Cinema: Telephone Tie-Up

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The Slender Thread. At the Crisis Clinic, a suicide-prevention center in Seattle, a student volunteer (Sidney Poitier) embarks upon a life-or-death telephone conversation with an unhappy young matron (Anne Bancroft) who has locked herself in a motel room and taken an overdose of barbiturates. "What happened?" he asks. "Nothing, really," she answers helplessly. "I just didn't have anything to do."

These casual words ought to open the way for a stirring semi-documentary about the impulsive, unpredictable nature of suicide. Unfortunately, Thread does not follow through on its inspiration—a vivid 1964 LIFE article in which Shana Alexander described the psychological crisis that led one anonymous Seattle housewife to attempt self-destruction. The movie is a routine, sometimes mawkish melodrama, and a sorry misuse of talent.

Much of the problem may be that a suicidal lady who phones for help obviously intends to be saved, and suspense becomes a matter of mechanics. While the clock ticks away, while rescuers all around town carefully prolong the agony and news photographers batter at his door, Poitier behaves precisely like an Oscar-winning actor who has to work up an hour or more of excitement with a hot line as his only prop and such depressing pep talk as "You're something all your own, just as I am." Bancroft retaliates by spelling out her problem in flashbacks, and the gist of the fiction is that her husband (Steven Hill) rejected her when he discovered that he was not the father of their son. Awash in self-pity, she wanders down to the shore and demonstrates her love of life by buying brandy for a sick bird. By the time the bird dies, Slender Thread has been holding up the line far too long for a film that has nothing on its mind but a sob story.