LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER has young, unmarried Natalie Wood finding she’s pregnant from a one-night stand with rarely employed musician Steve McQueen. She asks him to help her get an abortion. Rather risky stuff for 1963 (in real life as in movie) and with fate’s apparent indifference to humanity’s insanity it remains so, five decades down the hatch.
The stars have chemistry together and their shared scenes give the 102-minute story enough of a character-involvement quotient (helped by some good writing) to carry it past a few bumps in the handling. Directed by Robert Mulligan, it’s a 50/50 blending of light drama with light comedy, both wings offered in that era’s Social Observance Genre, Big City/Ethnic Variety. *
Working naturalism into the pavement is the overdone ‘Italian-family-dynamic’ hollering by Herschel Bernardi as Wood’s over-protective brother—he seems bent on capturing the Lee J. Cobb Bellowing Trophy—and most of the likewise-noisy material with the respective Natalie-Steve tribes gets old quick. Gia abbastanza!
Once again playing a sexy second banana, the always welcome Edie Adams has a few good moments. Tom Bosley scores as a kindly klutz. Arnold Schulman’s thoughtful screenplay got an Oscar nomination, along with the films b&w Cinematography, Art Direction and Costume Design. A fifth Academy nod was accorded Miss Wood, then 25, who gives it her all, riding the crest from Splendor In The Grass and West Side Story. She batted a few popular second-base hits over her remaining 18 years, but nothing that matched her fine work in those classics and in this rarely-mentioned piece. McQueen aced his iconic breakout role that year with The Great Escape (canceling out the dismal Soldier In The Rain) and his quality turn here helped nudge him into the power bracket, thanks to good reviews and a pleasing box office response of $7,800,000.
Director Mulligan, coming off his triumph with To Kill A Mockingbird, went back-to-back with his two stars again, both in 1965, with Baby, The Rain Must Fall (McQueen) and Inside Daisy Clover (Wood) but neither clicked.
With Harvey Lembeck, Penny Santon, Mario Badalati, Virginia Vincent, Augusta Ciolli. Frank Marth plays the slimy back-alley abortion fixer. If you’ve got trivia-eyes like a raptor, you can spot—in the jostling crowd at the beginning—other New York-based hopefuls Richard Castellano,Val Avery, Arlene Golonka, Vic Tayback and Richard Mulligan (the director’s younger bro). Plus, one of the coolest Jet’s from Natalie’s ‘Maria’ days—Tony ‘Action’ Mordente— is poking around somewhere in the mob.
- * Equal parts exasperated Paddy Chayevsky, here in the States (Marty, The Bachelor Party, The Catered Affair, Middle Of The Night ) and f—all, kitchen-sink Brits (Look Back In Anger, Billy Liar, The Angry Silence, Saturday Night And Sunday Morning: a few pints in a pubful).