Warner Bros. // 1969 // 125 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // February 12th, 2007
If your wife insists you see it together, be careful.
Despite being a star vehicle for Kirk Douglas and the piquant Faye Dunaway, as well as one of legendary director Elia Kazan's last films, The Arrangement has somehow managed to fall into obscurity. Now Warner Bros. is giving it new life with its release on DVD.
Douglas (Spartacus) plays Eddie Anderson, a successful middle-aged copywriter. One sunny morning, Eddie wakes up and attempts to kill himself on the Los Angeles freeway. As Eddie's family, friends, and analysts try to discern what could have driven him to suicide, he reflects on the talent he has squandered in his career, as well as an affair with Gwen (Faye Dunaway, Chinatown), a free-spirited co-worker, that quickly turned sour. In the midst of this self-exploration, Eddie's father becomes gravely ill, his marriage dissolves, and he discovers his former mistress had a baby that he may have sired.
To put it succinctly, The Arrangement is a portrait of a mid-life crises on steroids.
The Arrangement was released in 1969, the same year that an X-rated film (Midnight Cowboy) won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It was the beginning of a great period of filmmaking, in which mainstream movies first began exploring sexuality and marital strife with a frankness and honesty that was exhilarating and bleak at the same time. Additionally, experimentation and unconventional storylines were beginning to receive wide acceptance (2001: A Space Odyssey was released the prior year). Kazan had made his greatest films in the 1950s and early 60s. In 1969 he hadn't made a film in six years. The Arrangement is his ambitious attempt to explore middle-age ennui with late-60s boldness, but the film ultimately proves both too ponderous and self-consciously stylish for its own good.
The film, clocking in at a little over two hours, lacks the focus to ever engage its audience. Eddie Anderson's problems are so varied -- dissatisfaction with his job, his wife, his mistress, his father, his mother -- that the movie almost seems like five films compressed into one. Actually, Eddie's relationship with Gwen is so convoluted -- they alternately love and hate each other about half a dozen times -- that there seems to be enough grist there alone for a mini-series.
Initially, Eddie's loveless relationship with his wife Florence (Deborah Kerr, The End of the Affair) makes for an intriguing domestic drama, but we soon find ourselves transported back in time to his ill-fated love affair. Later the affair is shunted aside to explore the vacuity of the advertising trade. Suddenly, Eddie's senile father is gravely ill, and Eddie rushes across the country to be at the old man's bedside. Eddie helps his father escape from the hospital -- and suddenly learns that Gwen has given birth to a child that may be his. Oh, and she loves him again. But wait -- now Florence wants to get Eddie committed to a mental hospital? As if this weren't already confusing enough, intermixed within these are flashbacks to earlier affairs, earlier business meetings, and scenes of an unhappy childhood. It's enough to make a viewer nauseous.
Then there is the problem with casting. Douglas and Dunaway are both capable actors, but are just an odd match. At the time of filming Douglas was in his early fifties, but could have passed for a man ten years older. Dunaway (hot off Bonnie & Clyde and The Thomas Crown Affair) was in her mid-20s, but her hair is oddly dyed gray. I assume this was done to make her look older -- closer in age to Douglas. However, she still looks like a girl in her mid-20s, just one with an inexplicable dye job. I suppose there's nothing too unusual about a businessman having an affair with a woman 30 years his junior, but this age difference still somehow infused the relationship with a creepiness that I think was unintended. But the problems don't end there.
Over a three-year stretch in the early 1950s Kazan directed Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, Viva Zapata!, and On the Waterfront. Kazan hoped to reunite with Brando for The Arrangement. Unfortunately, Brando backed out of the film due to the despair he felt after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Obviously, we will never know what The Arrangement could have been with Brando, but Eddie Anderson does bear a striking resemblance to Paul in the classic Last Tango in Paris. While Douglas provides star power, he simply cannot mine the same emotional depths as the incomparable Brando. Kazan thought as much himself. In his autobiography, Elia Kazan: A Life, he expressed dissatisfaction with Douglas's performance. In a film like The Arrangement, so much depends upon the expressiveness of the lead. No one has portrayed existential torture like Brando; the best Douglas can provide is something akin to aggravated middle-manager.
Unfortunately, Warner Bros. hasn't done a great job on the film's DVD transfer. Some scenes were so grainy I wondered if they were outtakes spliced back into the film. Additionally, the disc's only extras include a trailer and "A New Lifestyle," a vintage featurette that seems to have been produced for the movie's original release. It is slightly interesting to see how films were promoted nearly 40 years ago, but there is little of substance here.
Though I am very critical of the film, Kazan is an unquestionably great director (Splendor in the Grass is one of my all-time favorites movies), and there is something intriguing about watching him struggle to adapt to a new style of filmmaking and storytelling. Kazan makes bold choices, at different times reversing the film, freezing characters so that Eddie can speak with them (not unlike Zack's powers on Saved By the Bell), and even infuses a fight scene with the POW! and BAM! title cards popularized in the Batman series three years earlier. Yeah, the film ultimately doesn't work, but anyone who admires Kazan's earlier movies should be interested in watching The Arrangement.
This film's plot most closely resembles Last Tango in Paris and American Beauty. However, in quality, it fails to approach either of those two far superior films.
Kazan is guilty of thinking Kirk Douglas would be an adequate replacement for Marlon Brando.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Vintage featurette "A New Lifestyle"