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3.8 out of 5 stars
Mister Buddwing [Remaster]
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
He awakens on a park bench in NYC with no memories, only a haunting dread & desperation. A couple of pills, a phone number scribbled on a scrap of paper. Nothing else. He only knows that something terrible has happened, and that he must find out what it is, no matter how much his own mind fights his increasingly frantic urgency to know.

Owing a good deal to European art films & the highly literate screenwriting of American TV anthologies, "Mister Buddwing" is a mystery, a suspense film, a psychological study, and a relentless portrait of a man lost in the crumbling of the American Dream. James Garner has never been more vulnerable & lost than he is here, in a role that's a far cry from his usual persona of the sly, lighthearted & sometimes hapless charmer.

And who is Mr. Buddwing? As he goes from one woman to the next, each time mistaking her for a mysterious Grace (an obviously symbolic name), we discover a young idealist & musician, hoping to create something worthwhile ... only to fall prey to the financial & social blandishments of American culture. We watch him growing up -- and growing old before his time, as his marriage goes from idyllic to troubled to shattered beyond redemption.

The actresses are a special treat. From Angela Lansbury's oddly maternal loose wife who initially takes Buddwing in, to the three actresses who embody Grace at different stages of life, we're treated to a multi-faceted look at the Eternal Female. Katherine Ross portrays the young college student Grace, enraptured & luminous enough to cause Buddwing to pray to whatever gods there may be for a rich & happy life together. Suzanne Pleshette is Grace after a few years of marriage, increasingly lonely, saddened by the compromises her husband has made -- ostensibly for her benefit, even though she never asked for them. And a startlingly brash, blonde Jean Simmons is a brittle, tortured Grace as the marriage approaches the end of its tether.

I'm sure some viewers will be put off by the somewhat stagebound dialog & allegorical structure & content, dismissing it as unrealistic. But this is simply a different style of writing, one that was far more acceptable to audiences some 45 years ago, when elements of the stage were common in film & television. It may require an adjustment on the part of the younger viewer, but I think it's worth the effort. Me? I love those qualities & think they add immeasurably to the film.

And let's not forget the presence of New York City itself! Shot in gorgeous black & white, the film truly captures the magic of the city in those years. Peopled with wonderful character actors with real, lived-in faces, the film is a beautiful portrait of a place where all things seemed possible at the time.

It's not a film for everyone. But for those willing to take a chance, it has intensity, poignancy, powerful performances, and a shattering look at love, loss, and the emptiness of an abandoned dream, a misplaced life. Thank you, Warner Archive, for making it available at last -- most highly recommended!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2011
A great movie from the sixties. James Garner is first rate in the lead and "everybody" else just contributes more greatness. The photography is amazing. Beautiful black & white shots of NYC in the glorious sixties. The automat scene is one of my favorites. Angela Lansbury is her usual amazing self. And adding to all of this is the score by Kenyon Hopkins who wrote many great scores for sixties movies. This is his best. A jazz inflected treasure. Not on cd but you can find the LP right here on Amazon. Don't pass on this 99 minute atmospheric gem.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2014
James Garner did a superb job in a well made mystery drama of Evan Hunter's novel Mister Buddwing. The story of a man waking up in Central Park with no identification or any idea of who he is. With no money and no memories he struggles to find out who he is and why he is in this position. Through his travels four women help him along the way as something of each reminds him of the mysterious Grace. Angela Lansbury, a loose married woman with a kind heart, does a fine role. The other three women are Jean Simmons, Suzanne Pleshette and Katherine Ross. Good drama. Hunter also wrote The Blackboard Jungle was a prolific writer who wrote under several names including Ed McBain of the 87th Precinct novels.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I once saw this movie on TCM while I was at the gym. It kept my attention and intrigued me but I never got to see the end of the movie. I always wanted to know how it ended. I later went to try to buy it but found that it was not for sale because of some kind of studio hold-out or some other legal issue. It was not offered on Netflix. So it took a few years but now it was available for general sale. It was worth it to buy it and have my own copy the story was gripping until the very end.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2013
Excellent camera work, interesting story that kept me involved to the end -all actors did great job and james garner was very believable in the amnesiac role, similar to the part he played in another film ,36 Hours- great twist ending as well
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on September 7, 2014
James Garner didn't make many dramatic films ("The Great Escape" is the only one most people remember), but his very special screen presence could be just as effective in a drama as in the light comedies in which he excelled. Garner and an unusual plot hook are the only reasons to watch "Mister Buddwing" but they are enough to turn a run-of-the-mill domestic melodrama into an intriguing mystery.

"Buddwing" is a 1966 film about a man (Garner) with amnesia who tries throughout the movie to remember who he is. He wakes up one morning sitting on a bench in Central Park. Although he is quite well dressed, the only items he has in his pockets are an engraved ring, a train schedule, and a telephone number written on a piece of paper. He knows ordinary facts and how to get around New York City, but he can't remember anything about his life before waking up on the bench. When asked, he gives himself the name "Buddwing," based on the first two things he sees: a Budweiser beer truck and a jet plane flying overhead. When he dials the phone number he has, he's invited by the woman who answers to visit her apartment.

The woman (Angela Lansbury) is a floozy who at first thinks Garner is her drunk boyfriend. But when he arrives, looking completely miserable (he doesn't even remember how he prefers his coffee), she takes pity on him and gives him some spending money. For the rest of the movie, Garner wanders around New York, gradually piecing together who he is and how he came to be on the bench. Along the way he meets three women whom he mistakenly believes are "Grace," a woman who, for some reason, is important in his life. They are a student (Katharine Ross), an actress (Suzanne Pleshette), and a society woman out slumming one night (Jean Simmons). As he talks with each woman, he begins to have flashbacks about his life with Grace (conveniently for viewers, these flashbacks occur in chronological order), with each actress in turn playing Grace in the various flashbacks.

Most films about amnesia are thrillers (Gregory Peck made "Mirage" in a similar New York setting a year earlier), with the eventual solution involving various nefarious goings on. Here, the truth is much less sinister. Garner's life is a less interesting version of Don Draper's: a man who gives up his career dreams and instead is miserable in a well paying but unfulfilling job which eventually causes his marriage to Grace (yes, he woos her and wins her in the early sequences) to fall apart. These flashbacks are fairly mundane, and Garner is not at his best as the increasingly bitter man. If "Buddwing" had been solely about Garner's marriage and career, it would have been thoroughly mediocre. The ending, in which he finally confronts his "real" life, feels particularly flat.

Fortunately, director Delbert Mann focuses on Garner's search for his identity, not what he eventually finds, and the scenes that involve the post-amnesiac Garner are much better than the flashbacks. Early in the movie, Garner reads a newspaper account of an escaped mental patient on the loose and fears he might be that patient, so he tries to avoid the police. Soon afterwards, a cop in Washington Square starts to question Garner, an interrogation likely to lead to his being hauled in, but he is rescued by a group of hippies who stage an impromptu protest about police brutality, giving Garner a chance to get away. As Garner does his own detective work, he gets some help from the women he meets. There's a good sequence in which he plays a version of "Twenty Questions" with Pleshette who tries to figure out his occupation, and the climax of the movie is a positively riveting backroom craps game in which he and Simmons try to win $100,000 so she can win the scavenger hunt that she is playing (bizarre as this sounds, in "Buddwing," this sequence actually is credible).

Obviously, "Buddwing" requires audiences to suspend their disbelief and buy into Garner as a man with no memory. They must also believe that, over and over again, various strangers would accept his story and offer their help instead of just walking away. New York may have been a more trusting city in the 1960s than today, but even then, people would likely be very leery of a man walking around in a daze claiming to have no memory. Fortunately, Garner's inherent likability saves the picture on this account. When people see him wandering around, looking miserable and frightened, they are willing to accept his story, and the audience is willing to accept their acceptance.

"Mister Buddwing" is a difficult movie to rate. On the one hand, its central story is far less compelling than it should be, and the ending in particular disappoints. On the other, the framing device is well handled, and the leading man is exceptionally sympathetic and likable. On top of that, the film's jazz score and crisp black-and-white location cinematography add to its gritty feel (the craps game is a very effective blend of sound and imagery). Overall, I'd rate it 3 1/2 stars, rounded up to four based on the strength of the leading man. Mainstream moviegoers may or may not want to see it, but Garner's fans definitely will want to give it a try to get a more complete idea of his many talents.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2013
A very unfocused movie about a very confused and unfocused man who wakes up in Central Park with amnesia and tries to reconstruct his life. A great cast and wonderful shots of early 60's New York are wasted on this vague and suspense-free film.
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on September 8, 2014
Such a waste of good talent as found in Garner. This movie had no plot and was very hard to follow if you could at all. I think James Garner is a wonderful actor and I have several of his movies, including Rockford Files series. I would not recommend this movie to anyone. Watching him act in this movie was great, if only the film had been better.
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on March 25, 2014
I found movie slow and lacking action. It was also in black and white. James Garner has a number of other movies that were far better.
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on September 22, 2012
This movie played at 3 am on TCM so I couldn't watch it, and the ads really grabbed me. When I saw it on Amazon I wanted to try it. The story is about a man who awakens on a park bench with amnesia. He keeps having memories of what he thinks is his wife, but the with different women in each scene. James Garner is really good, and the plot keeps you guessing. It's got some great young (and not-so-young) actresses playing opposite him. It is quite easy to identify it as a movie from the sixties due to the camera work.
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