The star of the film Save the Tiger (1973), Jack Lemmon plays Harry Stoner, a Los Angeles clothing manufacturer who, in financial dire straits, plots to have one of his factories set on fire for the insurance money. . . As it happens, Harry prefers the past to his depraved self in the 1970s present. In the Forties, after all, he was an American soldier at Anzio. But Harry also prefers the past to the moral condition of present-day America, with, for example, its deep incivility. A parking attendant snaps at him, a cab driver is angrily sarcastic to him.
What’s wrong with the film is that not only does Harry romanticize the past, so does Steve Shagan‘s script. Harry says there used to be rules but not anymore—which is why such things as pornography and a lack of patriotism exist in our culture—and the movie seems to accept this. Well, as objectionable as pornography, etc. are, and despite the collapse of so many traditional Western values, it is of course false that there are no rules. What is true is that many otherwise decent or likable people keep pushing against the rules, often for the sake of an agenda.
Save the Tiger avoids self-righteousness and condescension—toward, for instance, the hippie girl (Laurie Heineman) whom Harry beds even though he is married. Directed by John Avildsen, it is largely intelligent, but problematic. Indeed, Avildsen should have known that the bright big-band song at the end of the film was inappropriate in light of the very dark incidents that Tiger was setting in motion.