THE ARRANGEMENT began as a novel, written by director Elia Kazan in 1967. It stayed on the NY Times Best Seller List for 42 weeks, many of those at the #1 spot. Two years later Kazan trimmed the 544 page book, which was ‘semi-autobiographical’, into 125 minutes of movie. It had been six years since the masterful auteur had done a feature—the classic America America. The punishing critical reception and weak business (24th for the year) of this new effort effectively slammed him out of viability. It would be another three years before he attempted a tiny-budget affair, The Visitors, and four more would pass before his final work, The Last Tycoon.
It’s a male mid-life crisis story: high-riding ad exec flips out from his deadening job, unsatisfying marriage, painful affair and frayed parents. There are a number of fine scenes but Kazan’s direction of his script wavers in tone; trying to game the new late-60s style of quick edits, impressionistic interludes and mixed chronology into traditional settings calls too much gimmicky attention to itself. Condensing a long book into a short film is always problematic; this just has too many elements without enough time for each, so it’s almost a bludgeon effect, especially with all the yelling going on. An unhappy film.
Kirk Douglas and Deborah Kerr try, but they were pilloried along with Kazan, critics being especially nasty to Kerr (Roger Ebert was a real ass on this one). Kazan wanted Brando, faulted Douglas—I think Kirk’s fine, given the hoops he has to jump through, and I frankly don’t think Brando could pull off the salesman-spiel bits as snappily as Douglas does. Faye Dunaway looks ethereally hot, even with a weird hair-tint. That shot of her coming out of the pool is enough to short out your defibrillator. Kerr’s character is allowed a few good moments but remains sketchily fleshed out by the screenplay. The trouble all three stars have is that with what they’re given in the script, how they were directed and how it was cut, none of the people they play are likable. Small roles are handled by Hume Cronyn, Harold Gould, Michael Murphy, John Randolph, Charles Drake and Barry Sullivan.
Making the best impression is Richard Boone, tearing into his part as Kirk’s dying father: it has some real feel to it, as Boone rolls pathos, anger, confusion, tenderness, ferocity and fear into a handful of scenes. He was actually six months younger than Douglas. So Kirk is 53 playing 43, and Boone plays his dad in his late 70s. They sell it, partially from makeup, and partially because Douglas kept pretty fit ; Boone hadn’t aged nearly as well.
Despite the choppy feel, past a maligned reputation, it’s of watchable interest. I tend to think there is a built-in age discrimination prejudice affecting how many react to stories about people undergoing mid-life strife. Everyone goes through it, it’s miserable–and really, no one cares. Any more than they really care for frustrated teenagers as they flounder with awkwardness and pain, fumbling and rejection. People who are not flailing through these awful life passages where everything is topsy-turvy think it’s safe to mock it —once they’re clear of it. How many times have you heard someone dismiss another’s woes with “oh,he/she is just going through mid-life stuff”. Yeah—just. We smirk knowingly, but it’s kinda sick, isn’t it? Compassion-lite. Whew, all I can say is it’s nice to finally have it all figured out….