“The Arrangement” – The overdirection of Elia Kazan

I hate the tag line here. Yes the beginning of the movie is really great, but the first five minutes are no reason to see a film. Unless it's Scream.

“The Arrangement” (1969) – 31621

I really just stumbled upon this movie. All I knew about it before I went in was that it was directed by the great Elia Kazan. Worth a look? Sure.

Never before would I have been able to point out the flaws of  over directing. This film taught me it was possible. Every moment is carefully planned. Characters face certain directions, if only for an interesting camera angle. Quiet melodrama fills the scenes. Sometimes Faye Dunaway’s character is a ghost. Other times she is juxtaposed nearly frame by frame with Deborah Kerr. Out of nowhere, a graphic-novel-esque POW! pops up on screen. Back to quiet melodrama.

In the movie, Kirk Douglas’ character Eddie is unhappy with his living situation – he is in a sexless marriage and has been cheating on his wife Florence (Kerr) with the office slut bag Gwen (Dunaway). Almost inexplicably, Florence encourages the affair. Literally. That is the eponymous “arrangement”. Her motives are that her husband deserves to be satisfied in ways she obviously can’t provide him. His solution is to kill himself, but he fails because he’s a pussy. Eddie is then confronted with a difficult balance as both Florence and Gwen start to think they deserve more – empowerment now!

Lots of pointless and boring subplots involving abusive fathers and illegitimate children crowd the space. The only interesting dynamic is that Gwen too has a plutonic lover, her love triangle mirroring Eddie’s but to different emotional success.

The acting is actually quite good. I was a huge fan of Deborah Kerr in this, but when isn’t she wonderful. Her character always plays her cards just a little too far away from her chest to wild results. Kirk Douglas, looking like a young Michael Douglas (that’s right. backwards) is excellent at being tortured. And the oft maligned Dunaway needs to do only two things to pull this role off: be sexy and go into histrionics. She excels at both making the three actors one of the best parts of this melodrama.

I don’t want to spoil this out there for the Kazan completists, but it should be far down on that list. There is lots of really fun film and sound editing. Unknown editor Stefan Arnsten some really exciting and interesting rhythms that directly mirror and contrast the sonic design, sometimes threatening to build the tension so great on its own, that the tension will never reach the pay off. Unfortunately, this threat comes too true and some wonderful moments are ruined by the lack of direction in this auteur film.


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