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Lovers And Other Strangers
(1970)

Director: Cy Howard  
Cast:
Beatrice Arthur, Bonnie Bedelia, Michael Brandon


If you have been reading this site for a while, you have possibly theorized that because I don't cover well-known mainstream movies, in my private life I also don't run with the crowd. Those of you with that theory are correct. I am a lone wolf in many ways other than with my taste in movies. I live alone, and when I exit my apartment and enter the outside world, I like to do things alone as well. But as the English writer John Donne once said, no man is an island. That's certainly true in my case. I could be considered a peninsula; I have water surrounding me on three sides, but there is still a part of me connected to the mainland. While I often enjoy being alone, there are still times when I crave human contact, and I am fortunate that I have family as well as some friends I can interact with on a regular basis. I do appreciate the various human contacts I have in my life, but I have to admit that many, many times over the years, the various people I have had in my life have driven me almost crazy. I would confidently bet money that you share this same feeling as I do. While we love and/or care very deeply about these people in our lives, they do not share 100% of the same thought patterns that we have in our brains. They have different desires and ambitions, and there have been plenty of times when, despite best intentions of both parties involved, we and the ones in our lives have a completely different point of view about something. This can lead to unwanted turmoil. Then there are times when a dark side of people can rise up, and cause the people in question to act in a selfish manner that can hurt the ones we cherish in our lives.

I think it's safe to say for just about every person living on this earth, they sometimes have difficulties with the relationships they have with every person in their social circle - and these difficulties can range from minor incidents to things that simply won't go away. Just think about for a minute or two. When we are born, we are forced to have a major relationship with those dictated to be our parents. As we grow up into adulthood, we often butt heads with our parents from issues ranging from the time we have to go to bed to chores that are imposed on us. Parents are often not the only family we have to wrestle with on our way to growing up. Many of us grow up with one or more siblings. I did, and I can remember all too well the hostility that was often brewed with various disagreements I had with my brother and sister while we were all growing up. (Fortunately, things did eventually get better, though to this day I blanch at the thought of some of our disagreements.) Also while we are growing up - and even after we are fully grown - we can have conflicts with the various friends and acquaintances we form at school, the workplace, and elsewhere. Conflict does not stop there. When you meet the one you fall in love with, there is ample room for disagreement along the way. While you date, you have disagreements as to where to go and what to do. When the two of you get closer, you are brought further into your loved one's family, which means a new bunch of people you have to struggle to get along with. And when the two of you are engaged, hoo boy, the subsequent plans for your wedding and the life you two will share once you are married are ample ground for major disagreements.

With all the various pitfalls that are potentially there for any kind of relationship, it's no wonder so many writers of books, plays, television shows, and movies for many years have written about characters who have various conflicts with people who are close to them in one way or another. Where there is some kind of conflict, a story can be told. The more conflict, the Lovers And Other Strangersbetter. And it's sometimes even better if the writer can find the funny side of the conflict, because while we laugh, we can laugh at ourselves and relate to the poor characters stuck in the conflict. That's one reason why I picked up Lovers And Other Strangers when I found a copy of it in my local discount store. Based on a hit Broadway play written by Joseph Bologna (Cops & Robbers) and Renee Taylor (who also co-wrote the movie's screenplay), the movie not only promised a lot of different conflicts - all in a comic vein - but with an all-star cast. The events of the movie are centered around two characters, Mike (Brandon, Captain America: The First Avenger) and Susan (Bedelia, Die Hard), a couple in love and preparing to get married. Their relationship stumbles when Mike starts getting cold feet about the idea of marriage. That's certainly a problem, but it is nothing compared to the problems found in their family members! For example, Mike's brother Richie (Joseph Hindy) and his wife Joan (Diane Keaton, Annie Hall) have become unhappy with their marriage and are thinking about divorce. Susan has a sister named Wilma (Anne Meara, Archie Bunker's Place) whose marriage to Johnny (Harry Guardino, Dirty Harry) has become stale and passionless. Mike's parents Frank (Richard Castellano, The Godfather) and Bea (Arthur, The Golden Girls) are spending much time and energy trying to convince Richie and their daughter-in-law not to divorce. And Susan's father Hal (Gig Young, Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia) is cheating on his wife Bernice (Cloris Leachman, The Facts Of Life) with Bernice's good friend Kathy (Anne Jackson, Folks!).

And the personal problems found in the wedding party also extend to the non-family acquaintances of Mike and Susan. To be more specific, wedding usher Jerry (Bob Dishy, I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now?) is trying by any means necessary to get into the pants of bridesmaid Brenda (Marian Hailey), who is a cousin of Susan. As you can see from all these problems all these characters are having, and the fact that they are all connected closely to each other, there is definitely the potential for some madcap comedy as each character struggles with another individual. But what may be surprising to a number of people who watch Lovers And Other Strangers is that there is a vein of seriousness that pops up various times throughout the movie. Sometimes this seriousness is more pronounced. For example, take the subplot concerning the affair Hal is having with his wife's friend Kathy. Kathy is shown to be upset about the fact that Hal is not making any move to divorce Bernice so he can commit to Kathy, and this brings Kathy to the point of tears several times - you won't be laughing at seeing Kathy so upset. Speaking of affairs, toward the end of the movie, Frank and Bea, desperate to save the marriage of their son Richie, reveal to Richie and his wife the fact that Frank once had an affair that Bea found out about and almost ruined their marriage. As they tell the story - and how they managed to stay together - no one is laughing. It's a quiet, serious moment that grabs your attention. Certainly, completely serious moments like these happen just a few times in the movie, but they are very welcome moments because they give the characters more dimension. The characters don't become one-note caricatures or comic clichés, but instead people we like. We like them, because we can identify with them. They have problems just like us.

Those serious moments play well enough that I think if the screenwriters had focused on being a completely serious drama, it might have been successful in that intent. But that is not to say that the actual intent of Lovers And Other Strangers - to make people laugh - is without success. On the contrary, I found many parts of the movie funny. Maybe not always laugh-out-loud funny, but funny in a way that makes you smile, because as I said, you can identify with the characters even when they are doing selfish things. When Jerry makes elaborate plans that will hopefully enable him to seduce Brenda, he is certainly obsessed with "getting some", but haven't all of us wanted to "get some" in our lives? Seeing his schemes not getting the wanted results, as well as his increasing desperation just add to the amusement. Mike brings up his cold feet about marriage several times to Susan, which causes him to proclaim things that might end the engagement of another couple. But Susan always knows what to respond with to put him back on track. You can identify and laugh with Mike's fears into plunging into something big that he is concerned that might not be able to handle, and Susan's tender responses come across with love and understanding attached, just like the love and understanding you have with your imperfect friends and family members. Hal may be a jerk for stringing along Kathy for years with the promise of divorcing his wife so he can marry her, but we laugh at him because the movie also presents this in a way that we can identify with. (Hal's long-winded and barely coherent explanations to Kathy as to why he can't presently divorce his wife in order to marry Kathy deliver some of the biggest laughs in the movie.)

Lovers And Other Strangers is a movie that really likes its characters, at least almost entirely. (More on that later in this paragraph.) The characters are likeable thanks to a combined effort by the screenplay, director Cy Howard, and the cast. Take the characters of Frank and Bea. The movie makes clear that they are of Italian descent, which might make you think there are inevitable Italian-American stereotypes ahead. Except maybe for the couple and their two grown sons having a home cooked dinner together one evening, there's nothing stereotyped about them. They just happen to be Americans with Italian blood, and thanks to Howard's direction and the performances of Richard Castellano and Bea Arthur, they don't speak or gesture in a stereotypical way as well. The characters in this movie are a breath of fresh air in a sea of movies containing stereotypes and stock characters. The movie isn't completely perfect, I will admit. First of all, I think there are a few too many characters in the cast. Not only is it sometimes hard to keep track of who is who and who wants what, sometimes characters are put on the back burner for a long period (after their introduction, Frank and Bea don't show up again for more than a half hour.) Second, the movie doesn't resolve all of its character conflicts (SPOILERS AHEAD). At the end of the movie, it isn't revealed (or even hinted) as to what the fate will be of the relationship between Richie and Joan. Also, Kathy is left hanging with no commitment by Hal one way or another, and the movie cruelly seems to suggest that we should be laughing at her sad fate. This ending leaves a bad taste in one's mouth. Yes, the movie is funny and insightful enough to still deserve a recommendation, but remind yourself before watching it that even the ones you love and cherish in your life sometimes hurt you.

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Check Amazon for availability of original stage play

See also: Breezy, The In-Laws, My First Mister

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