Arrangement, The (1969): Elia Kazan’s Trashy, Ponderous, Self-Possessed Melodrama, Starring Kirk Douglas, Deborah Kerr, Faye Dunaway

Elia Kazan’s penultimate film, The Arrangement, is decidedly one of his weakest works, narratively, artistically and commercially.

Grade: C (*1/2* out of *****)

The Arrangement
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Kazan wanted Eddie to be played by Marlon Brando, who Kazan felt could bring a greater depth to the role. Brando had experienced great success with Kazan in the films A Streetcar Named Desire, Viva Zapata!, and On the Waterfront. However, Brando declined, claiming he could not make a film so soon after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Kazan later said that Brando rejected the part due to his increasing weight or receding hairline.

Production was shut down twice, due to Douglas catching Hong Kong Flu several times.

As he meddle-aged Eddie Anderson, Kirk Douglas goes through mid-life crisis in this trashy and overwrought melodrama, adapted from Kazan’s own best-selling novel.

Douglas plays successful advertising exec who cracks under the strain of the morning rush hour in Los Angeles and plows his sports car into a truck.

In a convalescent home, Eddie remains mute to everyone except his boss Finnegan (Charles Drake). In his recovery room, Eddie dreams about Gwen (Faye Dunaway), a sexy research assistant at his agency.

The psychiatrist Dr. Liebman (Harold Gould) talks to Eddie’s wife, Florence (Deborah Kerr), who reveals that at one time Eddie and Gwen had an affair, but they broke it off.

After that escapade, Eddie’s interest in sex declined. Then after the interview with Dr. Liebman, following a terrible nightmare, Eddie breaks out of his self-imposed silence and declares to Florence that he is tired of an unfulfilling life, defined by all kinds of “arrangements.”

Eddie returns to work, but soon after insulting a major client, he alienates his co-workers.  Taking off in a private plane, he flies madly over L.A.

His lawyer Arthur (Hume Cronyn) keeps Eddie from being thrown in jail and talks his client into giving Florence the power of attorney. Eddie travels to New York, where he runs into Gwen, who now has a child.

Eddie is in New York to visit his senile father, Sam (Richard Boone), but when his family attempts to put Sam in a nursing home, Eddie takes him to their old family estate on Long Island.

Spoiler Alert

We learn that Eddie set fire to the family home and we glimpse the alter egos at each other’s throats. Eddie does not explain the gunshot wound: We see that Charles shot him in Gwen’s apartment. Eddie asks to go to psychiatric hospital, and the judge tells Gwen that Eddie can release himself at any time by proving he has a job and a home.

Eddie is content among his new friends at the asylum, but Gwen lures him out to try again. Eddie reconciles with his dying father, and tells Gwen they both want the same thing—another chance. Gwen responds with a smile.

Ending:

The film ends at Sam’s internment, where Florence gives Gwen a wry smile.

The last shot is of Eddie smiling gently as his father’s coffin is lowered into the grave.

Overly long, overly contrived, and narratively messy, The Arrangements lacks the emotional clarity of Kazan’s previous films. No wonder some critics found it incomprehensible, and recommended to viewers still interested in the subject to read Kazan’s best-selling, 543-page novel.

Despite the all-star cast, it is hard, if not impossible to relate to any of the characters–male or female–in this preposterously ponderous melodrama, which Kazan might have meant to be a more serious sermon on the effects of compromise and selling out.

Misguided and misdirected by Kazan, both Kirk Douglas and Deborah Kerr render some of the more hysterical and weakest performances of their otherwise distinguished screen career.

Cast

Kirk Douglas as Eddie Anderson
Faye Dunaway as Gwen
Deborah Kerr as Florence
Richard Boone as Sam
Hume Cronyn as Arthur
Harold Gould as Dr. Leibman
Michael Murphy as Father Draddy
Carol Rossen as Gloria
John Randolph Jones as Charles
Dianne Hull as Ellen Anderson
Charles Drake as Finnegan
Barry Sullivan as Chet Collier (uncredited)

Credits:

Produced, directed by Elia Kazan
Screenplay: Kazan, Based on The Arrangement, his 1967 novel
Cinematography Robert Surtees
Edited by Stefan Arnsten
Music by David Amram

Production company: Warner Bros.

Distributed by Warner Bros.-Seven Arts

Release date: November 18, 1969

Running time: 125 minutes
Box office $4 million (US/Canada rentals)