Millionaire Jewish entrepreneur Arthur Goldman (Maximilian Schell) benevolently rules his financial empire from a penthouse apartment overlooking Manhattan. Seemingly at the edge of sanity, Goldman holds forth on everything from Papal edicts to ex-wives, from baseball to his family's massacre in a Nazi concentration camp. When Goldman remarks on a blue Mercedes continuously parked outside his building, Goldman's captive audience of assistant (Lawrence Pressman) and chauffeur (Henry Brown) dismiss their boss' anxiety as encroaching paranoia. But each of Goldman's passionate, seemingly capricious ravings are transformed into a shocking, inadvertent deposition when Israeli agents capture Goldman and put him on trial as Adolph Dorf, the commandant of the concentration camp where Goldman's family was supposedly exterminated. In a trial scene of unrelenting intensity, Academy Award winner Schell (Judgement at Nuremburg) crafts what The Detroit Free Press called "a white-hot lead performance," mutating from eccentric Goldman to sociopathic Dorf and beyond. The riddle of Dorf's true identity becomes wrapped in an enigma of cunning self-treachery and single minded obsession.
Veteran cinematographer Sam Leavitt enables Hiller to coax a vividly personal and electrifyingly intelligent dual portrait out of Schell. The Man in the Glass Booth is a timeless drama of surprising intimacy and indefatigable courage, "possessing," declared the LA Times "a remarkably resilient sense of lightness for all the profound questions it ponders."
A great movie can make a star but a star can't always make a movie great. Time and time again the movie going public has seen numerous film stars deliver terrific performances and elevate a piece of material beyond its relatively narrow scope. Such is the case with the late Academy Award winner Maximilian Schell and the incredible work he delivered for The Man In The Glass Booth. Produced as part of the American Film Theater, a production company dedicated to bringing theater productions to the silver screen, The Man In The Glass Booth rolls as a tour-de-force one-man show that forgets it's also supposed to be more than a one-man show.
Arthur Goldman (Maximilian Schell) has it all. As a rich industrialist, he lives out his life in a lavish Manhattan penthouse, makes frivolous but still lucrative business deals all the while keeping millions of dollars in cash on hand as if it were pocket change. As his assistant Charlie (Lawrence Pressman) struggles to keep up with his employer's eccentricities, he easily forgives his boss' strange behavior as he's well aware that Arthur is a Holocaust survivor who lost his entire family to the camps. But even with that understanding, Charlie is growing more and more concerned about Arthur's behavior as the man becomes paranoid he's being followed by a blue Mercedes and keeps mentioning a famed Nazi Colonel.
It turns out Arthur's paranoia was for good reason. Those men driving the Mercedes were, in fact, Israeli Mossad agents and they're after Arthur for actually being that Nazi war criminal. Armed with x-rays and dental records as proof, the Mossad agents kidnap Arthur to Israel for trial. The trial is more of a formality than anything as Arthur freely admits his identity - but he wants the trial. He wants his prosecutor Miriam (Lois Nettleton), his Judge (Luther Adler), and the rest of the world watching on television to hear every vile, terrible thing he has to say - no matter the repercussions.
When the 117-minute runtime comes to a close and you're finally allowed to catch your breath, it's easy to see why Maximillian Schell was nominated for an Oscar in 1976 - which he lost to Jack Nicholson for One Who Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. Schell basically is everything in The Man In The Glass Booth. He's in virtually every single scene of the film and he dominates every moment giving his costars little room to react or allow their performances to stand out. They're merely there to feed Schell a line or two so he can go on for another minutes-long uninterrupted speech - and it's glorious. Schell fully deserved his nomination (if not the win itself had the competition not been so stacked). However, Schell alone can't make The Man In The Glass Booth great - he's just great in it.
Directed by Arthur Hiller, The Man In The Glass Booth is an adaptation of the Robert Shaw play of the same name - which in of itself was an adaptation of Shaw's own novel. As I've never seen the original play or read the source novel, I can't say what changes were made but apparently, they were enough for Shaw to initially request his name removed from the credits. Apparently, he actually came around on the film but passed away before his request for credit could be completed.
To that end, I can't help but wonder if instead of adapting the stage play material - which is great - if the film wouldn't have been a better success had Hiller started with the novel first? As a film, Hiller does little but plant the camera in front of his lead actor Schell and merely watch him work. There are parts of Schell's Arthur that are overly theatrical, especially in his appearance. While Stan Winston did a terrific makeup job to age Schell by about 30 years, the Coke bottle glasses Schell sports are a bit over the top. On the stage, it would communicate the character's distorted view of the world, but in a film, they can look a little cartoonish - especially as Schell's many speeches become more intense and flamboyant. But that's really my only gripe with the film, and it's a small one at that. As a whole, Schell's delivers a five-star performance in a three-star film.
As this was my first viewing of the film, I was very impressed. It's an incredibly tense and almost frustratingly ambiguous film. Nothing is directly spelled out for the audience forcing you to think through each line of dialogue and each scene as if you were uncovering a piece of a puzzle in an Agatha Christie murder mystery. Even if you know the plot basics going in and have a general idea of what's coming, there are a number of moments throughout the film that keep you engaged and asking questions about Arthur's character and his mental state. And all of this is a credit to Schell's magnetic performance and Robert Shaw's story. You don't want to close your eyes to blink lest you miss a great moment. Had anyone else but Schell been in this film, I honestly doubt I'd be writing this review. Flawed as it may be, Schell is the reason to watch this film. It's an exhausting experience that gives you little time to breathe, but I am honestly looking forward to giving this one another viewing.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Man In The Glass Booth arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber. Pressed onto a Region A locked BD-50 disc, the disc comes housed in a standard sturdy Blu-ray case. The disc loads directly to a static image main menu featuring traditional navigation options.
Sourced from a recent 2K restoration, this 1080p 1.85:1 transfer is a strong effort. Clarity and image detail allow you to soak in Arthur's eccentrically lavish lifestyle while also putting Schell's makeup under a little too much scrutiny. As good as it is, you can often see hard lines in the aging makeup. But that's forgivable as this wasn't a very expensive production - but a lot of effort went into everything we see. Arthur's hidden room, for example, is well detailed and striking as the scene plays out. The coloring is strong, primary rich. Black levels are strong and inky during most scenes, but there are several moments where whites can bloom and contrast can appear a bit too hot skewing the colors for brief moments. The source is in overall good shape with only mild speckling and a few scratches here and there. Considering the age of the film, this is hardly a deal breaker. As a whole, this is a pretty great looking film.
As a dialogue-driven film with very little scoring or action-heavy material, The Man In The Glass Booth gets some good mileage out of its English DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio mix. As I said, this is a very dialogue driven film so that's where the mix's main focus resides. Atmospherics work more to help set the scene rather than give you an immersive experience. Sounds of New York street noise accompany outdoor scenes on Arthur's patio, but again, they're there to set the scene and little else. Mild hiss is heard throughout, but doesn't dominate any given scene and only really detectable during the quietest of moments. A few pops and cracks hit the mix, but nothing too distracting. All around this is a solid audio track that serves the nature of this film very well.
Bonus features for this release of The Man In The Glass Booth are comprised of a couple of informative interviews as well as a trailer for The American Film Theater. Not a robust package, but worthwhile just the same.
Interview With Director Arthur Hiller (SD 22:21)
Interview With Edie Landau (SD 26:16)
American Film Theater Trailers (SD 6:30)
A Delicate Balance
Lost In The Stars
The Man In The Glass Booth may not be a perfect film, but its lead star Maximilian Schell carries the production with an incredible performance. Intriguing, mysterious, and engrossing; The Man In The Glass Booth is never boring and will keep your eyes glued to the screen. Kino Lorber has done a great job bringing this film to Blu-ray with a strong video presentation, a solid audio mix, and a decent assortment of informative extra features. Fans of the film will absolutely enjoy adding this one to their personal library. If you've never seen it, consider it well worth the look. Schell's performance alone made me a fan and earn multiple viewings. Worth a look.