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Kirk Douglas and Faye Dunaway in master moviemaker Elia Kazan's hard-hitting story about an adman's attempts to rebuild his shattered life after suffering a nervous breakdown. Year: 1969 Director: Elia Kazan Starring: Kirk Douglas, Faye Dunaway, Deborah Kerr
During the grim, glum cacophony of images and sounds that constitutes the first few minutes of The Arrangement, a self-loathing advertising wizard (Kirk Douglas) with a stultifying marriage and a career focused on selling "Zephyr, The Clean Cigarette!" impulsively hits upon a spectacular method of committing suicide. Viewers would have been spared two hours of further flailing if he'd succeeded. Instead we get a combination psychodrama and Bildungsroman--at once crashingly obvious and fragmented to the point of incoherence--that attempts to frame the betrayal of the American Dream through the guilty/proud machismo, professional frustrations, and oppressive ethnic heritage of a very unappealing guy.
At least credit writer-director Elia Kazan, adapting his own bestselling novel, with honesty: the guy is, essentially, he himself. The once-great filmmaker hoped to reunite with Marlon Brando on the project; he wound up with Douglas, whose career-long image was the guy with the indomitable spirit no matter what ("I'm Spartacus!"). But dismay over Douglas's miscasting--which led to the miscasting of Faye Dunaway in a mistress role based on and intended for Barbara Loden--doesn't excuse the total mishmash. Scenes begin in the middle or break off without warning; some characters are introduced portentously, then abandoned or beaten as one-note Symbols. The technique is a mélange of ugly, puerile effects, including still photos absurdly sprung to life and a daydream sequence studded with BIFF! BAM! POW! comic-book titles. There's even a desperate dive into self-quotation, a snippet of Kazan's 1963 America America to establish that a character barely seen in The Arrangement is the aged version of the youthful protagonist of that exultant masterpiece.
For the record, the cast includes Deborah Kerr as Douglas's wife and Richard Boone as his terminally Old World dad. They didn't deserve to come off as badly as they do. --Richard T. Jameson
- Vintage featurette "A New Lifestyle"
- Original theatrical trailer
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Eddie Anderson (Kirk Douglas) is an advertising executive living a comfortable, upper middle class lifestyle with his proper and fleshy wife, Florence (Deborah Kerr), in a charming California home complete with in-ground pool. But Eddie hates his life and attempts suicide. While recovering, Eddie has flashbacks of his successful but unsatisfying career and of his young, sassy, always-braless mistress, Gwen (Faye Dunaway), who goaded him to follow his desires. Eddie reluctantly returns to the job he hates but ends up buzzing the company offices with his private plane.
As Florence wonders what the hell is going on with her husband, Eddie is summoned to New York City to be with his ailing father, Sam Arness (Richard Boone). Eddie visits Gwen, who also happens to live in New York with her baby, and doesn't give a damn that she has a boyfriend. Meanwhile, Florence chases Eddie to New York to keep close tabs on her unpredictable husband.
Eddie sneaks his father out of the hospital in the middle of the night and brings him back to the family home. The old Greek is suffering from dementia and asks Eddie to take him to the bank for a loan to restart his rug business. At the house, Eddie has flashbacks of his domineering father and Frances walks in on her husband and Gwen in flagrante delicto.
The family commits Sam to a nursing home and Eddie walks in on a meeting with Florence and her lawyer, Arthur (Hume Cronyn), as they draw up divorce papers. Eddie is arrested after setting fire to the family home and being shot by Gwen's jealous boyfriend. Eddie is committed to a mental institution where he's satisfied to stay but Gwen prods him into leaving. Sam dies and the family gathers at the cemetery; Eddie and Gwen together and Frances with Arthur.
The Arrangement was based on Kazan's 1967 best-selling novel by the same title. While the film is not completely autobiographical it does draw heavily on the director's life experiences. Kazan later wrote extensively on his troubled relationships with his father, his puritanical first wife, Molly Thatcher, and his spirited mistress, Barbara Loden. He had also experienced a bit of a personal crisis after becoming extremely dissatisfied with his role as a theatrical director while desiring to be a writer.
Kazan admitted later that alpha-male Douglas was all wrong for the part of troubled Eddie. Truth be told, Kirk Douglas would have been running that ad agency after a year or two. Twenty-eight-year-old Dunaway is bit over-dramatic as the strong-willed mistress but does provide some enticing eye candy. Kazan originally envisioned Barbara Loden playing the part of Gwen, which would have equated to the former-mistress-turned-wife portraying herself. Boone is spot-on as the overbearing father and Kerr is okay as the too-long-suffering wife.
Kazan employs a number of questionable techniques in this film which serve as distractions. There's some cartoonish graphics straight out of the then-popular Batman television show. The conflicted Eddie is made to debate his successful and sales savvy alter-ego within the same scene. Adult Eddie is present in flashbacks to his youth. There's the obligatory nudity (although indirect) and hip, late-60's flashy editing.
Kazan admitted later that The Arrangement was a failure although he argued that too many of the key elements from the novel had to be left out of the film for brevity's sake. This film has only a few redeeming qualities but Kazan fans will appreciate the many references to his own personal life which he elaborated on in detail in his fascinating 1988 autobiography. But give credit to Kazan for attempting a film about finding one's true path, a theme that would later become quite popular in Hollywood. Those who label The Arrangement as Kazan's worst film haven't seen Sea of Grass or The Last Tycoon.
The DVD offers no commentary although the trailer and an interesting but short promotional documentary are included.
Kazan has always been an actor's director and the film provides a showcase for the young Faye Dunaway as Douglas' mistress who gets him to reexamine his life but wants out to be with someone else. Deborah Kerr in her last major film appearance is superb in the difficult role of the wife who tries to understand what Douglas is going through but doesn't want to give up the rich lifestyle she's become accustomed to. Strong support is given by Hume Cronyn as the family solicitor who has plans of his own and from Richard Boone in a rare non-Western role as Douglas' ailing father. His slide into dementia is both heartbreaking and terrifying. Marlon Brando had originally agreed to play the lead but bowed out allowing Kirk Douglas who really wanted to work with Kazan to step in. He acquits himself well in an emotionally as opposed to a physically demanding role.
The combination of raw emotions, alternating points-of-view including black humor, and touches of surrealism was ambitious then and still is today (think AMERICAN BEAUTY). The movie is not without its flaws. It runs too long and is occasionally sloppy in everything from editing to make-up but the powerful writing and intense performances make THE ARRANGEMENT provocative filmmaking nearly 40 years later. Called everything from a harrowing emotional ride to a self-indulgent mess (see the Amazon summary) it is ultimately for the home viewer to decide (my 4 star rating indicates where I stand). Kazan will always be a controversial figure because of his HUAC testimony in the 1950's but his greatness as a director cannot be denied and remains captured on film for all to see.