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A Delicate Balance
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Format: VHS Tape
There was a period in her career when Katharine Hepburn seemed to be making a point of making movies of plays by some of the world's greatest dramatists. While she only performed Shakespeare on the stage, she filmed plays by Tennessee Williams ("Suddenly Last Summer"), Euripides ("Trojan Women"), and most notably Eugene O'Neill ("Long Day's Journey Into Night"), in which she gave her greatest dramatic performance. Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance" would be thrown into this mix as well, but all things considered this is a smaller play and a smaller film.
Albee won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1966 play "A Delicate Balance," and he does the screenplay here as well. There are those who see this particular play as a second-rate "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" which truthfully surprises me because I see little in common between the two plays. Albee's earliest and obviously greatest work was at its heart a dramatic rejoinder to Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh," and a statement about the importance of fantasy when confronted with a harsh world. "A Delicate Balance" is about the angst of contemporary living, and while this might be a counterpoint of sorts to "Virginia Woolf" it is most definitely not rehashing the original argument.
Hepburn's name appears first in the credits and her character of Agnes opens and ends the play, but ultimately she is not one of the pivotal characters in the drama. The play begins with Agnes and Tobias (Paul Scofield), enjoying what passes for a quiet evening at home, which includes an encounter with her heavy-drinking sister Claire (Kate Reid). Whereas Agnes speaks to the long-suffering Tobias, Claire actually engages the man in conversation. The only thing the two sisters have in common is apparently the ability to bring out the worst in each other.
The play gets to the root of the matter when Harry (Joseph Cotten) and Edna (Betsy Blair), the best friends of Tobias and Agnes, arrive unexpectedly. Clearly upset, they finally explain that they were at home when suddenly they both became terrified. Fleeing their home they have come to stay with Agnes and Tobias (although it takes a while for everyone to understand Harry and Edna are moving in). The couple take up residence in the room of Julia (Lee Remick), who returns home after the failure of her fourth marriage to discover somebody else in her room, which forces Julia into her father's room and Tobias to move back with Agnes. However, Julia is very upset that "her" room has been given away and finally says what the audience has been thinking: How can her parents just let this couple move in?
There are explanations, haltingly provided by Harry and Edna. We might want everything to be explained by Claire with her forthright way of speaking or Agnes who belabors a point to death, but Albee is here to show and not merely to tell. There are very few moments, brief at best, that ever show the entire cast assembled. Director Tony Richardson knows he is limited to a few sets and these actors, and frames them accordingly, trying to provide visual reinforcement of the interpersonal dynamics.
The biting wit and memorable one-liners from "Virginia Woolf" are not here, but the characters are clearly in as much pain. The pivotal moment comes down to Scofield and Cotten, when Tobias finally speaks to the matter at hand, only to be told it is too late. The question then becomes whether or not the audience has gotten Albee's subtle point.
Hepburn's recent death may spark a small revival of interest in this film, although Albee's play remains overshadowed by both "Virginia Woolf" and his more recent success "Three Tall Women." However, it will be the performances of Scofield and particularly Reid that will demand the viewer's respect. Tobias is the lynch pin of these drama and Claire is the one that prods him into the final realization of what has to be said and what must be done.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2003
Format: DVD
The acting is phemonmenal in this play, and the play itself is one of Albee's best. It does suffer, however, from being a bit stagy as a film. A deeper (and perhaps insoluble) problem is that film (a very realistic medium) is not really suited for this work, which while being wonderfully written and deeply insightful is hardly realistic. I don't fault the director necessarily; it's more that this particular work is simply not nor never will be cinematic.
The extras are quite good; however, there's a bug on the Kino menus. When you try to access the Tom Stoppard interview or the other extras from the menu, the disc stops playing. In order to see them, you have to change title number via your remote.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2005
Format: DVD
I saw this film in 1973 and loved it so much that I ran out and purchased the soundtrack - yes, there was a soundtrack released. It came in a three-record boxed set, and it included every single word of the screenplay. I then bought a copy of the play (which was slightly different from the screenplay) and read it and listened to the record until I had memorized a good deal of the dialogue. You see, I love the English language, and there are few things more joyful to me than encountering a book, play or movie that uses language in clever ways. This is why I am a great fan of Broadway lyricist Stephen Sondheim, Screenwriter James Goldman (who wrote Lion in Winter), Simon Gray (who wrote Butley, and whose use of the language rivals Albee's here) and the plays of Edward Albee. Mr. Albee uses language in ways that few others can. For some reason I don't understand, few people can seem to mention A Delicate Balance without referring to a certain play that Mr. Albee's also wrote, which was far more sensational and extremely successful. And that's a real pity, for this work stands quite well on its own.

Tobias and Agnes are an upper-class couple nearing retirement in their comfortable Connecticut home. Their best friends, Harry and Edna, arrive for a visit one evening, driven from their home by an unnamed terror. Albee's play clearly spells out what the terror is, without attaching a precise name to it - it's the fear of growing older in an uncertain world, rather like the main theme (which many people missed) in James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim's brilliant musical, Follies. Of course, Tobias and Agnes must take their dear friends in, thus threatening the "delicate balance" that holds the routine of their lives together. What follows is a careful dissection of the obligations of friendship, the meaning of loyalty, the responsibility of family and the appearance and practical application of "proper" etiquette. All in all, Mr. Albee takes on quite a bit. The actors are all up to the task, but above all is Kate Reid, who turns in one of the finest screen performances I have ever witnessed.

Kate Reid plays Claire, Agnes' alcoholic sister. Although labeled an alcoholic, especially by her sister, Claire doesn't seem to drink any more or less than the other characters in the piece, who are always mixing each other cocktails. And then there is their daughter, Julia, who is coming home from her fourth failed marriage. Harry and Edna have taken over Julia's room, and she doesn't like it at all.

Yes, the story moves very slowly, but I was glad that it did - it takes time and patience to absorb Albee's delicious wit, and even the very intelligent will find the language difficult to follow in parts. The film generally requires more than one viewing to ingest, but lovers of good drama will find their patience rewarded. I had the good fortune to also see the 1996 Broadway production with Rosemary Harris and Elaine Stritch as Agnes and Claire, respectively. That production did benefit from a slightly increased pace, but, on the whole, I find I still like to savor the drawn out lazy unwinding of this most articulate film.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 15, 2006
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
What can I say? Katharine Hepburn on a bad day was better than most actresses on a good day. Other reviewers have indicated that this is not her best, but it is a solid performance.

This film is a special American Film Theater performance of Edward Albee's award winning play. The original stage play won a Pulitzer Prize. It has a cast of six, all of whom give good performances. Katharine Hepburn plays Agnes and Paul Scofield plays Tobias, an upper class New England couple planning a quiet Friday evening at home, or at least as quiet as it can be with the presence of Agnes's sister Claire (played by Kate Reid), a woman who drinks too much and speaks her mind.
It is a psychological drama about people getting old and dealing with their fears.

The evening is interrupted by the arrival of their best friends, Harry (played by Joseph Cotton)and his wife Edna (played by Betsy Blair). They were suddenly afraid to stay at home. They thought of their club, but came to visit Tobias and Agnes instead. They end up staying the night and are given the room of Julia, the daughter of Tobias and Agnes, who is living with her latest husband.

The next day Julia (played by Lee Remick) arrives home, leaving her latest husband behind and seeking the security of her own room. She is disturbed to find that Harry and Edna are occupying her room. She is given Tobias' room, and he has to sleep in Agnes' room, something he apparently has not done in quite a while. When it appears that Harry and Edna might be leaving, it turns out that they are only going home briefly to get their luggage. This leads to Julia having hysterics and threatening Harry and Edna, wanting them to leave so she can have the security of her own room.

The play's final act is on Sunday morning, with final discussions among the cast, but mainly between Tobias and Harry. It is a question of friendship and obligations to friends, and realizing when you are imposing. It is hard to say who gives the best performance (it is an all-star cast), but I would personally opt for Paul Scofield, who can sometimes say a lot just by the look on his face.

Early in the play, Tobias talks about a cat that he once had. One day it no longer wanted to sit on his lap and it bit him. He hit the cat, and they no longer got along. He ended up taking it to the vet and having it put down. Perhaps that sets the stage for discussions about changes in peoples' lives. There are some discussions about fears of being put in institutions.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2011
Format: VHS TapeVerified Purchase
So glad these particular performers were chosen for this before they were gone, as they each had so much of life's experience by then themselves that they so capably expressed. It was delightful to see them so personally challenged as well as challenging each other throughout the performance, given their own histories in life and their long careers.

I did not see this as a variation of drunken rages at all, despite the constant use of alcohol throughout the play, due to the steady thread of intellectual restraint that is woven tightly through it. If there was a weakness in it, to me it was the moment when I was no longer absorbed in it and was distracted by the incongruous extreme confrontation written into Remick's part, introducing violence where less would have been more, and limiting Remick's opportunity to show her strength and ability to bring out much more in her role.

A performance about the strengths and weaknesses of aging, with insights into our own roles in life to contemplate.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2013
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Establishes the virtue of film theatre as a genre. Serious theatre of high calibre made accessible - brilliantly and sensitively directed for film and made the more memorable and collectible and historic by adding the interview with the playwrite Edward Albee. Surely also his best play. A treasured addition to one's personal archive.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2014
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I am not a fan of Katharine Hepburn, but she is the perfect actress for this part, and does a fantastic job. The rest of the cast (and the director) have nailed it, in my opinion. Albee at his finest. I own very few DVD's, but I know I will be watching this one again.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 2014
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
An Albee masterpiece handled with extraordinary care and execution. Watch is more than once...and try to catch the latest version on Broadway. And enjoy that stellar light that comes from Lee Remick. She is missed.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2010
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
The Grand Dame Katharine lights up the screen in this classic. I would order from this company again, although I think it was a bit overpriced for Amazon. But the order came to me fast & in excellent condition.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2005
Format: DVD
Yes, Kim Stanley WAS cast. At the time, Stanley was said to have had a terrible time with alcohol. Maybe Hepburn refused to work with her, or the production excutives decided she would not be able to perform it well enough considering the short time for rehearsal and filming. The picture was shot in a London house in a very short period, if I recall the comments of David Watkin, the director of photography, on the making of the film. In any event, she was let go. It's a shame. Good as Reid was (and an accomplish actress in Albee's work - she did the matinee performances as Martha in the original Broadway run of "Virginia Woolf"), she was never principally a film actress. Stanley was probably better of stage than film (as a teen I saw her legendary performance in "Cherie") but she was no slouch on screen (see "Seance on a Wet Afternoon"). And how wonderful it would have been to have had a final performance from her. Oddly, when the New York revival was done in the '90s, the part of the alcoholic sister went to reformed alcoholic Elaine Stricht, who's been very candid about her own love affair with the bottle.
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