Color, 1975, 116 mins. 58 secs.
Directed by Arthur Hiller
Starring Maximilian Schell, Lois Nettleton, Lawrence Pressman Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
One of the more ambitious attempts to fuse stage and screen in film history is the mid-'70s American Film Theatre series, an idea by producer Ely Landau to create a series of films faithfully capturing notable plays on the big screen. The 14 eventual films released between 1973 and 1975 were offered in a theatrical season-style arrangement, with viewers allowed to purchase a subscription to a whole, affordable "season" of releases. A host of notable directors and actors were brought on board, with names like John Frankenheimer, Joseph Losey, Harold Pinter, and Tony Richardson behind the camera for films like The Iceman Cometh, Butley, and Galileo. Sometimes the results could be astonishingly twisted, most notably an incredible version of Jean Genet's The Maids with Glenda Jackson and Susannah York. The series even netted an Oscar nomination for Best Actor -- for Maximilian Schell, star of The Man in the Glass Booth, an adaptation of a very controversial 1968 Broadway play written by Robert Shaw (yes, the star of Jaws and From Russia with Love), whose name was removed from the film for complicated reasons. (Basically he thought they were making severe changes to the film, and when he realized the adaptation was actually mostly faithful, it was too late to put his name back).
Already an Oscar winner for a previous Nazi-themed drama, Judgment at Nuremberg, Schell stars as Arthur Goldman, a cocky, wealthy, and seemingly paranoid Jewish industrialist and concentration camp survivor who spends his days in an opulent Manhattan penthouse and its sprawling rooftop. His assistant, Charlie (Pressman), is sometimes tested by Goldman's politically incorrect barbs about being Jewish and his constant stories about a demonic German officer named Colonel Dorf, but things take an unexpected turn when Goldman is apprehended by Israeli law enforcement and put on trial encased in a glass booth for accused Nazi war crimes. Led by an even-handed prosecutor (Nettleton), the trial seems to be an indictment of a war criminal who evaded capture for decades, but even with eyewitness testimony, the truth turns out to be far more complicated.
Apart from Pressman, the entire Broadway cast is replaced here with new actors; Donald Pleasence had originated the role of Pressman, with other thespians in the stage version including F. Murray Abraham and Abe Vigoda. The film is ably directed by Arthur Hiller, an interesting choice for the filmmaker who cut his teeth in the early days of television and made this in between such films as The Man of La Mancha and Silver Streak. Hiller's early experience with TV drama serves him well here as he hones in entirely on Schell's performance, the greatest force of nature in the film (and a great example of how an utter lack of restraint can pay off in the right role), with the glass booth itself (a device to shield from any assassination attempts during the trial) becoming an effective visual metaphor for the layers of delusion and denial at play within the entire human race.
The Man in the Glass Booth made its home video debut in 2003 on DVD from Kino Lorber and was later included in the label's 2008 15-disc collection of American Film Theatre features. These titles would seem like a natural for Blu-ray, and that's what happened in 2017 with a welcome HD upgrade. The original negative appears to have been kept in prime shape (with the original intermission break left intact), and it's been presented here without any evident manipulation or scrubbing; film grain is natural and textured, and flesh tones look more natural and convincing than the SD predecessor. Ported over from the DVD are 2002 interviews with Arthur Hiller (22m21s) and Edie Landau (26m16s), who go into detail about the changes made to help the story work better in dramatic terms on film compared to the stage, plus twelve AFT trailers (let's get 'em all on Blu-ray!) and a vintage Ely Landau featurette (6m30s) about the lofty plans for the American Film Theatre project, an idea that burned all too briefly but left behind a very impressive body of work.