The Adding Machine (1969)

Article 2884 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-31-2009
Posting Date: 7-6-2009
Directed by Jerome Epstein
Featuring Milo O’Shea, Phyllis Diller, Billie Whitelaw
Country: USA / UK

A man who has made a career of adding totals discovers he is going to be replaced by an adding machine. He kills his boss in a fit of rage, and, when he is arrested and convicted, finds his life is coming to an end.

When I first watched this movie, I thought it was probably going to be a comedy about a computer, since I saw Phyllis Diller’s name in the credits. She’s in it, all right, but, despite top billing, she’s in a supporting role and only appears in the first half of the movie as a shrewish wife. It is something of a comedy, but I think it’s more of a drama. The fantastic content comes in the second half of the movie when the man who kills his boss enters the afterlife.

The movie itself is based on a stage play of the twenties called “The Adding Machine” by Elmer Rice. It’s an interesting and unique movie, but, to my mind, not a successful one. Despite the fact that it’s been adapted for the screen, it still feels very much like a stage play, and is full of theatrical touches that fall flat on the screen; we have characters essentially stepping out of the reality of the moment to deliver monologues and innermost thoughts, for example. Furthermore, the dialogue is extremely dated (and probably was in 1969 as well), and the New York accents are distracting in the extreme. As a result, the movie never really rings true; it seems mannered, artificial and pretentious, despite its desperate attempt to seem colloquial. It’s a shame; there’s some interesting ideas in here, but the movie’s style prevents me from really enjoying them. The movie is a curio.


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