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.

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From Here to Eternity (1953) Fred Zinnemann

from-here-to-still-beach

“A man don’t go his own way, he’s nothin’” – Robert E. Lee Prewitt

 

  

Based on James Jones massive bestseller, Fred Zinnemann’s film version of “From Here to Eternity” won eight Academy Awards out of 13 nominations including Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress. Daniel Taradash, who wrote the screenplay, and won an Oscar, does a magnificent job of reducing Jones more than 800 page novel into a two-hour film. The film had to be toned down for both sex and its anti-military sentiment. The latter, so Columbia would receive cooperation from the military and the former due to the restrictions of the then in force production code.   from-here-to-eternity

    The story begins with the transfer of Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) to a rifle company headed up by Captain Dana Holmes (Philip Ober). When Holmes learns of Prewitt’s ability as a boxer, he wants him to join the company’s boxing team. Prewitt, who previously blinded another boxer in the ring, does not want to box. Holmes First Sergeant, Milton Walden (Burt Lancaster), he actually runs the unit for the ineffective Captain, suggest that they make “life” difficult for Prewitt forcing him into submission by getting other non-commission officers under his command to help “persuade” him to box. Prewitt is a man who goes his own way and can take whatever is dished out by the Sergeants, still refusing to box. Walden in the meantime has his eyes on the Captain’s beautiful neglected and unhappy wife, Karen Holmes (Deborah Kerr) and they soon begin an affair. Prewitt meets an old friend, the streetwise loser Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra). Together they go out to the New Congress Club, a dance club where they can meet girls. It’s here Prewitt meets Lorene (Donna Reed). While at the New Congress Club, Maggio, having too much to drink, gets into his first altercation with Fatso Judson (Ernest Borgnine), the sadistic Sergeant in charge of the Stockade. The fight is quickly broken up by Prewitt. Walden and Karen meet at a secluded beach for a romantic interlude. Here Karen tells Walden how early in her marriage she discovered her husband’s philandering and that during one of his more violent drunken episodes she miscarried their child and now is unable to bear any more children.

 from-here-to-eteneityposter2   At Choy’s bar, a drunken Maggio gets into another mix with Fatso, who pulls out a switchblade. Walden, who is watching, breaks a beer bottle in half and steps in between the two. He tells Fatso, if he wants a fight, fight with him. Fatso backs down, promising Maggio that someday he will get him, saying his type always end up in the stockade eventually. Prewitt and Lorene continue to see each other. She tells Prewitt her real name is Alma and gives him a key to the apartment she shares with another girl. Prewitt’s harsh “treatment” by the non-commissioned officers continues however, he continues to take it never complaining. On another night’s leave, Prewitt and Maggio get ready to go out on the town, only Maggio is slow in getting ready and is the last man in the barracks when the Officer of the Day grabs him for guard duty. Upset Maggio goes AWOL while on guard duty and is quickly arrested and court-martialed. He is sentenced to six months in the stockade where he comes face to face with Fatso and his billy club. Karen wants Walden to sign up for officer training school so he can be transferred back to the states. She will then divorce Holmes and they can marry. Walden who hates officers reluctantly agrees. 

  from-here-to-still  Prewitt is forced into a fight with one of the Sergeants from the boxing team. A group of soldiers gathers to watch, including Captain Holmes, who does nothing to stop the fight until the Sergeant starts losing. Senior officers have been watching from afar wondering why Holmes is not stopping the fight. A few nights later, Walden and Prewitt are sitting on the side of a road drunk when Maggio, badly beaten up, appears. He escaped from the stockade not being able to take Fatso’s brutal beatings anymore. Maggio dies in Prews arms. The following night, Prewitt looks for Fatso and finds him coming of out the New Congress Club. Switchblades are drawn and Prewitt knifes Fatso to death however, Prewitt has been stabbed badly too. Wounded he makes his way to Lorene’s apartment where he remains as he recuperates.  Walden covers up for Prewitt’s AWOL for the next few days. Meanwhile, Karen asks Walden if he submitted his application for officer training and he tells her he did not. On the eve of December 7th, they split up realizing their dreams of a life together could only be a fantasy.

    The Japanese attack Pearl Harbor the next morning. Prewitt, still recuperating at Lorene’s, hears on the radio about the attack and realizing his duty as a solider wants to get back to Schofield Barracks. Lorene pleads with him not to go; after all, what did the Army ever do for him, other that treat him like crap.  As he tries to sneak back to the base, Prewitt is shot by a nervous guard when he does not stop after several cries of halt. When Walden arrives, the guard asks why didn’t he stop? “He was just too stubborn!” Walden replies.

A few days later, Karen and Lorene are evacuated by ship. As they leave the port heading back to the states. Lorene tells Karen her fiancé was a pilot who shot down during the attack. However, Karen recognizes Prewitt’s name realizing Lorene’s fantasy ending.    

    For me, the key role in “From Here to Eternity” is that of Robert E. Lee Prewitt, as portrayed by Montgomery Clift. It is Prewitt who drives what I see as the major theme of the film, that of how does someone maintain his individuality in a system that demands conformity.  Prewitt will not turn his back on his own moral code, not even for the Army that he loves so much.  Walden knows how to play the game; in the military there is no room for individuality; you must conform for the good of the “team.” He sees Prewitt as just being stubborn.  Prewitt’s rebellion is that of a person who knows who he is in life. Unlike Brando’s  50’s rebels  in “A Street Name Desire” and especially in “The Wild One”, Prewitt is not rebelling just for the sake of rebelling, he is standing up for his own principles which are in conflict with the system, in this case, the Army that he loves and wants to be apart of. However, he will not succumb to their demands if it means breaking with his own moral ideas. Additionally, unlike James Dean whose rebellion in both “East of Eden” and “Rebel without a Cause” are both centered on young mixed up teens trying to find themselves by rebelling against ineffective parents. Prewitt is no kid; he knows who he is and what he wants. Prewitt is also representative of director Fred Zinnemann whose main characters often were subject to moral predicaments in films like “High Noon”, “The Nun’s Story” and “A Man for All Seasons.”  fromheretoeternitykerr-on-beahc-pose

    Censorship restrictions at the time forced many changes and toning down, from novel to screen. The New Congress Club where Prew meets Lorene, a whorehouse in the book, became a “Gentlemen’s Club” and the girls went from whores to “hostesses.” The affair between Walden and Kerr was a lot more explicit in the novel than it is in the film. Despite the toning down, the movie still steams sex. Deborah Kerr never looked sexier than she does in this movie. We first see her in a tight fitting sweater as she walks around the base looking for her philandering husband and later on in shorts when Walden make an unexpected visit to her house. There is also the iconic beach scene with the ocean’s waves washing over Lancaster and Kerr bodies that steamed up the screen and still does. It is still surprising how much did get passed the censors. This may have been to some extent due to the casting of Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed in the female leading roles. Both women had “pure” screen reputations, so maybe the censors were more lenient or not paying as much attention. After not seeing this film for a longtime, I was surprised by how short the beach scene is, yet it has resonated strongly in our cinematic erogenous zones.

    Performances are all around excellent and this is confirmed by the acting awards and nominations the film received. Both Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift received Best Actor nominations, Deborah Kerr, Best Actress and Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed both received Academy Awards in their respective Best Supporting categories. Ernest Borgnine deserves much credit for his role as Fatso Judson the sadist stockade Sergeant.

    “From Here to Eternity” is overflowing with actors in small roles who would become better known later on, Jack Warden, Mickey Shaunessey, Bruce Cabot, Claude Akins, Joan Shawlee and George Reeves who was already portraying Superman on TV. The novel (1951) was James Jones first, followed by “Some Came Running”, “The Pistol” and “The Thin Red Line.” In all, Jones published 10 books; his last novel was released posthumously after being completed by Willie Morris.  In 1951, the book was the winner of National Book Award for fiction. Jones based “From Here to Eternity” on his own experiences while stationed in Hawaii though most of the story is said to be fiction. It is ranked 62nd in the Modern Library’s list of Top 100 novels. The book is considered, along with Norman Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead” among the best novels depicting the American soldier in the South Pacific during the World War II era.