Many, many years ago I saw Love with the Proper Stranger on television. I’ve been wanting to see it again ever since. Sadly, it is rarely aired.
I remember loving Love with the Proper Stranger although I couldn’t tell you much about it. I recalled the basic story line and of course am slightly in love with both Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen who play the main characters. Who wouldn’t like a movie with Natalie and Steve in it? They are both beautiful and talented and even if movie was sub-par, I could stare at them all day.
The basic gist of this black and white film is that working girl Angie (Natalie) finds herself pregnant after a one night stand with rootless musician Rocky (Steve) who doesn’t even remember her. She tracks him down not to demand that he take responsibility, but to help her find a doctor (which is code for abortionist).
Angie is a responsible girl who still lives with her Italian family including her overprotective brothers (one of whom could more accurately be described as a stalker or even her personal jailer) and her dramatic, guilt-tripping mother. You get the sense that her out of character indiscretion was her grasp for freedom and the chance to breathe away from her overbearing family.
Rocky on the other hand, though also Italian, is a carefree, irresponsible, commitment-phobic, sowing-his-oats musician. He and Angie have similar backgrounds, but wildly different personalities and lifestyles.
This movie takes a realistic look at a topic that was just beginning to be acknowledged during the 1960’s. At the time this movie was released, legalized abortion was still a decade away. The way abortion is portrayed in this film is stark and honest. The extreme secrecy of it, the difficulty in finding a practitioner who is often found through the chain of six degrees of separation. You have to know somebody who knows somebody. Then there is the complicated choreography from first getting a referral to actually meeting with the abortionist in person, in a vacant room of a dilapidated building. Finally, the horror of a procedure which has Angie lying on a blanket on a cold, dirty floor in a room where the only light comes from a window. And the stark desperation that leads to Angie entrusting the procedure to a woman who carries her tools in a suitcase, who may or may not have much experience, and who is in a hurry to complete the procedure due to fear that they may be discovered.
Up to this point the film depicts Rocky and Angie as separate and incompatible individuals. After this emotionally wrenching scene, the film switches focus to the two of them growing together, working as a team and exploring the possibility of a relationship.
Even though the movie does shine a spotlight on abortion, I found that the main topic was the discussion of love. It is an idea that both Angie and Rocky wrestle with both in regards to themselves and in their other relationships with family and friends.
This is not a feel good movie, although it does have a happy ending. The black and white cinematography, and the way the story progresses shares similarities with documentaries I’ve seen. It feels real and less like another piece of entertainment. And yet, I really like it. I wish Steve and Natalie had made other films with each other because they are great together.
Asides: You may recognize Angie’s other suitor. It is a young Tom Bosley in his first feature film. You know, the same guy who played the dad on the sitcom Happy Days.
It is a bit hard for me to believe light haired Steve McQueen as an Italian. But he’s so ruggedly pretty I will overlook that.
I would recommend Love with the Proper Stranger. Thankfully access to this thought provoking film has become more available in recent years.