One year prior to the release of  Desperate Characters , author Paula Fox wrote a novel of the same name, brilliantly received by critics, but with poor sales. Award-winning playwright Frank G. Gilroy took that novel and wrote the script for the movie he would also direct. In it we follow a married couple, Sophie and Otto Bentwood, as their marriage crumbles but does not cease to exist, leaving them in long-lasting agony. They are without a child, passionless towards one other and paranoid due to the world’s growing crime rates. They are part of a world so grey and suffocating, that the viewer has no other option but to submit and enjoy the bleak future of their relationship.

The character of Sophie is played by Shirley MacLaine, and is widely considered one of her breakout roles (alongside  The Apartment), where she showed her full potential. As a result of her performance, she won the Silver Bear award for best actress at the Berlin International Film Festival and the New York Film Critics award. The film was shot on location in New York and the cast and crew were able to finish the movie ahead of time, in just thirty-two days instead of the planned fifty-one days, which makes the whole project even more respected.