Movie Review: Love with the Proper Stranger (1963)
“Their first meeting was casual…”
Love with the Proper Stranger (1963)
Director: Robert Mulligan
Cast: Natalie Wood, Steve McQueen, Edie Adams
Synopsis: An innocent Catholic girl discovers she is pregnant following a one night stand with a musician.
‘Hey Baby, what’s happening?’ asks Steve McQueen (Bullitt, Junior Bonner) at the beginning of Love with the Proper Stranger, instantly establishing his cool credentials. He plays a musician, something of a bohemian, who impregnates sweet Catholic girl Natalie Wood (Miracle on 34th Street, Rebel Without a Cause) on a one night stand and then must face the consequences when she somehow tracks him down and gives him the news.
In a way, Love with the Proper Stranger is the natural progression from all those slick Hollywood sex comedies of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the flip side of the coin, if you will; the harsh facts of life that must be faced once the champagne sparkle has fizzled out. Except these two aren’t Hudson and Day, swish executives or successful dress designers; they’re an out of work musician with a casual attitude towards sex, and a struggling shop girl living in a cramped apartment with her overbearing family.
Its heightened sense of realism, aided by authentic street locations, obviously makes Love with the Proper Stranger harder work to watch than those Hudson/Day vehicles, but what was probably considered hard-hitting adult drama back in the early 60s looks a little naïve in these ‘enlightened’ times. Today, you couldn’t make a film out of this story because it wouldn’t come across as realistic.
McQueen’s performance reflects the tone of the film as it switches from serious social comment to light comedy and back again. It’s not a smooth transformation, and at times it’s almost as if two different films have been stitched together. The scene in Wood’s bright apartment doesn’t belong in the same film as the one in the abortionist’s empty one. Wood’s beauty is mesmerising, and although she gives possibly the best performance of her career, her beauty is a barrier she fails to overcome well enough to be believable in the part. Given that she also has to overcome a poorly written scenario that fails to adequately explain why a girl from her background succumbed to a stranger’s charms, it’s hardly surprising that she doesn’t entirely succeed.
(Reviewed 1st November 2011)