Sweet but cynical, this Robert Mulligan film seems strangely modern despite its slightly dated plot (illegal, back-alley abortions, thank goodness that's something we no longer have to worry about). Natalie Wood, scoring her third and final Oscar nomination, and Steve McQueen, in their only on-screen pairing, shine in their realistic, touching portrayals as two working class Italian-Americans who find themselves in a dilemma after a one-night stand. Angie (Wood) is pregnant, and Rocky (McQueen), attempts to help her to pay for termination of the unwanted pregnancy. Things don't go as planned, and he finds himself in the middle of a conflict between Angie and her protective brother, Dominick (Hershal Bernardi), when Angie refuses to marry him. Although the viewer knows that they are right for each other, the pair maintain a defiance against the attraction, refusing to give into romanticism which could have turned the film into a forgettable, sappy love story. Their naturalistic and cynical views on love and marriage give this movie the bite and redeeming qualities that keeps it afloat. Strikingly photographed in black and white, against the gritty New York backdrop, with wonderful, elegant but simple costumes by Edith Head, Wood and McQueen both give perhaps the best performances of their careers. Bernardi, as Angie's overprotective brother, is a lovable annoyance, while Tom Bosley, as Angie's would-be suitor, Columbo, brings an endearing comic relief (clumsy!), and his sisters and that mother of his - classic Italian mama! The same can be said for Angie's occasionally hysterical, traditional, guilt-inducing mother - "Go and be a mother in America! Day and night you watch her, day and night! You take her here, you meet her there, you wait all day, afraid that some lunatic might grab her in the street!" Or, my personal favorite, "Yes, in my grave, I'm going to rest!" Edie Adams, billed third but in a rather small (but showy) role, is fantastic as the showgirl Barb, in her classic early 60s apartment and her little doggies - great reaction expression when she finds Angie using her shower!
Gently scored by Elmer Bernstein, the little radio rendition we briefly hear in the warehouse sequence "I could fall in love with the proper stranger, if I heard the bells and banjos ring . . . . . . .", which gives the plot another boost, letting the leads subtly spark off one another as they discuss the cliché of love. "Oh, how they build things up - in the books and all the movies - 'how the world comes to an end the moment your lips touch mine' - how they brainwash you." Natalie's large, luminous eyes draw the viewer in, as does Steve's tough-guy vulnerability, which Angie exposes, with her charming line, "You know, if you didn't try so hard to play against it, you could be a pretty decent kind of a person."
Love does win out, in a rather unconventional but fabulous climax - it's utterly right and I'm amazed that this film is becoming difficult to find and has never really gotten the recognition it deserves. A DVD print needs to be commercially available - VHS copies seem to be disappearing.
And remember - better wed than dead!