Love With the Proper Stranger (1963)

Love With the Proper Stranger (1963)

“I’m sick and tired of the kind of life I lead.”

When a department store clerk (Natalie Wood) seeks out the musician (Steve McQueen) who got her pregnant, she’s disappointed to learn he doesn’t even remember her. Soon Angie (Wood) is considering marriage with an earnest restauranteur (Tom Bosley) who her mother (Penny Santon) and overprotective brothers (Herschel Bernardi, Harvey Lembeck, and E. Nick Alexander) want her to be with — but do Wood and McQueen actually have a chance at romance after all?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Character Arc
  • Musicians
  • Natalie Wood Films
  • Pregnancy
  • Robert Mulligan Films
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Steve McQueen Films

Director Robert Mulligan’s follow-up film after To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) was this romantic “dramedy” about a young Italian woman (Wood) who uses her unexpected pregnancy as a catalyst for moving away from her dominating family and living life on her own terms.

Indeed, both Wood and McQueen undergo significant character arcs in this film, with time and space given in the pacing of the screenplay to show the inner shifts occurring for each of them. McQueen is at first presented as a self-absorbed hustler living with an equally narcissistic showgirl (Edie Adams) whose apartment is littered with evidence of her love for herself (and her dogs):

… while Wood is literally smothered on all sides by her domineering Italian family, who want to monitor her every move.

It makes sense that both Wood and McQueen would gravitate towards a less extreme, more balanced existence of some kind — but meanwhile, Wood’s pregnancy needs taking care of, and we’re shown the extreme challenges of this situation in a pre-Roe v. Wade world. While the movie’s tone is a bit uneven — veering from more serious drama to slapstick (i.e., how clumsy both Bosley and Wood are during dinners with their respective families) — this remains overall a well-filmed drama with good use of authentic New York location shooting. It’s worth a one-time look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Natalie Wood as Angie
  • Steve McQueen as Rocky
  • Tom Bosley as Anthony
  • Edie Adams as Barbie
  • The daring abortion “clinic” sequence
  • Good use of NYC locales
  • Milton Krasner’s cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended for Wood’s performance and as an overall good show. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Love With the Proper Stranger (1963)

  1. (Rewatch 12/27/21.) Not must-see.

    One might expect the director of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ to have a better follow-up film. But then, ‘Mockingbird’ had a surefire, practically foolproof screenplay by Horton Foote. That’s not the case here. Arnold Schulman’s script is flimsier.

    As directed by Mulligan, the film’s tone is all over the place – from dramatic to dull, from clumsy to wacky / frenetic. (The lack of a consistent tone is reflected in Elmer Bernstein’s score.) Throughout, Wood and McQueen struggle with ill-defined characters. They would have needed more than 90+ minutes for us to get to know them better.

    Midway, Wood’s Angie says: “I used to try to pick out the people who lived alone, you know? In the subway, in the street. And almost every time they had this kind of glassy eyes – nothin’s livin’ in them. Like – I don’t know – dead.”

    ~ because, as with the same message we would get in Sondheim’s ‘Company’ later in the decade, if you’re not in a relationship, you might as well kill yourself, right? (Nonsense.)

    ‘Love…’ tackles the hot-button topic of abortion. The actual (attempted) abortion scene will remind viewers now of the nightmare that would follow if our present Handmaid’s Tale Supreme Court has its way with Roe v. Wade.

    But, all told, this isn’t a very good film.

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