People tell me it don't turn no more
The places we used to go
Familiar faces that ain't smilin' like before
The time of our time has come and gone
I fear we been waiting too long
Many American males will become Harry Stoner in one way or another. If you've seen 1973's SAVE THE TIGER, and you're an American male over forty, I defy you to disagree. For all the problems with Steve Shagan's script, the basic, universal recognizances of lost youth, lost opportunity, bad choices, and erosion of morals will ring so very clearly. For some more than others, of course. Certain readers will shake their heads and explain how blessed they are, how their faith and/or morals have informed their decisions. But it may be difficult to believe there isn't some tiny twinge within even them of longing for the past, a time when everything was golden, or at least, in their minds, right.
Boy the way Glen Miller played
Songs that made the hit parade.
Guys like us we had it made,
Those were the days.
And you knew who you were then,
Girls were girls and men were men,
Mister we could use a man
Like Herbert Hoover again.
Didn't need no welfare state,
Everybody pulled his weight.
Gee our old LaSalle ran great.
Those were the days.
By the 1970s, middle-agers depressed by the sights and sounds about them were recalling those glory days of the 1940s. When jazz filled the air and baseball was king of the past times. When life was less complicated. I hear people my age say things like that about the 1980s. It's no revelation to note that every generation longs for the moments of the one before. Some feel their best years are behind them and now they are merely marking time, waiting to die. Especially if they are stuck in deadening job, trapped by a mortgage and perhaps family obligations. Some despair enough to slit their wrists.
Jack Lemmon plays Harry to an seemingly effortless perfection, so embodying this character that SAVE THE TIGER sometimes felt like a documentary. For many, it will seem that way. Harry is shown, in a long opening scene, waking up with dread as he faces another day at his garment factory, a business with fewer returns each season. This sequence plays longer than with which we may feel comfortable. Harry flips on the TV, showers, chats with his wife, brushes off nags to visit the doctor. It sets up the film very well. When we follow Harry downtown it is understood why he was so reluctant to get out of bed: bickering employees, fickle customers who expect to be serviced by prostitutes, mob connected would be financiers, and an important trade show. There is also a meeting with a professional arsonist, the only option Harry sees as a way out of certain financial ruin.
Harry's demoralization grows as the day wears on. He wonders what happened to him. How he's come to spend $200 a day on his lifestyle with a house in Beverly Hills and a daughter in boarding school overseas. He takes comfort in his memories of ballplayers. The hippie chick he picks up stares blankly as he reminisces of a lost time. When they list their favorite musicians the divide is clear, first somewhat funny but eventually crushingly sad. The corker may be when Harry calls his wife (who just flew out of town) to remind her of a romantic getaway they shared long ago. She hangs up on him, her face suggesting that she too feels out of date but is embarrassed to admit, especially to hear it in her husband's pained words.
SAVE THE TIGER, directed by John G. Avildsen, is a flawed but very effective study of relevance, compromise, denial. Things those over 40 men (and women) can relate to. How sad and frightening it is to realize that your youth culture and stamina is now someone else's punchline. With each favorite spot in your town knocked down by a crane you feel another piece of yourself dying. The despair can be paralyzing. Maybe you just need to stop and watch the youth of today as they build their own memories. It may energize or further depress you. Either way, it all just keeps rolling.