Featuring quite possibly the most thoughtfully written script in Hollywood history, Paddy Chayefsky’s torrential satire on the television industry wasn’t so far-fetched at the time, and it’s turned out to be so prophetic that today’s jaded high schooler might think it tame. Network is to be savored for many reasons, among them the autumnal crisis endured by aging network exec Max Schumacher (William Holden), who faces the business end of his career just as Faye Dunaway’s irresistibly amoral company hotshot lures him into an affair. He knows it’s all a soap opera cliche, and she hardly knows soap from real life, but in the meantime there’s real heartache here, with Holden and his wife (Oscar winner Beatrice Straight) bravely facing—in painful, human terms— the desperate confusions of fading love and angry devotion. It’s a notably sympathetic portrait because it’s so viciously honest, and 203 | dl fe Cr s s IV anyone in his or her fifties can find understanding company in Holden’s melancholy, hound-dog visage.
This Paddy Chayefsky–written barn burner is such a brilliantly incisive dismantling of the way network television worked in the 1970s that it has become something like a prophecy in the years since—what was true then is five times as true today. Television goes from being a semi-whorehouse to an out-and-out freak circus in the quest for higher ratings; Sidney Lumet’s fastidiously realistic direction and the hair-raising performances of Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Duvall, Peter Finch, et al make it all tangible and undeniable. Were Hollywood films ever really this sophisticated, this caustic, this ethical?