The Arrangement (1969) Elia Kazan

The Arrangement poster

“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.

The Arrangement1    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.

The Arrangement still    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.

The Arrangement lc2   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.

The Arrangement lc1  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.

Advertisements

9 comments on “The Arrangement (1969) Elia Kazan

  1. Raquelle says:

    I really enjoyed this film. It’s interesting what you say about the novel being so long and how it had to be condensed into a two hour movie. That definitely lends to the choppiness of the film.

    When I watched this for the first time, I just thought it was so different! I was captivated by it’s choppiness, it’s brazenness and by our journey into the character’s lunacy.

    It was great watching it on the big screen too although it was an original unrestored print so the visual quality wasn’t all that great.

    Thank you so much for writing such an informative review on this film. I feel like this Kazan film is often neglected amongst film fans.

    Like

    • John Greco says:

      Raquelle,

      “The Arrangement” is a neglected work and while I don’t feel it is one of Kazan’s best works; it should not be as ignored as it is. I do wish Brando had taken the role instead of Douglas, he would have brought ad added dimension to the role that I believe Douglas could not. Beside, Dunaway’s performance what I like best is the story of a man who sold out for success his whole life and now regrets it.

      Like

  2. Raquelle says:

    Thanks for checking out my original review. I wrote about the film a second time when I saw it on the big screen at the Harvard Film Archive http://outofthepastcfb.blogspot.com/2009/08/arrangement-1969-harvard-film-archive.html

    I think Brando would have done the introspection a lot better than Kirk Douglas for sure. But Brando was at odds with Kazan so that was really never meant to be. I understand that Kazan wasn’t too happy with Douglas either. I think Douglas can pull off mania fine and I enjoyed his performance in this one!

    Like

    • John Greco says:

      Glad you got to see it on the big screen. That is always a treat. YOur right about Kazan not happy with Douglas’ performance. He really wanted Marlon.

      Like

  3. Dave says:

    Having not seen the film, I suppose I can’t add a whole lot… but I second that it has been a blast having you go through Kazan and his work as you have. Although I’m far from having seen all of his work, one thing I can say is that I’ve never seen anything that I would term “bad” that was directed by him. I obviously prefer some over others, but all have their moments and should be seen. Good stuff as usual, John, I like being guided through various works by a particular director.

    Like

    • John Greco says:

      Dave,

      at some point I hope to tackle a few more Kazan works, On the Waterfront, East of Eden, Viva Zapata and The Vistors (if I can ever get a hold of a copy of the last two)and some others. I didn’t intend to post three Kazan’s in a row. I just was going to post “A Face in the Crowd” and move on but I realiszed I had “Boomerang” hanging around for ages and did not watch it and it went from there. Glad you enjoyed it.

      Like

  4. Sam Juliano says:

    I also appreciate the dedication to completism, especially since Kazan is one of the most essential American film directors. Navigating your traditionally fecund and comprehensive treatment of the film and it’s reception, I can say I do agree with you here. It’s a minor Kazan, but it’s definitely not disposable, as Canby orginally contends.

    Where I agree with you lock, stock and barrel though, is in regards to Brando as a far better choice here for this role than the chosen Douglas. Brando may well have transformed the material.

    Like

    • John Greco says:

      Sam,
      Brando would have definitely been a better choice, unfortunately, he was not interested. Probably in one of those periods where he did not like acting.
      Thanks much!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s