“The Arrangement” opened to mostly terrible reviews in November of 1969. Vincent Canby of the New York Times said, “The Arrangement” is Elia Kazan’s most romantic movie. It may also be his worst…” Later on Canby in the same review he says, “The Arrangement” reeks with slightly absurd movie chic but, unlike Douglas Sirk’s “Written on the Wind” or Vincente Minnelli’s “Two Weeks in Another Town,” it’s not only not much fun, but it’s a mess of borrowed styles.” Harsh words and while I am not going to claim that “The Arrangement” is a lost masterpiece or even a satisfying film that has grown better with time, the film is not the mess Mr. Canby seemed to think it was.
Based on Kazan’s successful novel (it was on the New York Times bestseller list for 37 weeks) which ran over 500 pages and had to be condensed down to a film slightly over two hours. It is the story of Evangelos Arness, a man who spent his life selling out, he even changed his name to Eddie Anderson. Eddie is a successful advertising executive married to Florence (Deborah Kerr), they live in a large house with servants. The marriage is affable, they seem to have it all, she seems content, Eddie we find out is not.
On his way to work Eddie cracks up, both figuratively and literally when he lets go of the wheel of his sports car and crashes into a truck in the next lane. Not able to not willing to speak he remains silent during his recovery drifting in and out of painful recollections of his childhood with a father who intimidated and dominated him and his mother. These memories are intermixed with visions of his affair with Gwen (Faye Dunaway), a sexy bright independent office associate who finds it painful that Eddie has sold out and how much he must hurt him to imagine what he could have been.
When Eddie physically recovers, his sanity is still in question. His father is taken ill, Eddie goes to New York to stay with the dying man but their time together only brings back the memories of his anguished childhood. He meets up with Gwen, who now has a child, she claims to not know who the father is. Gwen is living with another man, Charles, who asks nothing from her, even when she has affairs with other men, he is there for her.
Florence comes to New York, only to find Eddie back with Gwen (she literally finds them in bed together). Convinced that he is still unbalanced she make arrangements with the way too friendly family lawyer, Arthur (Hume Cronyn) to have him hospitalized. Eddie, who after a lifetime of being what everyone else wants only wants to be himself even if that means staying in a mental hospital. Gwen comes to get him out and they agree to make another go at a life together. When his father dies, at the cemetery Eddie is there with Gwen, Florence stands close to the family lawyer, her arm in his. They all seem to be okay with the arrangement.
Kazan wanted Marlon Brando for the role of Eddie, but Brando was reluctant to take on the role. Weather it was a fear of working with the man he did some of his greatest work with or it was too soon after the assassination of Martin Luther King, which Brando claimed, he turned Kazan down. The alternative choice was Kirk Douglas, which probably hurt the film. Nothing against Douglas but Brando would have brought a sensitivity and depth that Douglas lacks. Faye Dunaway, who first worked with Kazan in a Lincoln Center production of Arthur Miller’s “After the Fall”, gives a perfectly pitched performance as Gwen, a woman working in a man’s world, intelligent enough to rebel with wit and strength. She seems to have little respect for the men she worked with or for.
A criticism at the time of its release is the film was too choppy and Kazan could not find the key to slim down the massive book into a two hour cohesive film. What works for me is Dunaway’s performance, and by the way, she never looked better, plus a couple of other interesting scenes, one between Eddie and Florence at the boathouse and the scenes with Eddie and his father, Sam. “The Arrangement” is a hard film to recommend. It is slow in spots and I’ m sure some will find it disjointed and dull but if you look, you still see Kazan’s touch, the outsiders, in both Eddie and Gwen, a theme that he has used over the course of his brilliant career.