In New York City, eccentric photographer Alfred Chamberlain (Elliott Gould, who also co-produced) encounters idealistic interior decorator Patsy Newquist (Marcia Rodd) when they are both mugged outside her apartment.
Despite his lack of interest in her ordeal, Patsy is attracted to Alfred and begins to transform him into a suitable husband.
Alfred specialises in taking pictures of excrement (anticipating the artistic ventures of Gilbert and George by several years) and as a hardened New Yorker, he’s blithely unconcerned about crime and violence – even when he’s the victim. Optimist Patsy thinks he will make ideal husband material.
Planning for their wedding ensues but, tragically, Patsy is shot dead by a sniper.
Each of her relatives belittles the event to Alfred, who withdraws into a catatonic state.
Alan Arkin gives a virtuoso performance as Lieutenant Practise, a paranoid black-gloved crypto-fascist detective who explains that the city’s 345 currently unsolved murders have three things in common: “One, they have nothing in common. Two, there is no motive. Three, all are unsolved.”
His conclusion: “It’s a conspiracy against the police. We are readying mass arrests.”
Alfred goes to the park in an attempt to pick up the pieces, but he can no longer focus on his favourite faeces.
The scene dissolves into a shot of him entering the Newquist apartment, brand new rifle cradled under his arm. The climax is deft, swift, smooth, and devastatingly replete with all of the strands of meaning that have been sown throughout.
The trio of men enjoy each other’s company in orgiastic destruction while the mother’s blurred face expands to fill the whole screen for the closing shot. She also has the last word: “At least my family is together and happy again. For a while there things looked bleak.”
Satiric cartoonist Jules Feiffer adapted his play for the screen under the direction of actor Alan Arkin, and this black comedy of Manhattan manners hasn’t dated – if anything its chilling view of alienation and arbitrary violence is more relevant than when it was made.