He is on a park bench, he knows that much, but whereabouts? Seems to be New York City's Central Park, but he has no idea how he got there, or more crucially, who he is. He looks through his jacket pockets and finds a railway timetable and a note with a telephone number on it, but aside from that, he is at a loss, and starts walking towards the street. He reaches a hotel, looks in the mirror and doesn't recognise himself, then manages to get a call out to the number on the note, whereupon a woman named Gloria (Angela Lansbury) answers. She thinks he's called Sam, and he responds to ask what her address is, then heads over, picking a surname for himself along the way...
The name he settles on, after a beer truck passing by and a plane going over, is Mr Buddwing, and he's played by James Garner who made no secret of the opinion that this was the worst movie he ever appeared in. Now, he was usually fairly reliable when it came to picking projects, maybe not a huge number of all-time classics but you could often depend on him for an entertainment, he was reliable that way, and his natural charm was always a major part of that diversion. But here you could tell he was all at sea in a role he simply could not get a handle on, which in a way suited the personality of the character, since his disorientation was a factor in getting the plot moving.
Which would have been fine had that plot been any good, but here, curiously, the original author Evan Hunter let us down in what appeared to be his attempt at penning a Great American Novel away from the crime thrillers he was more identified with under his nom de plume Ed McBain. As ever, the maxim stick to what you know may have been wiser words than writing what took a cliché of the amnesiac protagonist, a hackneyed trope even then, and chose to have his life come back to him in dribs and drabs as he mistakes three women for his wife. Director Delbert Mann used a strange ploy here to keep the stars playing them in the movie for as long as he possibly could.
Therefore Buddwing would mistake, say, Suzanne Pleshette for his missis and we would see her playing out some domestic drama that turned out to be a returning memory, except at the end of it he would realise "This is not my beautiful wife!" and be sent spiralling back into confusion once again. Katharine Ross was the student he picks for the young version, Pleshette for the middle years of their marriage, and Jean Simmons behaving decidedly un-Jean Simmons-like as the version he has, for some reason left behind. Yet there were complications even from that, as his motive for not going to the police or a hospital, which would have cleared things up a lot faster, is that there is an escaped maniac on the loose, a danger to the public, and Buddwing suspects that maniac may well be him.
Even so, if he thought he was a dangerous man it would have been more sensible to turn himself in anyway and not spend the day wandering the streets and meeting random New Yorkers; after all, he comes across as fairly decent in his demeanour in spite of his nonplussed nature. It was not solely the actresses he met (Angela Lansbury was only seen in the first quarter hour, giving us the peculiar sight of her clasping a crying James Garner to her bosom), as there were other character actors who popped up, such as Jack Gilford who essayed a prying conversation in a diner that makes Buddwing feel worse, and Raymond St. Jacques who brings him to a frenetic dice game (Nichelle Nichols is there too, the year she first appeared in Star Trek). There appeared to be a commentary on the malaise of the modern sixties male unfolding here, all very well but not what you went to see Garner movies for, and by the end you felt sorrier for the actor than the character, no matter what spurred him into forgetfulness: the explanation simply wasn't worth the journey. Music by Kenyon Hopkins.