There are three performances that I consider to be the quintessential Natalie Wood performances. There’s her tortured teenager in Splendor in the Grass, her Hispanic Juliet in West Side Story and her Oscar nominated turn in Love With the Proper Stranger. And under seen and underrated film from the sixties. It’s a favourite of mine, not only for Natalie but just for the all around goodness of the film.
Love With the Proper Stranger is a love story. Angela Rossini is a young impressionable woman who gets pregnant after a one night stand with a musician, played by Steve McQueen. The film centres on what happens after they decide what they’re going to do about the situation. With a name like this and the DVD cover to boot I suppose that it’s not as unpredictable as it believes itself to be, but Love With the Proper Stranger is still startlingly original and modern for a 1964 piece. Other than a particular scene in a professed doctor’s office this could easily be released tomorrow and not seem incongruous with the contemporary world.
But the beauty of the film is not exactly in its smart screenplay or its effective direction. It’s in the performances of the two leads. Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen are perfect in their roles. It’s a word with weighty implications, but it’s true nonetheless. I feel like a bad movie fan not knowing McQueen well enough. I vaguely remember him from The Sand Pebbles, but he’s quite good here I may have to delve into his work. It’s a pity that Wood was nominated while he was not. They are equally good, but it’s more his film than hers. It’s a bit like seeing A Streetcar Named Desire and nominating Brando but not Leigh. It’s not that Wood and McQueen are that good [maybe, maybe not ], but Streetcar is more Blanche’s story than Stanley's as Love With the Proper Stranger is more about Jack than Angie.
But I’m splitting hairs. This falls at #74 on my list of favourites. It’s just another reason why the sixties was a great time for films. And it’s also another reason why old cinema is not always old.