Love with the Proper Stranger (1963)

Love with the Proper Stranger (1963)


A Macy’s sales associate, Angie Rossini (Natalie Wood, Splendor in the Grass), has a one-night stand with a narcissist musician, Rocky Papasano (Steve McQueen, Bullit). Angie becomes pregnant and she asks Rocky to help her find a doctor willing to perform an abortion. After some hesitation, Rocky agrees to help Angie, but things get complicated really quick.

Reaction & Thoughts:

This once-controversial comedy-drama has retained most of its emotional power and edgy humor. With its frank treatment of things like abortion, casual sex and single parenthood, Love with the Proper Stranger signaled that Hollywood was eager and ready to grow up. Not only technically (the film was shot on location in drab b/w by Milton Krasner), but thematically as well this movie showed that a new boss with different sensibilities and attitudes had arrived in Tinseltown.

Love with the Proper Stranger, written by Arnold Schulman (Tucker: The Man and His Dream), directed by Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird) and co-produced by Alan J. Pakula (All the President’s Men), is really an old-fashioned Hollywood rom-com at heart. However, being a sixties movie, the romance is laced with cynicism, moral angst and a touch of existentialism.

I’m always in awe of movies that combine serious drama with humor and Love with the Proper Stranger does exactly that quite well. One moment you are treated to an ugly back-alley abortion and some time later you are suddenly in the midst of a hilarious interchange between members of an Italo-American family. The transition is handled so well that you don’t even realize that right before you started laughing the movie had you by the throat.

Wood and McQueen are pretty great here. Wood, in particular, gives a knock-out performance in a rather difficult role. The part required her to walk a thin line between hilarity and pathos. She not only conveys the anguish and desperation of a woman in a difficult situation, but also projects self-aware absurdity brilliantly. McQueen has a less showy role, but for a man who is mostly known for detached coolness his performance has a lot of heart. He plays a tender-hearted heel, not the easiest thing to pull off. A curious, but effective screen pair.

As I said before, the movie has this enticingly unglamorous look. Milton Krasner, the man who shot gorgeous-looking movies like Three Coins in the Fountain (1954) and An Affair to Remember (1957), does an excellent job capturing the New York milieu of the sixties. The jazzy music score is by Elmer Bernstein (The Magnificent Seven). The film’s title song, written by Bernstein and Johnny Mercer, is sung by Jack Jones.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

It’s rather sad that Love with the Proper Stranger isn’t better known. Part of the problem is that the film has never made the transition from VHS to DVD (I’m specifically referring to the USA market). It’s rarely shown on TV (the print I saw was pretty beat up). If you are a fan of Wood and/or McQueen you don’t want to miss it! Tom Bosley’s (TV’s Happy Days) screen debut. B&W, 102 minutes, Not Rated.

2 responses to “Love with the Proper Stranger (1963)

  1. What a great account of a rarely-screened film with one of Wood’s best performances – she was so underrated, probably because just looking at her breaks your heart. She is like a walking wound. My favourite actress, probably. Thank you for remembering this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! Yes, very underrated talent. And one of the few dramatic actors who successfully pulled off comedy. Plus she was one of the few great child actors — her skepticism in Miracle on 34th street is what makes the movie work — who became a great adult actor. This, Rebel Without A Cause and Splendor in the Grass are essential Wood. 🙂


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