Nether Regions 09.14.10: Love with the Proper Stranger
Posted by Chad Webb on 09.14.2010
Natalie Wood hops in the sack with Steve McQueen and winds up prego in this uncharted 1963 drama. To find out what happens, click now!
Nether Regions started as a segment of the Big Screen Bulletin that meant to showcase films that have been discontinued on DVD, are out of print in the United States, are only available in certain regions outside the United States, or are generally hard to find. Now it is a column all its own! You might ask "Why should I care about a film I have no access to?" My goal is to keep these films relevant because some of them genuinely deserve to be recognized. Every time I review a new film I will have a list of those I covered below so you can see if they have been announced for DVD release, or are still out of print.
LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER
Starring: Natalie Wood, Steve McQueen, and Edie Adams Directed By: Robert Mulligan Written By: Arnold Schulman Running Time: 102 minutes Release Date: December 25, 1963 Missing Since: 1998 Existing Formats:VHS Netflix Status: Not Available Availability: Extremely Rare
Yes, this stars the beautiful Natalie Wood and the immensely popular Steve McQueen, but more importantly, this is the big screen debut of Tom Bosley, a.k.a. the father from Happy Days. If that isn't enough reason to check this exceedingly rare gem out, what is? He even plays a character named Columbo. Columbo is somewhat clumsy, but sweet-natured all the same, much like this week's title.
Ok so Love With the Proper Stranger has more going for it than Mr. Bosley's talents. Researching why this is not on DVD resulted in my feeling like Sherlock Holmes. Each possible reason is not definite, and most of them stem from fan speculation. Some have said it was censored at one point, but I saw it on TCM, so that wouldn't make sense. It is one of numerous rumors. The logical reason could be the rights issues. Word has it that Natalie Wood's estate owns part of this film, and that could be holding a DVD release up. It certainly can't be for lack of fans. The message boards on its IMDB page consist primarily of people discussing why it has not be released on DVD yet. Some of the threads go on for pages and pages.
Love With the Proper Stranger follows Angie Rossini (Natalie Wood), a young woman who finds herself pregnant after a very brief relationship with a jazz musician named Rocky Papasano (Steve McQueen). She works as a sales clerk at New York City Macy's Department Store, and on her lunch break she decides to confront Rocky with the news. At the time, he is at the union hall looking for jobs. When she tells him, he doesn't even remember who she is. All she requests of him is the name of a doctor who can perform an abortion. In the meantime, no one in Angie's family knows about her situation. She comes from an Italian Catholic family, and life at home is anything but easy. Her brothers are overprotective and constantly trying to hook her up with appropriate men. Aside from wanting the best solution for the baby, Angie does not want a man who is simply "willing" to marry her. She wants to marry for love, and unfortunately that has not happened yet.
Natalie Wood relaxes behind the scenes.
Directed by Robert Mulligan, Love With the Proper Stranger was nominated for 5 Academy Awards and 2 Golden Globes. By skimming the premise, one will observe its familiarity with a dozen or more titles, most notably Knocked Up. The major problems with Love With the Proper Stranger are its dated qualities. The costumes, set designs and locations all exude an early 60's atmosphere. It all depends on how much these sort of snags bother the viewer. For me, if the film is engaging and well made, the aged aspects are not as glaring. In this case, the honest approach toward abortion and finding a soul mate, combined with the organic performances, make this a charming and earnest, if not slightly misguided effort.
Now, you might be thinking the same thing that initially popped into my head. How in the hell could anyone forget a night in the sack with such a gorgeous brunette? It couldn't have been too much time since they "sealed the deal" because Angie never looks very far along. This could have been defended better, but the film skates over it without excessive concern. First off, we're never totally sure when Rocky realizes who she is as both performances shine by being heavily internal. Could it have been a momentary memory lapse? Who knows? Secondly, he is a jazz musician that plays all sorts of odd places, and it's hinted at that there is no shortage of female companions in his life. The perks of a musician are the same no matter what year I suppose.
For Natalie Wood, this would mark her 3rd Oscar nomination in 10 years, kicking it off with Rebel without a Cause in 1955, followed by Splendor in the Grass in 1961, and then Love in '63. The storyline floats along so effortlessly due to the sterling chemistry of the leads that when it's done, the running time seems a lot shorter than it really is. I'm no Natalie Wood expert, but her portrayal of Angie Rossini is completely unforced and uncinematic compared to even her recognizeable achievments. It's easily one of, if not her best performance because you understand the character and her actions even if you don't necessarily agree with her. Angie is an Italian from the Bronx, and Natalie is of Russian descent from San Francisco, but Wood is so genuine it's as if she is drawing from personal experiences to further immerse herself into the role.
Both leads excel in a manner that I love, which is establishing conviction through sparse dialogue and silence. Watching Angie at her place of employment, and observing Rocky glancing at her, is a prime example of laying the foundation for truthful personas with barely any talking. McQueen reaps fewer compliments for his work as Rocky Papasano, and that is a shame. The same year Love With the Proper Stranger hit theaters, the public also soaked in his charisma with The Great Escape. That and Love With the Proper Stranger cemented his status as a star. He would go on a streak after this "double whammy" (as Robert Osborne puts it) with most of his iconic roles. Love focuses on Angie, but McQueen prospers with the screen time he's given. It's apparent that Rocky has landed in pickle that is awkward for him; hence he makes some choices that are unwise. The sequence where he visits his parents in the area he grew up in is quite poignant as Angie sees a side of him few have.
Some couples just click with ease, and those sparks make Love With the Proper Stranger an appealing study of a common dilemma. Abortion is as touchy a subject today as it was when this was released, so if you find it impossible to enjoy a film based on its stance, this will divide moviegoers just like they all have. Abortion is a segment of the story, but does not totally define it. Love With the Proper Stranger requires you to imagine what living in that time and place might have been like. It begs the question of whether one should marry for security or for love. Obviously this question is answered, especially with the contrived and abrupt ending.
Tom "Columbo" Bosley tries to woo Angie.
It should also be pointed out that Rocky has a "girlfriend" named Barbie who has entirely too many dogs for her apartment. Why the name Barbie was chosen is beyond me. Her insertion flirted vivaciously with being too quirky. Still, Edie Adams put 110% into the undeveloped role. Angie has 3 brothers, all of whom have nothing better to do than trace her all over the city in their truck. Herschel Bernardi is satisfactory as the oldest and most alarmed over Angie's unusual behavior.
Director Robert Mulligan stood at the helm for this seldom seen tale immediately after his career high with the adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. He made a handful of decent films over a 4 decade run as a filmmaker, but he would never come close to equaling that classic with Gregory Peck. Mulligan is an actor's director, someone who could harness the abilities of a performer and show them how to communicate that strength on camera. Superb cinematographer Milton R. Krasner picked up a nomination here, a well-deserved one I might add, as he captures the raw splendor of New York City that viewers can admire in a time capsule type fashion. Mulligan and Krasner keep it minimal in terms of camera movement though, adhering to static, adeptly composed shots where it is left up to the cast to flourish.
Jack Jones belts the title track, composed by Johnny Mercer and Elmer Bernstein, and surprisingly it pops up midway through the story as Angie and Rocky are listening to the radio. It could have been tacked on the opening and closing credits like many films of the period, but this was nicer since the characters react to the song and discuss how the lyrics relate to their lives. This was the first of two Oscar nominations for screenwriter Arnold Schulman, who really should have written more judging from the fascinating exchanges presented here. Love With the Proper Stranger is a digestible drama that is not too light and not overly profound. Love it or hate it, Mulligan steers Wood and McQueen on a steady path with a comfortable stride that is effective and sufficiently affecting. It is recommended for those who want to see two great stars in underrated performances.
--It turned out I had to skip last week. My life has been sporadically crazy lately. I should be back on track now though. One of my problems is that I have so many movies to watch for this column that I can never decide which one to cover. I need to set goals for myself apparently.
--Since the last time we spoke, I went to see a few concerts, one of which I'll mention in the Top 10 Guy Movies article. The other two were held at Musicfest, which happens right down the street from my place every year. This year I caught Soul Asylum (yes, they are still kickin' it) and Spoon. Both shows were terrific. I'm a relatively new fan of Spoon's, but I plan on checking out more of their albums now.
--I read Woody Allen's Getting Even book of random writings. Like Without Feathers, it helps if you imagine him reading it to you. His short plays are always the highlights of these small books.
--I still find time to see movies now and again. I watched The Freshman (1990) with Matthew Broderick and Marlon Brando, which was a funny and thoroughly entertaining 3 star effort. I also watched Nanook of the North (1922), hailed as the first documentary every made by Robert J. Flaherty. I'm mixed on it. I found it to be better as a film than a documentary, since that term was not used yet, and since he staged most of the action.
--I went to Bobby's Burger Palace recently at the suggestion of my wife. They have a large selection of burgers, but they give the option of putting chips on them. It was one of the better burgers I've had. The chips add a really distinctive texture that you will definitely dig. There are not many of these restaurants in the country, but if you're lucky enough to be near one, check it out!