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Save the Tiger

Save the Tiger(1973)

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Following the highly publicized Enron scandal, knowledge of illegitimate business practices has become a matter of public record. From the discovery of "creative" accounting at MCI Worldcom to Martha Stewart, the moral compass of today's business world has led several prominent corporate officers off course. As these unethical events play out before us in the media, one cannot help but wonder whether such practices are recent developments or traditional means of staying ahead. In viewing Paramount Home Entertainment's recent release of John G. Avildsen's Save the Tiger (1970), audiences witness a rather bleak answer to this compelling business concern.

Featuring the versatile Jack Lemmon in the role of Harry Stoner, Save the Tiger personifies the cutthroat character of corporate America. Amid the waning economy of the 1970's Stoner and his business partner Phil Greene (Jack Gilford) represent a dying breed, capitalist tigers on the verge of extinction struggling to keep their failing clothing company, Capri Casuals, out of bankruptcy. Due to sluggish sales in the previous year, Stoner and Greene disguised their financial losses by allocating funds in a clever, albeit fraudulent manner. The deceitful duo have thus far eluded the authorities and hope to recover their losses with a banner year at an upcoming tradeshow, but the impending pressure to perform has taken an obvious toll on them both. With Stoner suffering from night terrors and a mild case of posttraumatic stress, the company including Greene (once the infallible voice of reason), falls victim to the corruption of free enterprise. What started as a harmless act of fraud has relegated these business owners down a path of dishonest dealings with their clients and distrustful communications with their employees. In light of these developments Capri Casuals appears all but doomed. As part of a last ditch effort to save the company Stoner suggests a plan to not only "cook the books," but to cook one of their factories as well.

Stoner and Greene consult with an associate renown for his anonymous arson abilities, as they contemplate insurance fraud, a dangerous deed that has disaster written all over it. In life we come to realize that the decisions we make have a direct effect on our future. During such moments we usually remain aware of the consequences, but may in fact select those less respectable courses of action despite the pleas of friends, family, and our own conscience. Save the Tiger dramatizes these introspective dilemmas, as viewers witness the demise of Harry Stoner, Phil Greene, and their labor of love, Capri Casuals.

In this performance driven vehicle, Jack Lemmon remains the focus as he stretches dramatic muscles that he rarely got to use in his early career with few exceptions (Days of Wine and Roses). Establishing his reputation with comedic masterpieces such as Some Like it Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960), and The Odd Couple (1968), Jack Lemmon initially declined the role of Harry Stoner as he felt the part too great a challenge, even though this role would undoubtedly elevate his status among the acting elite. After a conversation with the film's screenwriter, Steve Shagan, Lemmon eventually agreed to play the part, a wise decision as he would go on to win an Academy Award for Best Actor in this uncharacteristic work. Stoner is a man on the edge, plagued by workday stress and haunted by the ghosts of a difficult past. Having experienced the bloodshed of WWII firsthand, memories of these events start to resurface during the course of the narrative. While in Italy during WWII Stoner's one escape came following an injury after which he spent time recuperating on the Isle of Capri. Once there, Stoner soaked in the sights and sounds while repressing the earlier violence he so recently endured. Capri became a safe haven for Stoner and a somewhat ironic name for his business ventures after the war. When business performed well "Capri" represented Stoner's beloved oasis, but as the economy went sour "Capri" came to signify Stoner's traumatic war wounds. In a rather uncomfortable scene, for both Stoner and the viewer, he introduces Capri Casuals' new clothing line while standing in front of a group of buyers. In doing so, Stoner stumbles through a description of Capri and the inspiration this word/location represented for him personally. As Stoner continues his diatribe he slowly surveys the crowd and begins to hallucinate, the faces he sees transform into the soldiers that perished decades earlier. Stoner literally breaks down before the viewer's eyes, as this proud predator of the corporate jungle cowers before his prey. A painful scene to watch due to Stoner's vulnerable state of mind, moments such as these intensify Save the Tiger's characterization of American business and truly display the immense talent of Jack Lemmon beyond the scope of comedy.

For those familiar with the work of John G. Avildsen, Save the Tiger remains outside of the realm of the underdog sports film genre more commonly associated with this filmmaker. The director of such films as Rocky (1976) and The Karate Kid (1984), Avildsen has attempted throughout his career to avoid the label of a genre director. Including such titles as The Formula (1980) and Lean on Me (1989) Avildsen has experienced moderate success with his dramatic works, but despite efforts to the contrary his place in popular culture undoubtedly falls as the director of the above mentioned sports film franchises. With that said one should note that his career started rather humbly with the admirable independent film Joe (1970) staring Peter Boyle which in turn led to his first studio piece, Save the Tiger. Based on Save the Tiger's critical accolades including Academy Award nominations for Jack Gilford (Best Supporting Actor) and Steve Shagan (Best Writing), this talented director continued to work in the industry until retiring in 1994 after completing 8 Seconds starring "Beverly Hills 90210" veteran Luke Perry. With an impressive resume, Avildsen's career reached its pinnacle in 1976 with his work on Sylvester Stallone's legendary boxing film after which he won an Oscar® for Best Director. With a full understanding of Avildsen's filmography one cannot deny his remarkable collaborations and financial successes, yet Save the Tiger represents the start of this fine career in Hollywood and clearly paved the way for later projects/opportunities.

As stated above, Save the Tiger relies upon the performances of its cast and crew to bring forth a powerful story about the hostile nature of doing business in the United States. Unfortunately, Paramount does a poor job of packaging this stunning film on DVD. The recent video release of Save the Tiger offers little for the viewers to appreciate beyond the feature, as bonus materials are all but nonexistent. In fact a bonus features icon does not even appear as a menu option on this DVD. That is not to say extras are completely absent. Under "Set Up" viewers will find audio commentary by John G. Avildsen and Steve Shagan, but otherwise this video is devoid of trivia, documentaries, or behind the scenes footage. In listening to the commentary, Steve Shagan's witty repartee is entertaining and informative, more so than the viewpoints shared by Avildsen who has a tendency to point out inconsequential details rather than reflect on the production and the film's place in history. We as consumers have come to expect more from our DVD purchases and this gripe needs to be taken in context, as the DVD releases of contemporary films inundate the viewer with a surplus of mundane extras. With a film as interesting and as well recognized as Save the Tiger, we should demand more from distribution companies such as Paramount. That said, this DVD is still worthy of rental and we welcome Save the Tiger to DVD and hope the restoration of these pivotal films continues in the future.

For more information about Save the Tiger, visit Paramount Home Entertainment. To order Save the Tiger, go to TCM Shopping.

by Christian Pierce