Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Natalie - a double feature ...

LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER - Another one not seen since its release here in London in 1964, we liked those Robert Mulligan films then, produced by Alan J Pakula - before he started directing. Another too of those nice black and white movies of that era (like LILITH, DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, BAY OF ANGELS), it is also a nice New York film of the period, set in the Italian-American milieu, like BLACK ORCHID or MOONSTRUCK, as nice Italian girl Natalie Wood, a Macys shopgirl, deals with her protective family of Mama and 3 brothers (led by Herschel Bernardi) who want to see her marry nice guy Tom Bosley .... but Angie (Nat) has her own ideas - she is pregnant for starters, from a one-night stand with a jazz musician, Steve McQueen, defining cool again. It starts nicely as musicians turn up to be hired and she has him paged over the tannoy. He barely remembers her, but she just wants the name of a doctor she can go to .... after misunderstandings he takes her for the abortion but of course they don't go through with it; she finally leaves home and get a nice little apartment and he begins to see her in a new light ...
Edie Adams (left) is a delight in the small role of Steve's casual girlfriend, a nightclub gal, particularly amusing when she returns to her apartment and finds he has installed Angie there. McQueen always worked best with a good female lead, as with Natalie here, Lee Remick (in that other nice Mulligan, BABY THE RAIN MUST FALL in '65), or with Dunaway in THOMAS CROWN (Dunaway, McQueen labels). The early '60s was Natalie's best time - she had been a child actress in the 40s, the 50s saw her playing daughter to Margaret Sullavan, Bette Davis and others, then her iconic roles in THE SEARCHERS and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE; she was Warners' mid-50s star, along with Tab Hunter, before the arrival of the new ingenues like Sandra Dee, Carol Lynley and Tuesday Weld. In 1958 she was MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR in the Warners sudser, followed by the love interest in CASH McCALL and one of the ALL THE FINE YOUR CANNIBALS with husband Wagner in 1960 (Wood label). Then the early 60s saw her hits like WEST SIDE STORY, GYPSY (a favourite musical), SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS, LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER was another, and INSIDE DAISY CLOVER (Natalie label). SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL and THE GREAT RACE were so-so, but she was certainly a Hollywood veteran. She was only 43 by the time of her mysterious death in 1981. 

THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED, was another good drama for her in 1966, her second with the rising Robert Redford, after DAISY CLOVER. (She also pops up for a moment in his THE CANDIDATE).. We are back to Tennessee Williams here, even if minor Williams, as directed by Sydney Pollack, and co-written by Francis Coppola.

Sultry women, sweltering weather, and a handsome new stranger in town ... A railroad official, Owen Legate comes to Dodson, Mississippi to shut down much of the town's railway (town's main income). Owen unexpectedly finds love with Dodson's flirt and main attraction, Alva Starr. Alva and Owen then try to escape Alva's mother's (Hazel) clutches and the town's revenge.

Natalie looks great as Alva, the town beauty with nowhere to go, and the depression period is nicely captured, as the story is told by Mary Badham (from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD - another of Mulligan's hits) as Alva's kid sister. Kate Reid is the powerhouse mother, and Charles Bronson is also involved. It has its lyrical moments with the young lovers, and it captures that American Gothic deep south territory that Williams specialised in. Redford was also in that powerhouse all-star drama THE CHASE that year, which we will get around to before too long.  This though is one of Natalie's most powerful performances and she was at the zenith of her beauty. Natalie and Redford make a great movie couple, like McQueen & Dunaway, Clift & Taylor, Clift & Remick, Cary Grant and all his leading ladies (Loren, Kelly, Kerr, Bergman, both Hepburns etc) or Peck with his (Ava, Loren, Simmons), or Delon or Bogarde or Belmondo with so many ...
The story seems to falter when our lovers get to New Orleans, but there is a nice wistful coda at the end, with Badham (so affecting as Scout in MOCKINGBIRD) wearing Natalie's tattered dress, as she wanders off along the railroad track ....

[A flashback: London, 1968 - that summer of love. I am walking along Kings Road, Chelsea with my pal Stan, we are both 22, and someone hands us a flyer for the forthcoming Doors/Jefferson Airplane all-nighter at the Roundhouse in Camden, which I am going to with my hippie friends (Doors label). We enter a clothes boutique and a trim petite dark-haired woman with an American accent who is sitting on a stool, asks me what the flyer in my hand is for, so I show her and she asks if she can have it, so I say sure and give it to her. We leave the shop and are walking along when we both turn and look at each other and say "That was Natalie Wood"!. - it probably was, as it was between her marriages to Wagner when she was married and based in the UK. ..]

More '50s dramas coming up: Monty Clift in De Sica's TERMINAL STATION  and SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, return visits to BONJOUR TRISTESSE and others ..and the '60s HURRY SUNDOWN, THE CHASE, and Paul Newman as HARPER, and for comic relief John Wayne (iconic in the '50s, a toupeed dinosaur in the '70s) as BRANNIGAN unleashed on a trashy '70s London ....its delirious!
PS: I just ordered a compendium of Tennessee Williams stories - we need more Tennessee! - I particularly liked his THREE PLAYERS OF A SUMMER GAME collection, featuring two stunning stories TWO ON A PARTY and THE MALEDICTION, which have stayed with me, it will be great to read them again here. 


  1. I've been wanting to rewatch Proper Stranger for some time now but it is difficult to run down-not on DVD, at least not in the states, and rarely shown on TV. I do remember thinking it was one of Natalie's better films and performances. Baby the Rain Must Fall and this really had a similar vibe which speaks to Mulligan's style since the settings could not be more dissimilar. Of course McQueen starring in both is a link but it's more than that, an earthy connection in the feeling of the pictures.

    I'm going to have to watch This Property is Condemned again, I was not terribly impressed the first time but its been years and I do love Natalie so.

    Have to disagree about The Great Race being so-so. Its not a masterpiece by any means but it is so genial and silly and all the actors so willing to play into that spirit of goofiness I chuckle and frequently laugh out loud whenever I watch it. Natalie was at the peak of her beauty then and I love the song The Sweetheart Tree.

  2. The Great Race - I remember seeing it on release, but it was largely forgettable apart from the slapstick custard pie fight - and Sex and The Single Girl (that has not surfaced for decades) are both rarities here, as indeed is Love with the Proper Stranger, I got a copy from a friend in New York, recorded from TCM some years ago.
    An amusing aside about Sex & Single Girl: Tony Curtis had a public disagreement with Lauren Bacall, and he accused her of being an older star trying to latch on the current stars of the day, 1964 then - but Bacall was just one year older than Curtis, but of course was a star of the previous decade having began so young. I have an early Curtis from 1952 FLESH AND FURY about boxing, to see too.
    Natalie also did another with Curtis, KINGS GO FORTH in 1958, with Sinatra - a wartime triangle, directed by Delmer Daves, which surfaced here last week. It just was not that riveting.

  3. It's surprising that Natalie Wood is so fondly remembered, when her heyday as a star was relatively brief. Starting in 1961 with the double header of WEST SIDE STORY and SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS, it really ended in the mid-1960s with INSIDE DAISY CLOVER and THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED. She had some successes later on (the surprise hit of BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE, several notable television movies), but she was really one of the last of the studio stars.

    LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER remains one of her very best performances, and was an important landmark for her, since she did it outside of Warner Brothers where she had been under contract since her teenage years. She had hoped to find more vehicles, but it was difficult for her to get out of the habits she had developed in the studio system. THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED is an example: it went through innumerable rewrites (the original is a one-act play about two young people meeting by the railroad tracks, with the girl telling the story of her sister Alva) to the point where Tennessee Williams was ready to disown the results. In addition: there were several directors involved, until Sydney Pollack was brought in to direct most of the film (he had worked with Robert Redford on television, and it was Redford's suggestion). What is left is a studio product which is reasonably effective, but is not really what was intended by Williams. But Natalie Wood couldn't help being a movie star, which was fine but the times were changing.

  4. Indeed - she probably realised that as she was off the screen for several years in the 70s, though the television films, particuarly that CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF with Olivier (one of Larry's money-making ventures of the time) gave the Wagners some prestige cachet.

    I like her mid-50s look, she and Tab were an ideal couple, his blonde contrasting with her darkness, when she was hanging out with James Dean, dating Elvis and maybe older guys like Nick Ray and Sinatra ... she emotes all over the place too as MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR falling for heel Gene Kelly, another Warners sudser by Irving Rapper. So many people love SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS too, but give me GYPSY any day !

    She and Elizabeth Taylor must be the 2 major child stars who continued into adulthood. Other child stars (Hayley Mills, Mark Lester) were quite ordinary when they grew up ...

  5. From what I've read a great deal of her inactivity in the later 60's early 70's was by choice while she focused on her private life, having a child, dealing with her failing marriage to Richard Gregson and then reuniting with Wagner once that marriage ended and having another child. Only working when something interested her, B&C&T&A being the most successful but virtually unwatchable today.

    I thought she was wonderful in The Cracker Factory on TV in '79. An interesting Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof but Robert Wagner blighted the production with his weak Brick.

    I would say Gypsy is also my favorite of the films she appeared in but that's an overall love of the film not just her performance. Where she was most connected to the character and gave her best performance I would have to say would be Splendor in the Grass, she's so raw and real it's unsettling but compelling. Marjorie Morningstar is a big plush soaper but both she and it are highly enjoyable plus it has the double shot of Carolyn Jones and Claire Trevor to add to the pleasure.

    I watched a couple of the Natalie/Tab movies expecting to hate them since both of them spoke scornfully of them, being contractually forced into them, but found them minor but pleasant diversions.

    One film of hers that I love but that she only appears in briefly is One Desire. Absolute melodramatic heaven with Anne Baxter as a dancer hall proprietress trying to go straight for the love of Rock Hudson. She suffers and suffers in beads and feathers competing with a divinely bitchy Julie Adams, one of her very best roles, for a quiet life with Rock, his brother and Natalie as Seely, an orphan they take in. Hard to find but totally worth the trouble to track down!

    There is a third child star to bridge the gap along with Natalie and Liz who while she didn't stay active in films was ultra famous to the end of her life and beyond and that of course would be Judy Garland.

  6. I remember seeing ONE DESIRE once, it would be great to see again - we like Anne Baxter and Julie Adams - a lot.

    Then there is THE SILVER CHALICE, where the young blonde Natalie Wood grows up to be Virginia Mayo! Its a stinker of c0urse but a vastly enjoyable one, though Newman didn't think so, but it was his first film.