Monday, June 7, 2010

Love with the Proper Stranger: Unexpected Sweetness

My favorite film this week is a treat of a movie.  It is not on DVD, and I have yet to find a VHS copy of it.  So for now the only time I can see it is when it is on TCM, the reason I discovered it in the first place (or by going to YouTube).  And lucky for us, it will be on TCM June 21st at 1:15am EST.  So, set your DVRs for an odd but sweet romance called "Love with the Proper Stranger."

Released on Christmas Day in 1963, it stars two icons of the time, Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen.  Wood plays Angie, a Catholic shop girl who finds out she's pregnant from a one-night stand with Rocky (McQueen), a fun-loving musician.  When Angie finds Rocky and asks him to help her arrange an abortion, they spend a day together trying to raise the money, and hiding from Angie's overly protective brothers.  Yet, when it comes down to the line, Rocky finally grows up and love blossoms.  But is that enough for marriage? 

Like I said, it's a strange romantic comedy-drama, with the backdrop of abortion.  But it works for me.  It's one of those 60s films that just seems to be a smooth ride through another life.  It relies on acting and reacting.  It's the pure emotion all over again (which of course I love).  This was actually the first romantic role McQueen ever played.  Originally, director Robert Mulligan wanted Paul Newman to star, but McQueen wanted the part badly.  McQueen knew this would open him up to a much larger audience of female viewers.  Of course, his motivation to beat out Newman for the role wasn't at all hampered by the fact that he always felt he was in competition with Newman all the time.  So, McQueen campaigned and won.

This was the second collaboration for Mulligan and producer Alan J. Pakula under their new production company Pakula-Mulligan Productions.  Their first film together was the smash hit "To Kill a Mockingbird" the year before.  So they had some pressure to follow up with a winner.  It was not as big a success as "Mockingbird" by a long shot, but they still achieved their goal.  "Proper Stranger" received five Oscar nominations including Natalie Wood for Best Actress.  And both Wood and McQueen received Golden Globe nominations.  This was the last Oscar nomination for Wood though (her first two were for "Rebel Without a Cause" and "Splendor in the Grass"). And even though he received great reviews for "Proper Stranger," McQueen had to wait three more years for his one and only Oscar nomination, for "The Sand Pebbles."

This film also boasts a couple of fun supporting actors - Edie Adams and Tom Bosley.  1963 was a big year for Adams.  She had three other films released earlier that year - "Call Me Bwana," "Under the Yum Yum Tree," and the huge comedy "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" - and she received rave reviews for them all, including "Proper Stranger."  As for Bosley, this was his film debut, and what a good debut it is.  Of course it would be over a decade before he had his big success in "Happy Days."

"Proper Stranger" was filmed entirely on location in New York City, something that also appealed to McQueen.  Having trained at The Actor's Studio there (alongside rival Newman), he felt that shooting in New York would be like going home.  And in the story, by screenwriter Arnold Schulman, the city is almost like another character itself, revolving around the Italian-American community.  Neither Wood nor McQueen were Italian-American themselves, but they blend nicely to create a familiar, warm picture.  And the chemistry between the two stars is apparent in "Proper Stranger;" however there's another reason for that.  Evidently Wood, who was not married at the time, was extremely taken with McQueen and made several passes at him while filming.  McQueen, however, did not accept them, due to his respect for her former (and future) husband Robert Wagner.  McQueen was married at the time himself, but evidently this had never made a difference in the past.  Some accounts, though, state that McQueen and Wood did have an affair after all.  Sadly, since both have passed, (1980 and 1981, respectively) there is no way to verify the rumor.

So, be sure to tune in to TCM on June 21st at 1:15am EST, and watch a romantic comedy you wouldn't expect to find.  (Or you can click here to watch it on YouTube.)  You won't be disappointed, especially if you like romance.  Until Friday, everyone!  Have a wonderful week!

(Post-tidbit: Be sure to watch out for another familiar face in a bit part, director Mulligan's little brother Richard, of future "Soap" and "Empty Nest" fame.)

UPDATE: I just noticed that TCM's scheduled time of June 21st at 1:15am EST is confusing and actually means 1:15am the morning of June 22nd for EST or 10:15pm on June 21st for PST.  Just an FYI so you don't miss this great picture.

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