william steig drawing

May 12, 2010
Kartina Richardson

Love With The Proper Stranger

(Video quality ain’t great. I’m working on it, im working on it)

This clip is from the 1963 film Love With the Proper Stranger directed by Robert Mulligan. The film stars Natalie Wood as Angie a working girl from an Italian-American family that discovers she is pregnant following a one night stand with Rocky, a musician played by Steve McQueen. The film follows Angie and Rocky as they decide what to do about the pregnancy, and each other.

I saw part of this film on TV when I was very young. A scene in which Rocky visits Angie at her job to arrange a meeting the next day.The film and this scene (two scenes actually) in particular made a great impression on me because of its mood: a quiet, lonely, melancholy grayness. When I was finally able to watch the whole picture I was struck by how similar the ambiance was to To Kill A Mockingbird’s. Lo and behold I soon learned that Mulligan had directed Mockingbird the year before. I then suspected that perhaps Milton Krasner, who did an excellent job in Stranger (especially in emphasizing the crampedness and openess of contrasting spaces) might have done Mockingbird as well, but he did not. Mockingbird’s gorgeous photography was the work of Russell Harlan. What the two films did have in common however, in addition to director, was composer*. And this is where the shared mood really begins: With the extraordinary Elmer Bernstein (Sweet Smell of Success, Magnificent Seven, On the Waterfront to name a few).

Theme from To Kill a Mockingbird

The two leitmotifs have many similarities, most noticeably the use of a lone wind instrument (it’s either a flute or clarinet or something else). I’m not sure why, but the combination of the flute and the songs’ bittersweet melody effectively suggest lost innocence in the two movies. These songs have duende, black sounds. As Federico Garcia Lorca said:

We have said that the duende loves the edge, the wound, and draws close to places where forms fuse in a yearning beyond visible expression…Each art, as is natural, has a distinct mode and form of duende, but their roots unite at the point from which flow the dark sounds of Manuel Torre, the ultimate matter, and uncontrollable mutual depth and extremity of wood, sound, canvas, word. Dark sounds, behind which in tender intimacy exist volcanoes, ants, zephyrs, and the vast night pressing its waist against the Milky Way.

In Stranger, the score is as invaluable as the photography in creating its magnificent bittersweet and contemplative mood.

* Johnny Mercer co-composed

• like this post? subscribe to the Mirror RSS Feed

Leave a Comment