The directorial debut of actor-turned-director Sydney Pollack, 1965’s The Slender Thread is a tense, dramatic story shot in austere black and white. Based on real incident that was dramatized as the short story “Decision to Die” by Shana Alexander, which appeared in Life magazine in 1964. The film’s plot is a rather simple one; the strength of The Slender Thread is in the powerful performances of the two leads, Anne Bancroft and Sidney Poitier.
Set primarily in Seattle’s Crisis Clinic, the story focuses on thirty-year-old Inga Dyson (Bancroft) who calls into the clinic after taking an overdose of barbiturates. Her call is answered by Alan Newell (Poitier) a student volunteer, majoring in psychology. It had been pretty quiet, so the man who runs the place, Dr. Joe Coburn (Telly Savalas) had opted to spend the evening with his son, Now, in the face of an emergency, it’s going to take awhile before the doctor can be contacted and return to the center. As the police race to trace the call, Alan learns Inga’s main source of anguish: her husband Mark (Steven Hill), recently learned that the twelve-year-old son she gave birth to, isn’t his. Alternating between flashbacks and the tense scene at the clinic, both Bancroft and Poitier get ample opportunity to show their significant acting abilities.
Though Poitier was thirty-eight at the time, his youthful looks and ability make him a believable college student. His concern for Inga feels genuine from the start; you can see the concern in his face and hear the growing fear in his voice. It’s very interesting to watch his body language change as they develop a relationship over the phone (the two never appear on camera together). Bancroft is excellent as well, using just her voice to express the deep sorrow over what her life has become and later, her body slowly losing its grip on life.
The Slender Thread is really little more than a ninety minute conversation between two people. On the surface, it appears as though they are from very different worlds but as the conversation deepens, they find some common ground that keeps Inga talking. Written by Stirling Silliphant (In the Heat of the Night, The Poseidon Adventure) the dialogue is pointed and appropriate. This is one of those rare films were there is no superfluous discussion.
The cinematography by Loyal Griggs (Shane) is impressive. The use of close-ups do a great job of capturing Alan’s changing emotions. There’s also some nice use of shadows that help add to the tension of the situation. Shot in Seattle, we also get some wonderful shots of how the city looked in the mid-sixties. Accompanying the cinematography is a jazzy, yet occasionally and appropriately downbeat score by the legendary Quincy Jones.
Director Sydney Pollack does a good job of putting everything together. As difficult as it is, we come to understand why Inga can her 12-year-old son without a mother, via some well timed flashback scenes. Pollack also uses some effective metaphors that reinforce the sense of failure Inga feels. One that stands out, Involves Inga walking on the beach; she spots a group of kids trying to help an injured bird. After a brief conversation, she tells the kids to watch the bird while she goes to get something that might help it fly again. Upon her return, the bird has been buried in a grave of sand and the kids have disappeared.
If The Slender Thread has one minor flaw, it’s that the end comes rather abruptly. Beyond that though, considering this film was made in 1965, it stands as a fine examination of the traumas that van push people to attempt suicide and the people at crisis centers that do their best to prevent such tragedies.
The Slender Thread arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1.85.1 transfer in 1080p high definition. Some mild print damage is noticeable throughout, in the form of specks and the occasional scratch. However for a film that’s more than forty-five-years old, Olive Films has provided a fairly nice transfer. Detail is above average and texture is impressive.
The only audio option on the disc is a DTS-HD Mono track, in English, with no alternate language options or subtitles provided. The track serves the material well. Dialogue is clear and concise throughout. Quincy Jones’ score comes through nicely when called upon, but never overwhelms the voices. There are no problems with hiss or distortion. While a few scenes sound a bit flat, that would seem to be a result of the original sound elements and not the encoding job.
No special features are available.