Plot: Harry Stoner (Jack Lemmon) has a lifestyle that from the outside, seems quite enviable, as he has a family, a lush home, and is able to afford many luxuries, but just under the surface, that life has started to erode. His once successful clothing business has fallen into hard times, struggling to remain profitable and thanks to some creative tax tricks, he might be on the wrong side of the IRS. He has a new line about to debut and he needs the fresh designs to sell, as the expenses of the lifestyle he provides for his family have spiraled out of control. As if those pressures weren’t enough, he keeps flashing back to his wartime experiences and is wrestling with how his life has turned out. Harry longs for how simple his life once was, so as his mind begins to buckle under the stress, he has some manic moments. As he goes through an important couple of days, can Harry hold himself, his family, and his business together and live to fight another day, or has he crossed a line he can never return from?
Entertainment Value: I had never watched Save the Tiger before, but I wish I had found this movie years ago, as this is a fantastic picture. Jack Lemmon won Best Actor at the Oscars for his performance here and to me, this easily ranks with his best work, as he carries the movie with incredible skill. The narrative is well crafted and keeps the focus on Lemmon’s Harry Stoner, allowing us to watch his mind bend under stress and deep, existential concerns. I have to think most people reach a point in life where they wonder if they’ve made the right decisions and thought about the roads not taken, so Harry’s tale is one that is relatable and believable. The pace is deliberate, but given that the focus is on Harry’s character and how he handles the stresses he’s under, the approach is one that works. This is especially true since the writing is so strong and Lemmon’s effort ensures that Save the Tiger never feels slow. The movie might not move at a lightning pace, but it never fails to keep you hooked in. A great story, terrific performances, and effective atmosphere are all on deck here, making it easy to recommend Save the Tiger to those who appreciate superb character work.
While the movie has a good assortment of supporting roles, the driving force of Save the Tiger is Jack Lemmon. He carries the movie and turns in a fantastic effort, one that earned him a Best Actor win. His career is an impressive one, but this is one of his best performances and Lemmon is able to convey so much in the role, the quiet desperation and regrets of Harry’s life. As usual, he is able to find the right cadence for the character and handles the verbal banter with ease, but there is so much depth here, which really allows Lemmon to shine. There is a comedic edge to his performance, but it is on the darker side or at least the bleaker side, so don’t expect to be rolling in the aisles often with this one. But Lemmon’s work here is masterful, making Save the Tiger a can’t miss for fans of skilled acting or cinema in general. The cast also includes Jack Gilford, Lara Parker, Norman Burton, and Thayer David, while veteran director John G. Avildsen was at the helm.