Constitutionally, temperamentally, against the grain of his better intentions, his background and even many of his actions, Wendell Spear, the film critic and historian, was avaricious.

Well, not quite. Avarice didn’t do justice to Spear’s feelings about money. After his wife Vanessa’s death, money became a kind of companion to him, almost a child. The nurturing and growth of his small wealth brought him a profound ease and —though he knew this was absurd—pride.

Every morning, waking, he reached for his bedside phone, pressed its memory button and, successively, the numbers which summoned the electronic voices which reported the status of his accounts. The rare times when there was a glitch in either the reporting system or his account, Spear was gripped by anxiety and anger until he could reach his broker’s office and learn what, thank God, had, so far, been a reporting error which, for anxious minutes, appeared to be either a catastrophic decline or an embezzlement.

When, in late …