Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Robert Altman|
|Produced by||Robert Altman|
|Written by||Frank Barhydt|
Nina Van Pallandt
|Music by||Tom Pierson|
|Edited by||Dennis M. Hill|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
The story takes place during a new ice age. The camera tracks a blank, frozen, seemingly deserted tundra until two blurry, distant figures can just be made out. They are the seal hunter Essex (Paul Newman) and his pregnant companion, Vivia (Brigitte Fossey), the daughter of one of Essex's late hunting partners. They are traveling north, where Essex hopes to reunite with his brother, Francha (Thomas Hill).
Essex and Vivia eventually find Francha's apartment, but the reunion is short-lived. While Essex is out buying firewood, a gambler named Redstone (Craig Richard Nelson) throws a bomb into Francha's apartment, killing everyone inside, including Vivia. Essex sees Redstone fleeing the scene and chases him to the sector's "Information Room." Essex witnesses the murder of Redstone by an Italian gambler named St. Christopher (Vittorio Gassman). When St. Christopher leaves, Essex searches Redstone's pockets and finds a piece of paper with a list of names: Francha, Redstone, Goldstar, Deuca, St. Christopher, and Ambrosia.
Puzzled by the mystery, Essex discovers that Redstone had previously checked into the Hotel Electra, a gambling resort in another sector. He visits the hotel and assumes Redstone's identity. Immediately after checking in, Essex is given an unexpected welcome by Grigor (Fernando Rey), who is the dealer in the casino. Insisting that he means no harm, Grigor invites Essex (as "Redstone") to the casino, where gamblers are now heavily involved in a "Quintet" tournament. While there he meets Ambrosia (Bibi Andersson), who always plays the "sixth man" in the game.
Essex is unaware that the current Quintet tournament is a fight for the survival of the fittest. Those who are "killed" in game are executed in real life. Grigor and St. Christopher are aware that Essex is not the real Redstone, so they ignore him and focus on the other players. Goldstar (David Langton) is the first killed, followed by Deuca (Nina Van Pallandt), until the only two players left are St. Christopher and Ambrosia. Ambrosia, however, insists that Essex be counted as a player in the game since he has assumed Redstone's identity. Grigor agrees and informs St. Christopher that he has to eliminate Essex before he can face off against Ambrosia.
Essex and St. Christopher have a showdown outside the city, where St. Christopher is killed in an avalanche. Essex returns to Francha's apartment and finds the same list that Redstone had. Ambrosia follows Essex to the apartment. Essex slits her throat just before she is about to stab him with a hidden knife.
Returning to the Hotel Electra to cremate Ambrosia's body, Essex confronts Grigor to demand his "prize," since he was the winner of Quintet. Grigor reveals that the only prize is the thrill of the game itself. Grigor insists he stay and participate in future tournaments, but a disgusted Essex condemns Quintet and leaves the hotel for good. The film ends with Essex taking a long walk out into the barren distance.
- Paul Newman as Essex
- Vittorio Gassman as Saint Christopher
- Fernando Rey as Grigor
- Bibi Andersson as Ambrosia
- Brigitte Fossey as Vivia, Essex's Wife
- Nina Van Pallandt as Deuca
- David Langton as Goldstar
- Thomas Hill as Francha
- Monique Mercure as Redstone's Mate
- Craig Richard Nelson as Redstone
- Maruska Stankova as Jaspera
- Anne Gerety as Aeon
- Michel Maillot as Obelus
- Max Fleck as Wood Supplier
- Françoise Berd as Charity house woman
Quintet was filmed in early 1978 on the site of Montreal's Expo 67 world's fair. The extreme cold made the shoot challenging for the cast and crew. The soundtrack was recorded by the New York Philharmonic.
According to a report in Daily Variety, the film was "a financial disaster."
Reviews were mostly negative. Roger Ebert gave the film two stars out of four, calling it "a puzzlement, and not a very interesting one." Gene Siskel awarded one-and-a-half stars out of four, writing, "These are metaphors that college filmmakers wouldn't consider making into movies, but Altman somehow considers this profound. Actually, his script is derivative of the Italian comedy 'The Tenth Victim' and Harlan Ellison's sci-fi parable 'A Boy and His Dog.'" Variety called it "Robert Altman's latest impenetrable exercise in self-indulgence." Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote, "'Quintet' is depressing not because it's about the end of the world, but because its artistic vision is feeble. Yet it's the work of one of the most original, vital, enterprising directors of our time. How to reconcile these facts? I'm not sure they can be." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post declared, "Robert Altman's 'Quintet,' now at area theaters, earns a little five-sided niche next to 'Zardoz' and 'The Heretic' in the '70s memory album of pseudo-profound fiascoes." Pauline Kael of The New Yorker lamented that Altman was "giving weight to scenes that he would have treated as comedy skits only a few years ago ... with dialogue such as the diabolical Gassman's 'Hope is an obsolete word,' contrasted with the inspirational music as Newman presses on northward, it's like a Monty Python show played at the wrong speed." Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "It invites easy charges that it is self-indulgent and pretentious. Yet I am bound to say that I was fascinated by it. Like it or not, it is a true tour de force of film-making, an exercise in tone and atmosphere sustained from start to finish." Jack Kroll wrote in Newsweek, "It's clear that the game of Quintet is Altman's metaphor for the erosion of art, philosophy and the humane activities of civilization. That's one of the weaknesses of the film - the game itself can't bear this symbolic weight ... But this is transcended by the strong acting and by the great beauty and hyponotic rhythm of the film."
- "Quintet - History". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved December 9, 2018.
- Robert Altman interviewed by Charles Michener Michener, CharlesView Profile. Film Comment14.5 (Sep/Oct 1978): 15-18,80.
- Neff, Andrew J. (February 14, 1979). "20th's Prod. Budget In '79 Tops $70-Mil". Variety. p. 3.
- Ebert, Roger (February 16, 1979). "Quintet". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved December 8, 2018.
- Siskel, Gene (February 20, 1979). "In 'Quintet,' Altman gamely continues his obscure, downbeat filmmaking". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 3.
- "Film Reviews: Quintet". Variety. February 7, 1979. 20.
- Canby, Vincent (February 18, 1979). "Altman—A Daring Filmmaker Falters". The New York Times. D1.
- Arnold, Gary (February 12, 1979). "Meditation on Ice". The Washington Post. D1.
- Kael, Pauline (February 26, 1979). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. 100-101.
- Champlin, Charles (February 9, 1979). "'Quintet': Game of Apocalypse". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
- Kroll, Jack (February 12, 1979). "Altman's Apocalypse". Newsweek. 88.
- "Quintet". Rotten Tomatoes. 9 February 1979.