter's room.

    But then daughter announces she's moving back after failed marriage number four. Needless to say that causes the balance to go out of whack. Lee Remick is the daughter and she's a selfish and spoiled suburban princess. After this everybody grates on each other's nerves.

    Short and on plot, but deep on characterization is A Delicate Balance. It explores the problems of old age and loneliness. Cotten and Blair have no children and Scofield and Hepburn take little comfort in Remick. Perhaps if there were grandchildren things might be different for both couples. There was a son who died for Hepburn and Scofield and that seems to have cast a permanent pall over both of them.

    Though Remick is blood kin, Hepburn and especially Scofield have more in common with their neighbors. How it all works out is for you to see A Delicate Balance for.

    The film's saving grace is the wonderful performances by the cast. The original Broadway production ran for 132 performances in 1966-1967 and starred Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy in the Scofield-Hepburn roles. But certainly Kate and Paul were going to sell more tickets than either of the other two worthy players.

    Not that A Delicate Balance did much business back in the day. These films were for limited release in any event and if it's making money it's now in video sales and rentals. Still we can thank the American Film Theater for its preservation with some of the best preservers around.

  • a tremendous tour de force by 10

    What a tremendous production! I had avoided seeing it because I thought it might be too brutal. It is certainly merciless in the dialogue between hateful sisters, but there is much more to the film than that. The writing is so very many-splendoured; some of the lines (Katharine Hepburn has the best ones) sound like Shakespeare and Albee even makes a self-referential joke about that after one of Claire's declarations.The cinematography contributes greatly to the liveliness of this stage drama; it is never dull or boring. Mesmerizing performances all around; terrifically complex and deep questioning of life's meaning and the value of love, loyalty, friendship, family. An unqualified 10 for me. The DVD has very interesting contemporary interviews with Albee and the cinematographer, and text from a very helpful review.

  • Best For Albee's Text and Some Performances by 7

    Fans of Edward Albee and Katharine Hepburn will find things to savor in this haphazard filming of the marvelous prize-winning play. But it's not always easy. Based on the slapdash direction, the piece looks as is the actors spent the requisite time rehearsing the play itself, and then the filming was done quickly and cheaply.

    There are a series of generally long takes, but the staging looks more suitable for a proscenium stage than a film. And this is what separates a mediocre talent like Richardson from, say, Mike Nichols who did a far better job dealing with a (largely) confined space in the film of "Virginia Woolf." The result is that "Balance" comes off as stagy - a more inventive director could have avoided that without changing one line of the text.

    "Balance" consists of a lot of mid-shots and close-ups, which doesn't serve all the actors well. This is particularly true of Kate Reid who plays the alcoholic sister Clare - Reid's performance might work well on stage, but with all her tight closeups during long speeches, she tends to overplay and make the character more gratingly tiresome than she should be.

    The other casualty in the cast is Lee Remick, as the volatile, childish, much-married daughter of Hepburn and Scofield. But in her case it's Albee's writing that's the problem. This character is poorly conceived and developed - and no actress I know of has managed to make it palatable.

    But Hepburn is in excellent form as the proud matriarch Agnes - perhaps a little more coarse at times than Albee intended, but very effective. Scofield as her passive-aggressive husband Tobias is marvelous until he mars his important penultimate scene with too many actorish vocal tricks.

    Joseph Cotton and Betsy Blair as the old friends who come to Agnes and Tobias to escape the terror of collective loneliness are both good individually, but never seem to be a long-married couple.

    Those not familiar with this play may be slightly turned off by the presentation and think the piece itself is second-rate. Not so. This film may be best for those who have seen it before or are familiar enough with Albee to take the film with a grain of salt and appreciate what's good about it.

  • Relentlessly razor sharp - for theater lovers by 7

    Time has not been kind to the movies made under the umbrella of the well intentioned American Film Theater. The bulk of these works are way off the mark, failing to achieve one of the major goals of the project; the preservation of these important plays on screen. "Butley", "The Homecoming" and "A Delicate Balance" are the ones that came off best.

    "A Delicate Balance" Albee in his prime; relentlessly razor sharp. Director Tony Richardson thankfully makes little effort to diminish the inherent staginess and theatricality. He allows his superb cast to milk Albee's barbs to their last drop.

    Katherine Hepburn turns in a terrific performance, though those who have a distaste for the Hepburn mannerisms, will not be converted. It's a pleasure to watch both Kate Reid and Paul Scofield, consummate stage performers who fared far less well in the cinema.

    While overlong and at times uneven, "A Delicate Balance" is strictly for theater lovers. They will not be disappointed.

#PersonCrew
1David Watkincinematographer
2Tony Richardsondirector
3John Victor Smitheditor
4Ely A. Landauproducer
5Edward Albeewriter