NATALIE WOOD, “Love with the Proper Stranger”

The Queen of WB in NYC, 1963

Single, pregnant sales clerk Angie (Natalie Wood) freaks on the verge of a backroom “coat-hanger” abortion, while the father/sperm-donor Rocky (Steve McQueen), a self-absorbed musician with whom she had a one-night stand, struggles to keep her from further hysterics. “Love with the Proper Stranger,” Paramount, 1963, directed by Robert Mulligan.

March 1963.  Natalie Wood arrives in New York City to begin rehearsals for her next film, “Love with the Proper Stranger,” and to shoot exteriors on location in the City.  She is the hottest property in Hollywood, the most valuable commodity in the business of motion pictures.  And she is in demand — everyone wants her for their next film project.  She is working under a long-term, multi-picture contract with Warner Brothers and she is the undisputed queen of the WB lot.  But this is an era in which the film studios of Hollywood’s golden era and their signature product, the theatrical “feature film,” are more than ten years into a losing war with television for the entertainment dollars of American audiences.  This meant one thing for certain:  the film studios’ money centers in New York would require that the Risk/Reward ratio of their business model be calculated with “R” (for Risk) = 0.

Despite the phenomenal success critically and financially of her two recent films — one an adaptation of a huge Broadway hit musical (“West Side Story”) and the other (“Splendor in the Grass”) directed by Oscar-winning, film and theater legend Elia Kazan, for which she earned a Best Actress Oscar Nomination, their next film assignment for Natalie Wood was a conservative, safe bet.   A “can’t miss” project:  a film adaptation of yet another hit Broadway musical, “Gypsy.”  It didn’t “miss,” either.  “Gypsy” proved very successful at the box office and was generally well-received by the media.  However, as a mile-marker in her quest to grow into greatness as an actor, it did little but mark time.

But “Gypsy” was her third straight mega-hit movie.  Natalie Wood now had considerable leverage in the choice of her next project.  But she wasn’t going to sit back and wait for Warner Brothers to dangle their idea for her next film.  Her contract with the WB allowed her an option to make one film per year outside of their domain.  After making three safe, mainstream films for them the time seemed right to opt for something out of the ordinary, something audacious.  And in 1962, the audacious, forward-thinking element of Hollywood was buzzing over the “French New Wave” and the outlandishly eccentric (by American standards) films Federico Fellini made in the Cinecitta studios of Italy.  Films that were challenging and intellectually stimulating, yet gritty, urban, real and relevant in a world with the ever-present threat of nuclear apocalypse (Fall, 1962: “Bay of Pigs”).

It would have to be a small film — the antithesis of what Hollywood had been churning out year after year after television took “small” away from Hollywood theatrical films.  Not necessarily a small-budget, or independent production.  Being under contract for a specified period with a minimum number of films required within that time frame (and having as your representative a talent agency with close business ties to your employer, the film studio) made it difficult if not impossible for a performer to work within or set up their own production company.  Not that Natalie Wood hadn’t tried.  She had; and the result was that her agent received the “you’ll never work in this town again” threat from his employer, the talent agency.  But that wasn’t an insurmountable problem.

Through her representatives and her friends and acquaintances in the business, she had been deluged with scripts and scenarios.  Projects in the early stages of planning, some partially cast, and others with European directors seeking rising American stars to attract financing for their next films.  Tony Richardson, Robert Rossen and Rene Clement were among them. In addition were projects from veteran filmmakers:  Alfred Hitchcock (for “Marnie”), George Stevens (“Greatest Story Ever Told”), Otto Preminger (“Bunny Lake is Missing”) and yet another musical, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” for MGM (to be directed by one of the few remaining holdovers from MGM’s era of great screen musicals, Charles Walters).

In the end, she decided upon a “small” film, about a character with whom she felt instant empathy — a young woman smothered by family, who wants desperately to be independent yet fears life alone and unloved, and in trying to find love out of loneliness instead finds life-altering complications and near-tragedy.  Already cast opposite her is Steve McQueen (only a couple of steps behind her on the Hottest in Hollywood scale).  The film is to be directed by Robert Mulligan, fresh from “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a huge critical and box-office success of 1962, for which he received a Best Director Nomination by the Academy (whose Awards ceremony was only weeks away in April).  The original script is by Arnold Schulman, who told Natalie Wood biographer Gavin Lambert that director Mulligan and producer Alan J. Pakula became involved, and Paramount studios agreed to finance the project, only after Ms. Wood agreed to participate.  Schulman, according to Wood biographer Suzanne Finstad, tailored his script after meeting with her, using “aspects of her in Angie,” which Ms. Wood described as being “the healthier parts” of herself, and Angie as her “least neurotic role.”

Finstad also relates that, years later, at an American Film Institute Seminar, Natalie Wood remembered “Love with the Proper Stranger” as “the most rewarding experience I had in films, all the way around . . . my personal life was quite meager then, and the picture was ‘it.’  We were like a family.”  What follows are my descriptions and still frames from key scenes of “Love with the Proper Stranger.”  I’ll reserve my remarks on the film as a whole until the end of the illustrations . . .

A capsule personality portrait of Rocky Pappasano (Steve McQueen, in “Jean-Paul Belmondo mode”), an irresponsible, womanizing musician looking for work at the musicians’ union hiring hall.  Rocky takes full advantage of women — all of whom seem unable to resist his charms.  He encounters an old acquaintance, Marge (played by adorable character actress Arlene Golonka, uncredited here, but a familiar face in film and television in the 1960’s and 70’s), who allows him to use her back literally, to jot down info on a gig, and a quick peck on the cheek as thanks.

[The opening sequence of Love with the Proper Stranger, including the credits, the interior scene in the musicians’ union hiring hall and the exterior street scene with Rocky and Angie, was shot on the Upper West Side at a former Masonic temple on West 73rd Street near Broadway.  For more information about this fantastic structure and recent photos of the location, see  the Addenda at the end of this essay.]

Rocky is sought by Angie Rossini, a single girl whose drunken one night stand with Rocky has resulted in pregnancy.  She quickly realizes that it was a mistake to even see Rocky again much less expect him to take any responsibility for her situation.   But later, Rocky at “home” is busy creating more problems for himself . . .

Rocky lives with his current girlfriend, Barb, a stripper (“Barbara of Seville,” a female matador routine, we suppose, played by the delectable, underrated and underutilized Edie Adams).  Barb:  “You know me in the cold weather.  I love to be in love.”  Rocky: “Yeah.  You with yourself, me with myself.”

“Hey, Barb?  A friend of mine asked me if I’d ask you if you knew the name of maybe a kind of a doctor or something . . . he’s got himself in a little trouble with a girl . . . hey, Barb?”

“You . . . want . . . ME . . . to  find . . .  YOU . . .

. . . a DOCTOR?!!”                     “Now wait a minute, I didn’t . . . ”

After Rocky regains consciousness, he finds himself out of her bed and on the outside of her West 4th Street, Greenwich Village apartment with not much more than the clothes on his back.  Positively 4th Street indeed.  [For pictures of this intersection nearly a half century later, see the end of this essay.]

A slice of Angie’s life — as she leaves work as sales clerk in the sporting goods department at Macy’s, her three overly protective brothers pull up to give her a lift in their produce truck, much to her embarrassment.

Angie has a blow-out with her family (who are unaware of her “situation”) . . .

and the fight results in her half-hearted (and probably not her first) attempt to leave (“Don’t love me so much, I can’t breathe!”) the apartment she shares with her widowed mother and her three brothers, the eldest (Herschel Bernardi) of whom acts as surrogate father.  But later (Below), she quietly returns home.

The next day, to Angie’s  surprise — to her shock — Rocky shows up at Macy’s with a proposition . . .

. . . He will help her find “a doctor.”  (The word “abortion” or “abortionist” is never used in the film — this is 1963, and it is still Hollywood filmmaking under the Production Code.  Two years later the word would be acceptable, though still controversial, in a mainstream American film.)

“Look, all I came to tell you was, I made you an appointment Sunday afternoon and I got you a doctor, OK?   I’ll write down the address and, if you want, it’s $400 . . .”  (Rocky pauses, apparently waiting to see if she can pay for it, when he sees her hesitation, he knows she can’t.)  “How much can you raise?”   “Maybe two — at the most.”  “Alright, you raise half . . . and I’ll try to raise half, OK?  I don’t know anything about this guy, so I’ll meet you there at 3 o’clock, Sunday afternoon.  You got a piece of paper?”

Wordlessly, Angie agrees.  Below, her protective eldest brother watches, unseen.

Rocky meets Angie at a nearly deserted section of a Downtown produce district (it appears to be part of the old Washington Marketplace area that would disappear prior to the construction nearby of the World Trade Center complex beginning several years later).

[NOTE (September 2018):  This sequence of Rocky and Angie waiting for the abortionist’s “fixer,” was shot at the former Washington Market on the west side of lower Manhattan in an area of Washington Street that, along with these structures, was demolished in the mid-Sixties.  For more information about this location, and a comparison of historic photos of  the site with still frames from the film, see the Addenda at the end of this essay.]

Waiting for the man.  In what seems to modern eyes a depiction of the anticipation of a drug deal, Rocky and Angie await the arrival of an abortionist — or in this case, the go-between for the abortionist.

A false alert as a mysterious vehicle pulls up toward them, then drives past without stopping . . .

. . . but the mystery car returns.  He pulls up short, then gets out and opens his hood in an apparent signal to his would-be customers.

Rocky cautiously approaches with the $400, but is told that it is not enough:  the man needs an extra $50 “for me.”  He gives Rocky an address and instructs him to be there with the rest of the money in an hour, and “If you’re five minutes late don’t bother coming.”

“I got $13 . . . how much you got?”  “… about $11 . . . some change.”

“We got about 45 minutes, you got any ideas?”  (Silently, Angie shakes her head.)

“Come on.”  “Where?”  (Rocky now has a plan:) “To get the money.”

From the lower west side of Downtown near the Hudson, across town and up forty-five blocks to mid-town and an asphalt park next to FDR Drive, the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and the East River, Rocky and Angie alight a crosstown bus to meet . . .

. . . Rocky’s mother . . .

. . . and father . . .

. . . and a little money . . .

. . . and a little more . . . and then a little homemade ‘vino’ . . .

Then Angie sees that her brothers have followed her . . . they’ve stopped their truck in the middle of the highway pretending to be broken down . . .

A quick ‘goodbye’ and Rocky and Angie are on the run . . .

. . . in the shadow of the United Nations Building, past a churchyard . .  . [Note:  the churchyard in this shot (at right) is that of St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery located at 131 East 10th St., about thirty blocks from the asphalt park off FDR Drive where the “chase” with Angie’s brothers in hot pursuit began.  No wonder Rocky is out of breath when they reach sanctuary — and he blames it on cigarettes!]  (Credit to Marie Fotini for identifying the St. Mark’s location).

. . . over rooftops, and down into the cellar of a building occupied by the upholstery business of Rocky’s father, where he finds the key . . .  [Note:  the rooftops over which Rocky and Angie scramble to eventual safety are overlooking the Con-Edison Building on East Fourteenth St., apparently another leg of this Manhattan “marathon” for the star-crossed couple!]  (Credit to Marie Fotini for identifying the Con-Ed, E 14th St. location.)

A brief respite, a few musings, a little more vino . . . and back to find . .

. . . the Man.

who pimps for the back-alley abortionist, an elderly “midwife” with a suitcase containing the tools of her trade . . a blanket, towels . . . and . . . a large FLASHLIGHT . . .  “Come on, hurry-up, get undressed . . . ”

As the tension builds, so do Rocky’s suspicions about the “doctor.”

He bursts into the room and sees the abortionist with her “surgical equipment” laid out on the filthy floor . . .

. . . and Angie half-naked, quivering by the window . . .

“You a DOCTOR? . . .  YOU SAID A DOCTOR !”  (the woman:) “Take it or leave it . . .”

“C’mon — get your clothes on, were gonna get outta here . . . c’mon get your clothes on . . . come on . . I’m gonna get you outta here . . . come on!  I want ya to get outta here!  Get your clothes on!  (Rocky literally tries to slap some sense into her) . . .”

. . . at which point she sees the abortionist’s equipment laid out on the floor (being hurriedly scooped back up by the spooked abortionist and the Man), and she really begins to get hysterical.  It’s all Rocky can do now to hold on to her and hold her together.

The scene of terror slowly dissolves into a relatively placid cab ride through Times Square, 1963 . . .

. . . with neon signs advertising “WARNER . . . CINERAMA” . . . curious for a Paramount picture.  [Directly above their taxicab, we see the sign for the old ASTOR Hotel (then owned by Sheraton but demolished a few years later), the coolest building ever to occupy the Square, and recall Bob Dylan’s description of his first night in New York City, in January two years earlier, in a room with its window overlooking Times Square and surrounded by the neon “O” of the “ASTOR” sign.  He took it as a good omen . . . and it surely was.]

And now, Rocky, being somewhat “homeless” at this point, takes Angie to the West Village apartment of his understanding girlfriend, Barbara of Seville, so that Angie may recover from her ordeal and Rocky may begin his.

I’ve limited this post to what I consider the core of the film, “Love with the Proper Stranger.”  At this point, for me the film descends into 60s sitcom — above average sitcom to be sure — but still sitcom.  No spoilers necessary for this one.  Watch the film, and you may feel differently, but for me the abrupt change in tone and feel is like watching two different films or having someone changing the channel abruptly in the middle of a good drama.  But it still has Natalie Wood . . . and Steve McQueen . . . at their absolute physical, if not professional, peaks.  No other film can boast that combination.

“Love with the Proper Stranger” premiered in New York on Christmas Day, 1963.   Later that winter, Natalie Wood was nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance as Angie.  Also nominated for Oscars for their work on the film were Arnold Schulman, Best Screenplay (Written Directly for the Screen); Milton Krasner, Best Cinematography (Black and White); Edith Head, Best Costume Design (Black and White), and the film’s team of Art Directors for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration (Black and White).

For Further Reading:

Finstad, Suzanne, “Natasha:  The Biography of Natalie Wood”  Harmony Books, 2001.

Lambert, Gavin, “Natalie Wood: a Life”  Knopf, 2004.

Finstad’s book, the first published of the two, was the first major biography of Natalie Wood, and is the more detailed of the two in terms of family background, childhood and early career, and most notably, on her death and the circumstances surrounding it.  Lambert was a personal friend of Ms. Wood from the time of Inside Daisy Clover (1965, he authored the book on which the film was  based) to her death.  He also had access to her personal correspondence and “day book” in which she jotted down notes on film activities and those film projects in which she had an interest.  Neither book contains interviews with Robert Wagner and the Wagner family after her death in 1981, although Wagner published an autobiography in 2006 which I have not read, nor have I read memoirs of her sister Lana, published several years before either of the above two biographies.  With respect to the Finstad and Lambert bios, I can’t honestly recommend one over the other.  I can only say that together they would make a great biography.  If you have more than a casual interest in the subject, you will want to read both.

* * *

Addenda:

Upper West Side, West 73rd Street near Broadway

The opening credits and the initial sequence of Love with the Proper Stranger were filmed on the Upper West Side at 253 West 73rd Street, in and around a structure originally built in the late 1920s by Freemasons as The Level Club, an apartment-hotel/masonic lodge, with appropriately fantastic, “solomonic” architectural detail.  (See the fascinating article in scoutingny.com for a history and many photos of this structure.)

Although it may seem an odd choice to serve in the film as a hiring hall for the local musicians’ union, the cavernous interior ballroom provided more than adequate space for a film crew, actors and numerous extras.  Unfortunately, the ballroom did not survive the many alterations/renovations that the building underwent from the 1930s to 1990s.  (It is now an upscale condominium, returned to its original name, if not exactly its original function, The Level Club.)  However, we do have photos to document the original and current appearance of the structure at 253 W 73rd Street and of buildings in the immediate vicinity, so that we may compare those to what we are shown in the film.

Auditorium 2

Above and Below: At left, historic photos (text and photos via scoutingny.com) of the proscenium in the original auditorium of 253 W 73rd St., built in 1927 by the Freemasons; at right, the auditorium with proscenium as it appears in Love with the Proper Stranger, with matching details identified in red (via Marie Fotini).  The auditorium was dismantled during the conversion of the interior for condominiums.

Auditorium 1

Exterior of 253 West 73rd Street

LoveWithTheProperStranger hotel Al Roon

Above:  Steve McQueen preps for the exterior shots at the “musicians’ union hiring hall” as a crew member lays down his marks.  The actual location is 253 West 73rd St., site of a former masonic temple that, at the time of filming Love with the Proper Stranger in early 1963, was home to Al Roon’s Health Club, complete with “banquet facilities” and a large auditorium to serve as the hiring hall in the film.

Below: West 73rd St. in 2018, looking west from the exterior of number 253, with a comparison of details on the exterior of the apartment building on the south side of the street to those in the photo (inset) from 1963.

Clue 4 (2)

Clue 2 (2)

Above:  The exterior of number 253 looking west on W. 73rd St., in 2018, now The Level Club condominiums.  Inset: A still frame from the film — Rocky and Angie quarrel outside the musicians’union hiring hall — with coinciding architectural details highlighted in red.

Below: W. 73rd St., looking east toward Broadway from number 253;  Inset: a still frame from the film — Angie runs away from Rocky, across the street from the hiring hall — with matching details on adjacent and nearby buildings on 73rd St.

Clue 3 (2)

Many thanks to Marie Fotini for alerting me to the true location of this sequence in Love with the Proper Stranger, and for providing the forensic work as shown in the photos (and photos via scoutingny, where noted).

Lower Manhattan, Lower West Side, area of  the former Washington Market

Comparison 304 Washington St building

Above:  At left, 304 Washington Street, in a period photo (circa 1963-66).  At right, in a still from the film, Rocky walks back toward Angie after his failed meeting with the abortionist’s “fixer.”

Below:  At left, 301-303 Washington Street, opposite 304, in a period photo.  At right, a still frame from the film; with corresponding architectural details noted in red.

Comparison 301 windows

(Once again, many thanks to Marie Fotini for her research and for providing the photos and architectural comparisons that enabled us to pinpoint the location of this key sequence of Love with the Proper Stranger.)

Washington Market was the name given to an area on the west side of lower Manhattan containing wholesale and retail food markets beginning in the second decade of the nineteenth century.  These markets were located in succession in several areas, centered around what was then a contiguous, uninterrupted Washington Street ranging north from Vesey Street to North Moore Street.  Washington Market survived fires, was rebuilt, renovated and re-purposed from the late nineteenth century until the abandonment and demolition of the remaining warehouse structures, beginning in the late 1950s into the early 1960s, followed shortly by.the demolition of entire blocks below Vesey Street to make way for the construction of the first World Trade Center complex.

In 2018, the only building recognizable to me in this sequence of the film is a brief shot of the north facade of the gargantuan 1927 Verizon Building, a survivor (though not unscathed) of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The monumental structure looms over the low warehouse buildings and narrow cobblestone streets, dwarfing in scale, but not in emotional impact, the story of the troubled couple of Love with the Proper Stranger.

PDVD_381 (3)

Above: At upper left in background (above the approaching auto), looms the gray monolith of the Verizon Building.

 

Greenwich Village, West 4th and West 11th Streets

Also fascinating, if not as poignant as the ghostly Washington Market site, are recent images of the Greenwich Village neighborhood where Rocky’s stripper girlfriend lived in the the film, contrasted with still frames from the film.  This area of the West Village, around the intersection of West 4th Street and West 11th Street has lost whatever grittiness it may have had in 1963, and gained quite a few tree-lined sidewalks as well.  Today, the greenery almost obscures the corner townhouse, and the cigar shop on the opposite corner of 4th St is now a cafe.  (Recent photos from GoogleMaps Streetview.)

* * *

 

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About Gene Zonarich

I'm the King of the silent pictures -- I'm hidin' out 'til talkies blow over . . .
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27 Responses to NATALIE WOOD, “Love with the Proper Stranger”

  1. NREB says:

    What a fabulous recap of my all-time favorite movie, Love with the Proper Stranger. Thank you so much for posting it. Your running summary with pictures read like a graphic novel. Very well done. I kind of get your point about how the movie shifted into high-end sitcom mode after they return to Barbie’s apartment. I hadn’t realized how much the tone shifts at that point.

    • Thanks. Glad you liked it. One of my favorites as well, especially the first half. The outstanding performances of Wood and McQueen and the location shots really make the film work, and that’s what I tried to capture in this article.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Gene.

  2. Betsy says:

    Glad to see it’s somebody else’s all-time favorite movie. I love the way the movie shifts from drama to romantic comedy though.

    • Considering how many people like this film, and the fact that it stars two film icons at their peak, it deserves a DVD or preferably Blu-ray release. Amazing that it hasn’t as yet. Instead, we get some of the junk that Warner Bros included on their Natalie Wood box set a few years ago, but not the superior Paramount release Love With the Proper Stranger. Thank you for your comments.

  3. Joe Miano says:

    Nicely done!

  4. Joe Miano says:

    My fav as well; just watched it actually (for the 25th time or so!).
    I am so happy that NYC did not bulldoze the park along East RIver Drive where the scene with Rocky’s parents takes place.
    I also noticed for first time in the film (and the only instance in any of her films from my recollection), the reason for her wearing bracelets on her left wrist. That aside, NW is brilliant in this film and she should have won an Oscar.

    Just paid my respects to Ms Wood at Westwood and, of course, went to Griffith Observatory (a must visit).

    Keep up the great work. I loved the narration and pictures. It was brilliant to shoot this film in B&W. Back to Rebel….

    • Joe,

      It’s always great to hear from another Natalie Wood aficionado. Glad you enjoyed the article. Agree that it was among her best performances, and should have garnered an Oscar for it. Thanks for commenting, too!

      Gene.

  5. Jean S. Weekley says:

    why does Natalie wear bracelets on left wrist only?

  6. Jean,

    She wore the bracelets to conceal a deformed wrist bone that was fractured in an accident during the filming of “The Green Promise” (RKO, 1949). According to biographer Suzanne Finstad, Wood’s mother failed to seek medical treatment and tried to conceal the injury, fearing that her daughter would be replaced in the film by the producers. The bone did not heal properly, resulting in a disfigurement that Wood concealed throughout her life by covering the wrist with bracelets.

    This same accident — in which Wood landed in water after she fell from a pedestrian rope bridge that collapsed prematurely during the filming of a stunt — also resulted in her lifelong fear of water.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

    Gene.

  7. John Lee says:

    For me, I loved the “60’s sitcom” part of the movie. I wish that part was longer. I wanted to see more of Steve McQueen trying to win Natalie Wood.

  8. John,

    Actually, the more I think about it, it isn’t the sitcom feel of the last sequence of the film that disappoints me (the earlier comic scenes with Angie’s family were funny and touching). It is the unsatisfying ending where Rocky seems to win Angie with his “bells and banjos” demonstration outside Macy’s. It isn’t convincing — it feels abrupt and forced.

    Aside from the black eye delivered by Angie’s brother, Rocky doesn’t suffer sufficiently for his treatment of Angie. And not only Angie, but the other women in his life — Barb and the girl in the hiring hall (who was obviously another one of his casual conquests, a probable one-night stand who, unlike poor Angie, was not impregnated). It would have been fantastic to see Edie Adams and Arlene Golonka confront Rocky at Angie’s apartment and beat the crap out of him. Or, better still, they conspire to extort Rocky by claiming to be pregnant too — just long enough to torture him and then tell him they were just kidding!. Maybe Angie feels sorry for him and then … well, who knows. That might have required a sequel — or at least an intermission! But it has the potential for a much better ending — maybe as unrealistic as the original ending, but a lot more fun.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

    Gene.

    • John Lee says:

      Well, I think the movie was about true love. Angie loved Rocky, but when the love was not reciprocated, Angie was disillusioned (as illustrated in the scene in Rocky’s father’s shop). Interestingly, Rocky still believed in true love (same scene). Therefore, Rocky treats every woman badly until the ONE. Then, Angie “tamed” Rocky by all her womanly qualities, and shrewdly used jealousy to bring out Rocky’s true feelings. A very common thought…all men are wild until tamed by the one.

      I agree the movie ended too abruptly. I could watch Angie and Rocky for another two hours. Maybe a confrontation between Rocky, Columbo and Dominick.

      Enjoy your post. I love, love, love this movie!!! Steve McQueen and Natalie Wood, can’t get better than that!!! It is nice to discuss it with other people.

      • John,

        You make some very interesting points, and I think I may have overlooked (or maybe just forgot) the importance of the scene at Rocky’s father’s office where Rocky and Angie have what appears to be their first conversation about love and relationships — the first time we have an indication that their relationship will be more than a “one-off” affair.

        This film was rather daring for its time — for a mainstream Hollywood film, certainly — and the fact that we can still discuss the complexities of the relationship between these two characters more than 50 years after its release shows that it certainly has not lost its relevance even in light of present-day attitudes and concepts of morality.

        Love with the Proper Stranger certainly deserves a new release on blu-ray. Apparently it had a VHS release in the 80’s (though I never saw it anywhere despite searching for it — pre-internet, of course!). It was also released on laser disc, but never on an official, commercially produced DVD. Bootlegs can be found on e-bay as DVD-Rs, and I have a DVD-r copy that I recorded from a standard definition broadcast on TCM more than ten years ago — the copy that I used for the screen caps in this essay. Of course, the film is a Paramount property and, as such, has languished in the “vaults,” unlike most of Natalie Wood’s work with Warner Bros. Here’s hoping that Paramount does the right thing by this important film, and makes it available soon in a format it deserves. It seems to get a decent audience whenever TCM broadcasts it — I can tell simply by the number of hits this essay gets each time it is shown!

        Thanks again for your thoughtful commentary.. Happy holidays!

        Gene.

        • John Lee says:

          A few more thoughts. I think Rocky might have thought of marrying Angie before the black eye. In Barbara’s apartment, he said he was tired of living that way. When they were waiting to give the money to that guy, he told Angie that she did not have to get an abortion if she was not sure about it. He took Angie to meet his parents, and he did not say anything when his mother introduced her as his girlfriend.

          I was watching it on YouTube, but one part was deleted because of Paramount. I think I’ve watch it 20 times this week. So, I bought a DVD from Movie Buffs.

          Happy Holidays, and thank you.

          P.S. I am watching again right now.

          • John,

            Let me know the quality of the “Movie Buffs” version, i.e., is it superior to the copy on YouTube? I just dug out my DVD-R, and it looks good for a home-made,10+ years old standard broadcast television recording (this was TCM pre-HD, but the recording was done in HQ mode on two dvd-r discs). I’m watching it on a 50″ plasma HD TV (which reveals all the shortcomings of a standard-def broadcast recording). It is a little “soft”, which is to be expected with an SD broadcast, but it is definitely sharper (and much better audio) than the YouTube copy. The only problem was with the original TCM broadcast itself — it was interrupted just at the point in the opening sequence in the musicians’ hiring hall when Rocky is paged by Angie. It loses 2 minutes, then picks up where Angie runs back out into the street after she is frustrated by Rocky’s initial response to her request for “an address” from a “doctor.” (That’s why my essay doesn’t have any screen caps from that initial encounter between Rocky and Angie, except for her running out into the street.)

            Thanks,
            Gene.

            • John Lee says:

              The Movie Buffs version is very clear, but it is not sharp. I never saw the pay-per-view YouTube version. I saw the one that was posted by NatalieWood43. It was in 11 parts with part 8 deleted at the request of Paramount. The Movie Buffs version does have a few extra minutes. But, unless you are crazy about the movie like me, it is not significant. I do not recall the TCM version exactly. Were you referring to the part where Angie was hitting Rocky in the musician’s hall? That part is in the Movie Buff’s version. I do recommend buying it since it is the only one available, and I NEED to own a copy of this movie. I hope this was helpful.

              • Thanks, John

                [UPDATE!!!]
                Great News for fans of LwtPS:

                I just found out (from Facebook, via IMDb message board) that Love with the Proper Stranger is scheduled for release on DVD/Blu-Ray in 2017 by Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The info is on their Facebook page at:

                https://www.facebook.com/KinoLorberStudioClassics/

                ***
                I watched the first two or three parts of the 11-part YouTube version (I wonder what Paramount’s objection was with “Part 8”?). The TCM broadcast that I recorded (it was in August 2007, btw!) was interrupted during the opening “hiring hall” scene when the broadcast signal dropped out from Comcast (unfortunately, this was not uncommon for TCM on my Comcast service back then, “poor signal” would appear on the screen), it was not the result of any censorship. I did not see the most recent TCM broadcast of the film (November 19), and I wish had recorded it, at least on the DVR.

                Thanks again,
                Gene.

  9. Joe Miano says:

    Hi Gene, I love the ending and the tying in with Papa’s shop scene and Jack Jones singing the title track. Fast forward: Clearly Rocky was not happy to hear about Angie’s boyfriend (Columbo, really?!) and his proposal to her– that certainly was not going to go down. I think the turn-around for Rocky was the climax of the film when he busted in on the “doctor” and took her in his arms saying “I’ll kill them if they touch you” Angie had to have felt that protection and love from him. I think we can all imagine the life he lived (as he said earlier) and as a single man myself, it gets old! Believe me. Who does not want to be with someone? Sure, one might say the ending is Hollywood fluff, but it works for me and I felt the shoot, during what looked like a bust mid-town Manhattan day, was genius. I often think of that scene when I drive down 7th avenue. Happy Thanksgiving. Be sure to catch Miracle on Thursday. A long-lived tradition in my home,. Peace, Joe

  10. Hi Joe,

    You make some valid points — Rocky does have feelings for her; he feels protective, and obviously regrets what he has put her through (it was his idea to go to the back-alley abortionist “doctor”). But his willingness to marry her is more out of a sense of obligation rather than love — to “take his medicine” or something to that effect (I haven’t seen the film since I wrote the essay). Maybe I’ve just become too cynical (I’ve recently seen a young female friend go through an experience much like Angie’s, and it didn’t end with bells and banjos). But it remains one of my favorite films of the period, Wood and McQueen have terrific chemistry, the locations are beautifully gritty, early ’60’s New York, and it is one of Wood’s best performances. As she said years later, it was her favorite film-making experience. And it shows in her performance, I think. Maybe I’ll have to watch it again, in a better mood during the holidays. Happy Thanksgiving, Joe! and Thanks for commenting!

    Gene.

  11. FINALLY OUT ON BLU-RAY, released 19 Sept 2017. Here is the review of the Blu-ray release at Blu-ray.com: http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/Love-with-the-Proper-Stranger-Blu-ray/169028/#Review

  12. Marie Fotini says:

    Hi Gene,
    I am searching for the street where the “Local 802 Theatre” (the Musicians’ Union Hiring Hall) was filmed at the beginning of the movie … searching for a long time …
    Would you know where ? any clue for this location ?
    Thank you in advance for your help,
    Marie from France

    • Joe says:

      According to the script of the movie it MUST be close to Macy’s on 34th Street and 6th Ave near Herald’s Square because NW is on her break and probably within walking distance I would think and we see her running out the back door presumably to Macy’s. I would think, unless she took the subway!, it would it somewhere between 33rd and 35th and 5th and 7th avenues. Great trivia question!

    • Marie,
      Excellent question. Love With the Proper Stranger was shot on location in Manhattan in 1962, and I’ve identified the location of every exterior shot in the film . . . except one! This particular sequence, the very first in the film, begins inside the musicians’ union hiring hall, and ends with an exterior set-up ostensibly outside the entrance of the union hall, and out onto the sidewalk where Angie breaks away from Rocky and runs across the street. Although I’ve never given it much thought, it appeared to me to be a typical crosstown street in Midtown Manhattan, which could place the likely location as any of the one-way, east-west streets between 31st and 59th Streets.

      The current headquarters of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians is 322 W. 48th St. (between Eighth and Ninth Avenues). This particular building is a latter-19th century structure with a first floor facade that appears to have been refinished in the 1970’s or 80’s. I don’t know if the union hall/headquarters was at this address in 1962. The film doesn’t give us much of a glimpse of the exterior of the building, although the entrance is similar to the one at 322 W 48th.

      The most obvious problem with identifying the exterior location is that the buildings on the street in the film just don’t match up with what is there now, even taking into account new construction/renovation. However, I still believe that the location of the exterior shot is in midtown and, as Joe notes in his reply to you above, it may have been shot much closer to the area of 33rd and 35th Streets between Fifth and Seventh Avenues, not far from Macy’s at 34th and Broadway where Angie is employed. Certainly, the filmmakers were not obligated to stage the scene anywhere near Macy’s or at an actual union hiring hall, be it in New York or on the sound stages and back lots of Paramount Studios in Los Angeles.

      Now that you’ve piqued my curiosity, I will continue to see what i can find — maybe a couple of hours on Google Streetview will do the trick. 😉 And thank you for reading, commenting and posing your question!

      Gene

      • Marie Fotini says:

        Thank you Gene and Joe for your detailed replies !
        I had already tried the 322 W 48th that could match but the opposite side of the street seen in the movie doesn’t match at all.
        The marquee of this “Union Hall” building, when they are coming out, looks like a hotel.
        From a filming picture taken outside this building, I could read “BANQUET FACILITIES”;
        this hotel apparently could have had a ballroom, seen in the movie, and a health club.
        Returning to my research, I just found the location of this street and the “Union Hall” building with this last clue !
        How can I send you pictures showing this with all the clues?
        Marie.

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