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The Tiger Makes Out

The Tiger Makes Out(1967)

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teaser The Tiger Makes Out (1967)

SYNOPSIS: A mailman living in the basement of a rundown apartment building in New York City lives a solitary existence while damning his fellow men for their mindless conformity and lack of intellectual curiosity. His growing frustrations eventually compel him to commit an act of defiance against society. His plan? To kidnap a woman off the streets and hold her captive in his apartment where he will do with her what he pleases. Despite his plan, the mailman is inept at its execution and he winds up abducting the wrong woman, an unhappily married suburban housewife from Long Island who wants to go to graduate school. As the hunter and his captive try to adjust to their new shut-in situation, they begin to realize they are kindred spirits and the mailman's original plan becomes increasingly vague.

It's not often that the premise of a one-act off Broadway play becomes the basis for a feature length film but The Tiger Makes Out (1967) is a rare example of this. Written by Murray Schisgal, who at the time was a promising new social satirist, the play was originally packaged with another one act play under the title The Typists, and The Tiger and presented Off Broadway where it became a critical and cultural sensation due to the unconventional performances of husband-and-wife team Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson and Schisgal's wicked sense of humor. It was not typical for well-established stage and film actors such as Wallach and Jackson to venture Off Broadway for such experimental fare but both actors felt so strongly about Schisgal's talent that they gladly committed themselves to the project.

According to Eli Wallach in his autobiography, The Good, the Bad and Me: In My Anecdotage, he and his wife initially read the two plays separately. "While I had been reading The Typists," he recalled, "Anne was reading The Tiger and every time she'd turn the page, she'd roar with laughter. "How the hell can I concentrate with you laughing all the time?" I asked. "You'll see," she told me, and again yelped with joy. When she was done, she handed me the script; it dealt with an angry postman who, hating his job and society as a whole, decides to kidnap a girl (anyone would do), take her to his basement flat, and rape her. I had recently seen the film The Collector, which had a similar plot, and had hated it. "I don't think I want to do this play," I said. "I don't see anything funny about kidnapping and raping someone. It's tasteless and violent." "All right," Anne said, "Then we'll get another actor to play the postman." "NO, I said, almost shouting. "I'll read the damn play again." And when I was done, I had to concede that it had some funny moments. "All right, I'll do it," I told Anne..." and he had no regrets when The Typists, and The Tiger became the critics' darling and attracted such famous patrons as John Gielgud, who suggested they take the show to London. Although its opening night performance received mixed reviews, Vivien Leigh told Wallach that theatre-goers would love The Tiger because "English audiences are always impressed with threatened rape and sexy scenes."

Wallach and Jackson must have felt that The Tiger would enjoy even greater success as a film since they agreed to produce the film version, retitled The Tiger Makes Out, with Arthur Hiller serving as director. Yet there is no mention of The Tiger Makes Out in Wallach's memoirs which leads one to believe he felt the film wasn't a success and, quite frankly, the movie is a prime example of the pitfalls of trying to bring an offbeat one act play to the screen.

For one thing, The Tiger opens in the dark with the mailman entering his apartment and as the lights come up, you see a struggling figure tossed over his shoulder, wrapped in a raincoat. This scene doesn't occur in the film version until almost sixty minutes into the film. Prior to this, The Tiger Makes Out tries to develop the psychological and emotional state of Ben Harris, the mailman, through scenes on the New York City streets that accent the frantic pace of the city - "Rush, rush, rush. Robots, automatons, mice running after the cheese" he shouts at pedestrians on the sidewalk - or show his inability to communicate with others. An engaging cast of supporting players was brought on to help flesh out the story with eccentric bits from Charles Nelson Reilly, Bob Dishy, Ruth White, Bibi Osterwald, Sudie Bond and Frances Sternhagen (in a tasteless visual gag involving inflatable breasts). Unfortunately, all of the additional material, which is broadly played and often manic instead of funny, only emphasizes the fact that the one-act play has been pointlessly stretched to feature length and ended up overstating and rendering dull its once pointed satire. It also suffers from some stylistic touches that were prevalent in a lot of late sixties comedies - speeded up motion, rollicking slapstick music, absurd sight gags (a suburban family get on their hands and knees and frantically race to weed the crabgrass from their immaculate lawn), and dated sexual humor (Ben encounters a female impersonator whom he mistakes for a sexy lounge singer).

The Tiger Makes Out may also remind you of the popular 1962 play by Herb Gardner, A Thousand Clowns, which addressed a lot of the same frustrations with modern life and the daily grind in a much more successful play to film adaptation in 1965. Critics were decidedly mixed on the screen adaptation of The Tiger with Variety calling it "a distended, uneven pic" and Judith Crist of the New York Herald Tribune noting that the film had "a prosaic reality that too often deflects the ridiculous into repetitious nonsense. Its course to absurdity is further diverted on occasion by Arthur Hiller's direction, by set-up slapstick and telegraphed sight gags, camera tricks that lag behind the intellectual pace, and obvious situation-comedy routines." Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, however, gave The Tiger Makes Out a rave review: "To say that Mr. Wallach and Miss Jackson seize it ferociously, with fur and fun flying in all directions, is to state it conservatively. Not since the late Judy Holliday was splaying her whacky characters on the screen has the genus Manhattan screwball - or Bronx or Brooklyn screwball, if you wish - been so skillfully and accurately depicted as it is by these two in their roles...Its humor is stronger and deeper than slapstick farce, and Mr. Wallach and Miss Jackson are responsible for giving it humanity and scope. The conclusion may seem a little hackneyed-a little easy and incomplete - but there really is no conclusion for the dilemma of the little people in this fresh and colorful New York-made film."

If nothing else, Tiger does provide a rare opportunity to see Wallach and Jackson act together in leading roles on screen and if you watch closely, you'll see Dustin Hoffman in a brief scene on the street, arguing with his girlfriend (played by Mariclare Costello, the mysterious siren of Let's Scare Jessica to Death, 1971). It was Hoffman's screen debut and the same year he appeared in The Graduate which made him a star overnight. As for Murray Schisgal, who received even greater critical acclaim for his 1965 Broadway debut Luv, which earned two Tony Award nominations, his film career has been more uneven; Luv was adapted for the screen as a Jack Lemmon vehicle in 1967 (it was a critical and financial failure) but Schisgal's screenwriting contributions to Tootsie (1982) earned him an Oscar® nomination for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.

Producer: George Justin; Anne Jackson, Eli Wallach (both uncredited)
Director: Arthur Hiller
Screenplay: Murray Schisgal (screenplay and play "The Tiger")
Cinematography: Arthur J. Ornitz
Music: Diane Hildebrand, Shorty Rogers
Film Editing: Robert C. Jones
Cast: Eli Wallach (Ben Harris), Anne Jackson (Gloria Fiske), Bob Dishy (Jerry), John Harkins (Leo), Ruth White (Mrs. Kelly), Roland Wood (Mr. Kelly), Rae Allen (Beverly), Sudie Bond (Miss Lane), David Burns (Mr. Ratner), Jack Fletcher (pawnbroker), Bibi Osterwald (Mrs. Ratner), Charles Nelson Reilly (registrar).
C-94m.

by Jeff Stafford

SOURCES:
The Good, the Bad and Me: In My Anecdotage by Eli Wallach (Harcourt, Inc.)
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