Mister Buddwing (1966): Delbert Mann’s Noir Amnesia Thriller, Starring James Garner, Angela Lansubury, Suzanne Pleshette

Delbert Mann, better known for his femme-driven melodramas, directed Mr. Buddwing, a nourish thriller about amnesia–the loss of identity by a young man who suddenly finds himself on a bench in New York’s Central Park.

The melodrama is elevated by the star and lead man James Garner, and the four surrounding actresses, Jean Simmons, Suzanne Pleshette, Katharine Ross, and Angela Lansbury.

Based on Evan Hunter’s 1964 novel Buddwing, the film benefits from good production values, especially the evocative black-and-white cinematography and Kenyon Hopkins’ moody jazz score.

James Garner plays man who one day wakes up on a New York park bench with his mind blank. Lacking any identification–just a slip of paper in his pocket with a phone number, which leads to his first encounter.

Gloria (Angela Lansbury), failing to recognize him, hands him some cash out of pity. He decides to invent a name for himself, after spotting a Budweiser Beer truck go by.

Buddwing then meets a woman he calls “Grace,” though her name is Janet (Katharine Ross); there’s flashback of their college romance.

The narrative then shows other flashbacks, such as his meeting actress Fiddle Corwin (Suzanne Pleshette), with whom he has an affair, and who contemplates suicide.

Most crucial is the encounter with the Blonde (Jean Simmons), a socialite on scavenger hunt, who asks him to accompany her to Harlem for dice game.  A passing remark there, jogs Buddwing’s memory, and he recovers from a shock that involves his wife’s pregnancy.

In the unconvincing resolution, he remembers who and where he was before his blackout.

The film is stronger in mood and visual style than in its plot or characterizations.

The secondary cast includes Jack Gifford and Billy Halop.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Art Direction-Set Decoration (black/white): George Davis, Paul Groesse, Henry Grace, and Hugh Hunt.

Costume Design (black/white): Helen Rose


I am grateful to TCM for showing the movie on January 31, 2018, as part of Jean Simmons series.