Charley Parkes is a loner. He lives with his mother and she dotes on him. He is a shy quiet man who cannot socialize with his peers at work and even has trouble empathizing with his own sister and her husband. His boss fires him because his detached attitude toward his office associates is causing animosity. A woman that his sister convinces to go on a date with Charley slaps him in the face and walks out when Charley knocks her off the bench they were on because she tries to kiss him. He is a hopeless recluse.
While killing some time at the local museum he happens upon an exhibit containing a dollhouse of a 19th century Boston home containing a small wooden carving of a young woman sitting at a harpsichord. Charley is enchanted by the tiny beautiful figure and he becomes lost in the scene. Suddenly he sees the tiny woman playing the instrument and moving. He asks the museum guard how they can make the doll move and the guard tells him he’s seeing things. He shows him a sign that expressly states that the doll is made of a solid piece of wood. Charley admits that he must have been mistaken. But Charley goes back e3very day and spends hours watching the dollhouse. And what he sees is the whole life of the woman and her household. There is a maid and even a gentleman caller who takes the woman to the opera. But one day the man comes back to the house in a fury and forces his way in the door, strikes down the maid with his cane and carries the fainting woman up the stairs to her bedroom. Charley is so alarmed for her safety that he takes a museum furnishing and uses it to shatter the glass around the dollhouse. He explains to the guard why he did it and the guard leads him off to the authorities.
Charley is placed in a mental institution where his psychiatrist works to convince him that he was suffering from hallucinations caused by his desire to escape from a world in which he felt he didn’t belong. When Charley persists in saying that the girl was alive the doctor reveals that he has borrowed the doll from the museum and Charlie can see that it is only a piece of wood.
Some time later the psychiatrist explains to his family that Charley has been cured and can reenter the real world. Charley pretends that he is convinced that what he saw was an hallucination and agrees to all the plans his family make for his career and his social life. But while he is supposedly taking a nap, he sneaks out the window and heads back to the museum. There he hides until closing time. Then he comes out to stand in front of the dollhouse and talk to the little woman. He tells her of his love and his belief that he and she were made for each other and would enjoy each other’s company.
Meanwhile his family discovers his escape and along with the psychiatrist they summon the police to escort them to the closed museum. When Charley hears them coming, he closes the lights. They call to him but he can’t be found. Now the museum guard who appeared in the earlier scenes looks into the dollhouse and sees the woman now joined by a little man that looks just like Charley. He doesn’t say anything to the police because they would think him crazy.
In the last scene we see the man and the woman in the dollhouse and it is indeed Charley and the little woman looking at stereopticon slides and looking happy together.
Okay everybody what is the law! No living mannequins, ventriloquist’s dummies, robots and just in case someone misses the category no living dolls either.
So, Robert Duvall and William Windom who play, respectively, Charley and the psychiatrist are both good actors and do a good job of giving the play depth. And I myself am a sensitive soul who can barely interact with my fellow man without wincing at his barbarity. But come on! Dammit Charley, man up and kiss the girl if she wants to. C+