Blind Spot 02: Love With The Proper Stranger, 1963

Love With the Proper Stranger Natalie Wood Steve McQueen Kiss

this post is part of the blind spot series

Love With the
Proper Stranger, 1963

directed by Robert Mulligan
starring Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen

When I picked this movie as my February Blind Spot I was expecting a nice little romcom with two classic hollywood icons, that would provide a fun viewing. The kind you have on Sunday afternoons, when you don’t feel like thinking too much. Yet Love With The Proper Stranger (1963) was anything but. In it, Natalie Wood is Angie – a shopgirl who gets pregnant after a one night stand with jazz musician Rocky, played by Steve McQueen. She asks for his help finding her a doctor who can perform an abortion, and they spend a big part of the film raising money for the procedure, whilst debating the fallacy of idealised, romantic love.

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.

Natalie Wood Love With The Proper Stranger GIF
Spoilers Ahead!

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.

I don’t want to spend the rest of my life married to a man who’s doing me a big favor! I made a mistake… but that doesn’t mean I have to ruin my whole life and his, and the baby’s!
— 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.

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Watch it with Amazon Prime Video, or on Youtube

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.

Have you seen this movie? How was your own Blind Spot this month?
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6 Comments

  1. February 27, 2018 / 12:43 PM

    I know you said it’s kind of a romantic comedy but it actually sounds a bit depressing. I haven’t seen many of Woods’ films, I know that’s something I need to fix. Great review!

    • February 28, 2018 / 10:21 PM

      It’s odd, right? Every time the action shifts to the abortion it’s sad and dramatic, but then their families are funny (unaware of the situation), and in the end it shifts to pure rom-com… but it kinda works! Still, it’s not a feel good movie for the most part, for sure.

      I haven’t seen much from her either but she has such a great presence onscreen, I keep forgetting and really shouldn’t. Thanks, Brittani ?

  2. joel
    March 1, 2018 / 11:47 PM

    Glad to see that you liked this. For something with such huge stars it was very hard to find until just a few years ago because of rights issues so it’s good to see it getting some awareness.

    It is at times light and frivolous, the ending more so than the rest but it really does look squarely at heavy duty issues that are so surprising to find in a 60’s picture. I think it turned towards the softer approach near the conclusion to ease the impact of what went before in the fear that audience wouldn’t turn out for a film that was too downbeat no matter the mega wattage of the leads.

    All three of the main supporting actors, Tom Bosley. Herschel Bernardi and particularly Edie Adams, are terrific and add much to the film but it boils down to being a dance between the leads and they really deliver.

    McQueen is good in a role that doesn’t always seem like a natural fit for him but the film belongs to Natalie Wood. She finds so many layers in Angie and pulls the audience into the film and gets them firmly on her side from pretty much the first frame. It’s one of her best performances though if you haven’t seen Splendor in the Grass which contains her absolute best work you really need to.

    Others of hers that are worth seeking out: Gypsy, Marjorie Morningstar, The Great Race and two that you’ve probably already seen Rebel Without a Cause and Miracle on 34th Street.

    • March 3, 2018 / 11:53 AM

      I’ve actually only seen Rebel Without a Cause out of the ones you’ve mentioned. I’ll make sure to add the others to my watchlist, I feel like Natalie Wood really was such a great actress so I’m curious to see more from her.

      I’d agree, the supporting actors were marvellous, too. Wood certainly stole the show but yes, but McQueen surprised me! Precisely because the role seemed unlikely for him.

      I was really shocked to see these themes in an early 60s Hollywood movie, starring Wood and McQueen no less.

    • joel
      March 3, 2018 / 8:21 PM

      If you’ve never seen any of Natalie’s childhood films, of which Miracle on 34th Street is the most famous, you’ll find watching her very informative. As with the few child stars, Judy Garland, Deanna Durbin, Elizabeth Taylor, Jodie Foster and a few others, who managed to make that extremely difficult transition to adult stardom there is a presence and similarity to her adult self that is rare and singles her out from the crowd.

      In her case though as she herself was quick to point out she wasn’t a “Star” as a kid but a utility actress, a reliable performer who was plugged into whatever film needed a girl or her age and type. So unlike Judy or Deanna who had vehicles built around them it lead to her appearing, mostly in support, in some decent films, Driftwood, the fun Father was a Fullback, Tomorrow is Forever, but a lot of junk along the lines of Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (and yes that’s an actual movie title!). Even after Rebel when she at least moved into the female ingenue position she toiled in B programmers like The Burning Hills and The Girl He Left Behind until the success of Marjorie Morningstar really set her on the path to major stardom.

    • March 7, 2018 / 12:26 AM

      I’ll definitely check out Miracle on 34th Street then, thanks Joel! Oh that is one kooky movie title ?

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