A Delicate Balance (1973)

PG  |   |  Drama  |  April 1976 (UK)
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Ratings: 7.0/10 from 444 users  
Reviews: 15 user | 11 critic

A well-to-do Connecticut family is upended when the grown daughter's godparents, seized by a nameless terror, decide they've come to live with them.



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Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. See more awards »



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Cast overview:


In Connecticut, Agnes and Tobias are an upper-class married couple whose relationship has been uneasy for many years, since at least the time their son died; but they've managed to find a certain comfortable pattern of uneasiness. Agnes's sister, Claire, lives with them and insists that her perpetual drinking is not alcoholism but willfulness. Their daughter, Julia, poised to have her fourth divorce, has come back home. Unexpectedly, her room has been taken over by Harry and Edna, best friends of Tobias and Agnes. Seized by a nameless terror that propelled them out of their own house, Harry and Edna have decided to stay. Written by J. Spurlin

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The sister who drank too much. The daughter who divorced too much. They're all there when Tobias and Agnes have their little get-together and tear-apart.




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Release Date:

April 1976 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

Balansgång  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


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Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
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Did You Know?


This was the first (and only) time that Joseph Cotten and Katharine Hepburn appeared together since they starred in the original Broadway production of "The Philadelphia Story" in 1939. See more »

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User Reviews

Mediocre in spite of top flight cast
3 June 2012 | by (Boulder, CO) – See all my reviews

After seeing this I tried to figure out why it is considered at all above the ordinary. The characters are: a domineering wife, a docile husband, an alcoholic sister, a daughter working on her fourth divorce, friends in a crisis of anxiety. I suppose this exaggerated mix is interesting to a playwright, but maybe not to an audience, at least to this member of the audience. My interest flagged while spending over two hours watching these unhappy people work through their long-standing problems.

Katharine Hepburn as Agnes, the wife, is, well, Katharine Hepburn. That is good as far as it goes, but her performance here seemed overly rehearsed--every body movement and spoken line struck me as anything but spontaneous. If I had not known that it was Paul Schofield as Tobias, the husband, I would not have found his performance all that remarkable. Kate Reid's performance as Claire, Agnes' alcoholic sister, might play well on stage, but here it struck me as embarrassingly overacted, perhaps exaggerated by the extreme close-ups and silly script elements like the accordion playing. Lee Remick did add some spark as Julia, the much-divorced daughter. Betsy Blair, as Edna, a supposed friend, gave little indication why Agnes and Tobias should find her of value (not sure if this was a result of her performance or the script). Joseph Cotton, as Harry, Edna's husband, turned in the most sincere performance, making me think that he has been under-appreciated as an actor.

I liked the question raised of when love for friends equals, or even trumps, inherent family bonds. This play gives credence to Robert Frost's quote, "Home is the place, when you have to go there, they have to take you in," and submits that this quote is not as nearly a given when applied to friends.

I found some character behaviors unfathomable. Consider Julia's reaction to Harry and Edna's taking over her bedroom. She was insulted by this from the beginning, but about midway through the play she went ballistic and finally flew upstairs in a rage. Later Harry reported that Julia had become hysterical and was blocking a doorway with her arms outstretched. I fully expected that in subsequent scenes Julia would be carted off to the nut house, but no, the next morning she was calm and collected. When Harry and Edna came in to the house uninvited, with the intention of moving in, they appeared to be disconnected from reality. But then overnight they became rational.

Spending time with these people would be something that I would not look forward too, but neither did I want to spend two hours with them in this movie, being confined to a house with nothing to entertain but conversation. On the other hand, I would not want to spend time with George and Martha of, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" either, but I found that movie spellbinding.

Rather than the filming of a stage play, this movie is an adaptation. No matter how director Richardson tries to break up the monotony by mixing close-ups and two shots and using different vantage points for the camera, he cannot overcome the essential staginess, particularly given Albee's stricture that his text was not to be changed. I think that the filming of a stage production of this might have been preferable, since there is no pretense there of a realistic setting. It was a delicate balance for the family in this play to stay together but the movie fails to achieve the delicate balance of turning a stage play into an engrossing movie.

I think only those who appreciate stage productions will truly appreciate this movie.

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