The Arrangement was such a surprise. Elia Kazan’s second-to-last film, it feels so much more progressive and together than The Visitors. It sort of reminded me of Frank Perry’s The Swimmer from the year before – classic Hollywood actor faces mid-life crisis amidst the trim glitz of the suburbs.
I like The Arrangement a whole lot, and for a lot of reasons. One is that it never quite goes how I expected it to. It seems for a good while like it’s going to be an advertising satire (those clean Zephyr cigarettes…), but it goes elsewhere. It’s about the dissolution of a marriage, the withdrawal of a man from society, how we measure success, and the immigrant experience. It feels autobiographical for Kazan, and maybe it should – he wrote the source novel.
What an immediate post-Bonnie and Clyde run for Faye Dunaway-
There’s The Tomas Crown Affair, this film, Little Big Man, and Puzzle of a Downfall Child, all before she gets to Chinatown.
I feel like this is a out-on-a-limb film for Deborah Kerr. Kind of reminds me of the purported controversy over some of Jimmy Stewart’s dialogue in Anatomy of a Murder. Kerr is great as Florence Anderson, and she’s such a far cry from The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. She plays her nudity and sexuality with such fierceness; it’s a great contrast to the ambivalence of Dunaway’s Gwen.
Kirk Douglas also get a space to showcase a bit. My favorite part of his was always Ace in the Hole, and now this is right up there. He gets to play two versions of himself, go crazy, calmly attempt suicide, and give big monologues.
The opening of the film is fantastic. It’s so symmetrical, pristine and high-key as we work our way from the exterior to a curtain magically parting and revealing Douglas’ Eddie and Florence in opposite beds:
Kazan cuts inside to this wide. The camera pushes forward, timed to husband and wife meeting at the foot of the bed for a practiced kiss:
A reverse of the room, still oh so symmetrical ends with them very much divided in their respective showers. Everything is pastel, soft, respectful:
Kazan pushes this opening so far that it can’t be anything but ironic. The film has so much varied technique. It really feels like Kazan is experimenting more than I’ve seen him do in other films. Here, Eddie looks back at his parents’ house and sees it in the past. His father (Richard Boone) sits there in the low-angle wide-shot. The steps up looking like those someone might ascend to reach a throne:
Kazan cuts in to a close-up of his smiling, confident father in the past, and then hard-cuts to the present. The house is in disrepair, the light fading, his father sunken, the wider shot now only at a slight low angle, but not one meant to impress:
And later is when Douglas must have had a lot of fun, playing two parts. Kazan uses this composite shot to great comical effect. There’s a cigar joke in this sequence. The vulnerability of Eddie on the right, despite the same leg position, hand position, and cigar, is so poignant:
Towards the end of the film a prosecutor supposes on what Eddie might have done in his old family home by himself, with the blinds drawn and doors locked. The subsequent sequence is eerie. It reminds me (appropriately enough, since it’s coming back soon) of Bob’s over-the-couch entrance in Twin Peaks.
I love this first frame. The big wide, that could be a POV. We just see some legs creeping into the top of the shot. The emptiness and the slowness of the approach lend to the creepiness, which is magnified when Kazan cuts in to the well-heeled Eddie, peeking around the corner, wolf’s grin on his face. The reverse shows the current Eddie, cowering:
The Arrangement just feels really fresh, despite being nearly 50 years old!