Love With the
Proper Stranger, 1963
directed by Robert Mulligan
starring Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen
While we know the 60s were a time for revolution in hollywood, the theme of abortion remained, for decades after, virtually non-existent in mainstream movies. You can find some mentions in passing here and there, but to have the entire action of the film revolve around it in the early 60s?! With Wood and Queen as leads? I say that’s pushing all the boundaries. I mean, some people were surprised with Obvious Child (2014) – this was 50 years before it.
Directed by Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird), Love With The Proper Stranger doesn’t merely touch on the subject, it goes as far as having Angie enter the doctor’s office and strip down, until Rocky barges in and sees the “doctor” with one gloved hand, siting beside a blanket on the floor urging Wood to get on with it. It’s a shocking scene that reflects the reality of many women who turned to clandestine abortions, and it didn’t have an ounce of comedy in it. Angie ultimately decides to keep the baby, and while her subsequent actions may be seen as a messy plot, they also reflect as much courage as they do indecision and confusion when facing difficult life choices.
— Natalie Wood as Angie
When Rocky steps up to do the right thing and marry her, Angie declines because, despite liking him, she doesn’t want him to marry her out of obligation, but out of love. And yet she goes and agrees to marry her long time suitor, Anthony, for whom she nurtures no affection. And that’s another interesting part of Love With The Proper Stranger.
It’s Safe Again
Wood’s character spends nearly the entire movie struggling with notions of love and lust (and is further confused in another surprisingly open and hilarious scene with Anthony’s sister), between thinking it’s a ridiculous Hollywood sham, but also wishing it were true. She fights the Rock Hudson on a horse fantasy, and finds love (though not the forever kind, possibly) through less than ideal circumstances and trials that are definitely not the insta love, swoop me off my feet charades she and we see in most films. It was nominated for best original screenplay (Arnold Schulman) at the Oscars in 1964, which makes me happy, and again, surprises me.
Of course in the end it’s a romantic comedy – and by in the end I mean literally, in the last 30 mins or so. Though entertaining, those last scenes felt a bit rushed for me, in the sense that they seemed to strive for a happy ending at all costs (an ending which, in my opinion, ended up being the film’s weakest point). Until then there are a couple sparks and some funny moments (even though McQueen looks anything but Italian American, his family and hers are comedy delight) that lighten up what would be an inescapable dramatic backdrop of pain and confusion and wanting.
It was interesting to see McQueen as a romantic lead – his first role in the genre and my first viewing of him in such a part – and he was surprisingly funny not just in line delivery but in his whole body language. Natalie Wood was great too, and deservedly got a Oscar nom for Best Actress.