Although this "new kind of love" relies on an old kind of plot, Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees enjoys seeing real-life couple Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward frolic in Paris.
Sam: I don't want to spend the rest of my life being a semi-maiden.
The partnership of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward both on and off the screen is a well-respected one, so it may surprise some viewers to see the duo together in A New Kind of Love, a frothy romantic comedy worlds away from more substantial dramatic projects like The Long Hot Summer or Mr. and Mrs. Bridge. For some, the appearance of these two Oscar winners in such a meringue of a movie may be a disappointing comedown from their more important work; for those who are prepared to park their high expectations, however, this is an enjoyably whimsical trifle, which benefits greatly from the presence of the two leads.
Facts of the Case
The City of Light and of lovers becomes the playing field for romantic wranglers Samantha "Sam" Blake (Joanne Woodward, The Three Faces of Eve) and Steve Sherman (Paul Newman, Hud) when their jobs throw them together in Paris. Sam is a professional fashion thief, hijacking designs from expensive designers for her benign boss, Joe Bergner (George Tobias). Although secretary Lina (Thelma Ritter, All About Eve) urges her to use her trip to Paris as an opportunity for romance, Sam has been burned before by love, and now she's content to hide in her work and in a tomboyish appearance. At the other end of the spectrum, Steve puts romance so much ahead of his work as a journalist that he gets sent to Paris to put some distance between him and his boss's toothsome wife. He's certainly pleased to have the chance to graze on a buffet of Frenchwomen, yet Steve is also pestered by the knowledge that he hasn't become the great writer he intended to be. When the two meet en route to Paris, they take an instant dislike to each other.
But then Steve finds an unlikely muse in Mimi, a fetching blonde call girl who is happy to recount to him all of her sexual adventures. When he gets the clever idea of writing these up as if they were sports events, his career is reinvigorated. Little does Steve know, however, that the experienced Mimi is actually Sam, who has been transformed by the Elizabeth Arden salon and relishes the opportunity to avenge herself on this boorish acquaintance. When she and Steve begin to fall in love, though, the complications begin. At the same time, Lina's long-standing love for Mr. Bergner looks more hopeless than ever when opulent Félicienne (Eva Gabor) sets out to land him for herself. Even with Maurice Chevalier and Saint Catherine herself on hand to assist, these romantic entanglements will take a lot of sorting out.
Frankly, I don't get Hollywood sometimes. Wherever did it hit upon the idea of prostitution as a subject ripe with comedic potential? Yet for decades it's been serving up buoyant romantic comedies about prostitutes both actual and suspected. Long before Pretty Woman was a glint in Touchstone's eye, the ladylike Olivia de Havilland was suspected of prostitution by the man who loved her in My Love Came Back, and Judy Holliday fell victim to the same suspicions in the lighthearted Bells Are Ringing. Gigi, one of the most beloved musicals ever, features a heroine in training for a career as a courtesan. The titillation factor must be a major reason studios kept coming back to this motif—especially before cinema began letting it all hang out, as it were, a heroine with the prospect of an actual sex life must have lent quite a frisson to a film. A New Kind of Love seems to use the topic to advance the teasing, insinuating style of the Doris Day sex comedies a tiny bit further. It still makes me a bit uncomfortable to see prostitution played up as a comedic subject, but A New Kind of Love takes such a tongue-in-cheek approach to the idea that it's hard to be offended.
Indeed, if the film's tone were just a tad sharper, this could have been a nifty satire of movies like Gigi and Love in the Afternoon. With an added splash of Funny Face, A New Kind of Love is on its way to being a clever parody of the Paris-turns-wallflower-into-hottie subgenre of romantic comedies. The presence of Maurice Chevalier, playing himself, and the comedic spin on the usual "transformation" montage—in which the plain-Jane heroine gets all glammed up—are instances of the film parading its parentage with a wink. Indeed, when Woodward emerges from her chrysalis in a hideous blonde wig and waving a long cigarette holder, she looks just as ridiculous as she does in her tomboy getup, which plants the suspicion that we should view her purported transformation as the meaningless plot convention that it is. Other clever touches, like the split-screen juxtaposition of a fashion show with a striptease act, show that this story is very conscious of, and consciously playing with, its forerunners. Yet the tone never quite has enough bite to become satire, and the overlong last act—the Achilles' heel of so many romantic comedies—loses its edge and merely goes through the motions to take us to the expected ending. Up to that point, however, everything is conducive to fun: There are double entendres galore, and the surreal elements, like fantasy sequences in which Steve imagines the amorous pursuit of Mimi as different sporting events, help raise this oft-told story above the ordinary. And for the men in the audience, there are many, many shots of lissome young women in lingerie or burlesque outfits.
That being said, without its expert cast the film probably still wouldn't come off. Newman's powerful onscreen presence makes him a charming roué; he slips on the role with professional ease, bringing an offhand sexiness to his role. I've read that he only took the role because Woodward persuaded him to, yet he never acts down to the slight material. His dry voice-over narration also adds considerably to the film, helping us to accept this flimsy story. Woodward, likewise, is every inch the professional, investing Sam with a brusque awkwardness that makes her a perfect foil for suave Steve. As "Mimi" she is extremely funny, reeling off unlikely amorous encounters in a crazily uncertain accent while that cigarette holder jerks madly around between her teeth. Yet Sam is a fundamentally vulnerable character, and this gives some heart to the insubstantial goings-on. The fact that Newman and Woodward were already married in real life when they made the movie adds an extra layer of humor to their roles as womanizer and nervous "semi-virgin." Thelma Ritter, alumna of the sex comedy Pillow Talk, is enjoyable as always; as the jaded yet perceptive Lina, she shows by example how Sam may end up—wisecracking to hide her loneliness—if she doesn't learn to relax her touch-me-not demeanor and take a chance on love. Other standout supporting players include Marvin Kaplan (The Great Race) as Steve's pal Harry, who brings a proto-Woody Allen vibe to his role as the nebbish who never scores, and Robert Clary, whom many viewers will recognize from Hogan's Heroes, as a Paris con man.
For a barebones release, the film still gets an admirable presentation on disc. The widescreen anamorphic transfer renders the Technicolor palette vividly, and the true, gemlike color of the film adds to its appeal. The picture has minor speckling but is remarkably clean and sharp for its age. Likewise, the audio mix is clear and free of distortion, using separation to robust yet natural effect. (Although the cover claims that the soundtrack is mono, it's actually stereo—a pleasant surprise.) Both bass and highs are rendered very pleasingly, and the title song, sung (and swung!) by Frank Sinatra, sounds particularly fine. Although I'm displeased not to see any extras here, for a budget disc this is a good buy in other respects.
Sure, it's silly. It's predictable. It's never going to make any Top 100 lists of comedies. But for those who love Newman and Woodward and want to see them show their comedic chops, it's a fun diversion, and the playful screenplay adds unexpected wit to what is in other ways a conventional film story. As disposable entertainment, it's still better than much of what appears in the multiplexes today, thanks largely to its charismatic stars. Even if you watch it just for the eye-candy value—the mind-boggling '60s couture, the lovely young Woodward in lacy lingerie, and of course those famous blue eyes—you may find yourself warming up to A New Kind of Love.
The court is inclined to follow the example set by the city of Paris and look indulgently upon lovers' shenanigans. Not guilty.
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