Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
This better-than-average comedy plays a little like an upscale television sitcom, but in
1970 its honest attitudes about relationships were a refreshing change. Writer-
actors Joseph Bologna and Renée Taylor fashion their comedy around a series of one-act
blackouts. A few drag but most are good and a couple are sensational. Best of all, the show
gives us a good opportunity to observe at work a dozen good actors that rarely get parts this
It's the day before the wedding of Susan Henderson (Bonnie Bedelia) and Mike
Vecchio (Michael Brandon), and he's having second thoughts. But his parents, Italian-Americans
Bea & Frank Vecchio (Beatrice Arthur & Richard Castellano) are more worried about Mike's
older brother Richie (Joseph Hindy), who says he and his wife of six years Joan (Diane Keaton)
are going to divorce. Over on Susan's side of the family, her father Hal Henderson (Gig Young) is
carrying on a maudlin affair with the unhappy Kathy (Anne Jackson), pretending he'll divorce
his wife Bernice (Cloris Leachman) when he clearly has no intention. Meanwhile, we also cover the
sparring ground of two other couples. Johnny (Harry Guardino) and Wilma (Anne Meara) constantly
argue over who's the boss of their family, while Michael's self-styled playboy friend Jerry (Bob
Dishy) foolishly thinks he has an easy conquest in new-age girl Brenda (Marian Hailey).
Lovers and Other Strangers is neither the classiest nor most accomplished romantic comedy
ever made, but it does manage to reflect its times without undue embarrassment, something few
movies achieved in 1970. It's divided into perhaps two dozen isolated scenes that still look
ready to be presented on a stage. When the writing is good, it's better than amusing. But
at this 34-year remove, actor-watching takes precedence. There's some great talent here, some of it
better used than others.
The point is that even though many rules have changed by 1970, old values have not. The
newlyweds already live together, but in secret, with relatives always asking how their non-existent
roommates are doing. They seem too casual and flighty about the wedding, or at least the groom is,
blabbing about his freedom and insecurity over getting into the same mess the previous generation
did. After all, his brother's perfect wedding is crumbling, and nobody knows exactly why. Michael
Brandon is good but Bonnie Bedelia is wonderful. She would spend the next ten years with
unfulfilled predictions that she'd become a big star.
Sex is taken for granted and is the first priority in many agendas, even the 'nice' characters.
Susan's father is carrying on an affair with his wife's best friend, and is getting away with
murder through creative double-talk. Gig Young's role is broad and thin, although always carping
about having no 'generation gap' is a good touch as lots of jerks talked that way back then.
Anne Jackson is terrific as the one-note despairing other woman who always seems to be conducting
her life hiding in rest rooms with mascara running down her face. There's not that much film on
Ms. Jackson but she never fails to be sensational, in this case taking bad material and keeping it
going nicely. As the wife, Cloris Leachman doesn't really have a part and stays on the
sidelines, which seems a missed opportunity.
The most incisive family portrait is provided by Mike's parents, sketched beautifully by Beatrice
Arthur and Richard Castellano. While clumsily refereeing their older son's broken marriage,
they reveal credible characters - she never liked sex, he strayed once and has been busted for it
ever since. Now their marriage is more about good cooking than anything else. They deliver the
overall message about lovers being strangers, who know each other really well. Unlike much ethnic-based
humor, the Italian-American gags are soft peddled and the Vecchio family avoids cartoonish
parody. Seeing Bea Arthur before her television glory days is quite a revelation; she's very good.
Anne Meara and Harry Guardino's bickering couple are annoying only because their material is the
most dated, but for 1970 it's politically astute. Johnny wants to play the big boss in the family
and poor Wilma can't seem to dissuade him, not with kidding, kisses or arguments. He claims his
masculine prerogative but it's obvious that he just wants everything his way, along with the cozy
illusion that he's more important than her. There seems to be no solution except for Wilma to
just give up, as she loves him despite his complete obnoxiousness. Anne Meara, another great talent,
brings these scenes to life; Harry Guardino has the thankless jerk role. The interest here is
that their sketches (some early ones are pretty weak) are an excellent yardstick for the state of
marriage in 1970 - women looking for a hint of respect and men wanting a one-sided fantasy. Johnny
hits Wilma and forces her to agree with him by holding her in an armlock, stuff that looks like
criminal abuse now. It's very eye opening.
Starting bad and getting good is the just-meeting duel between lothario Jerry and the seemingly
defenseless Brenda, a wonderful performance by Marian Hailey who I'm sorry to say didn't make
many films. He's obsessed with nailing her on the first date and even though she comes off as a
creampuff, she manages to guide him in her direction time and again. The charming Brenda
succeeds by not becoming a victim; again, both parties want a relationship and
sex but each has an entirely different agenda. The comedy here is nicely judged and the surprise
is that what should be depressing (lame wolf roped by cagey rabbit) is uplifting. If they end up
together they'll have the same chance any couple has.
In a small and unheralded role is Diane Keaton in her first film. She's adorable, a babyfaced
charmer with a look of intelligent reserve. She has a good scene with Bea Arthur, trying to tell
her mother-in-law that the joy
left her marriage when her husband's hair stopped smelling like raisins. It's as satisfying a
reason as any. The writers' overall take on marriage is a good one: Objective reasons for why particular
people should get married, stay married, or break up, just aren't there.
The production is reasonably attractive. The film is visually undistinguished, which keeps the
theatrical thread up front at all times; this is no The Graduate- type farce with big
messages to deliver. David Susskind's producing coup was obviously rounding up the terrific cast.
It's hard to know what novelist David Zelag Goodman contributed to the script; his oddball
screenwriting career veered from the obscure brilliance of The Stranglers of Bombay to the
utter sludge of Logan's Run.
MGM's DVD of Lovers and Other Strangers is an okay show but a visual disappointment. The
ABC-sourced master is an adapted pan-scan of a flat movie that blows up the full frame a bit,
showing more top and bottom than is necessary but often getting rather tight on the sides. As
much of the movie plays like a sitcom this seems less destructive than usual, but every show should be
given its full chance. I reserve my ire for bad formatting as on Columbia's
Castle Keep, but we can't keep
forgetting what happens to the general run of product. In this case, it's possibly because the
ABC-owned pictures all came to be distributed by MGM as a group. MGM is given masters and
puts them out with little opportunity to upgrade - there probably is no letterboxed or 16:9
transfer of this title.
The audio is a clear mono. Before I forget, the big historical deal with Lovers and Other
Strangers is its theme song For All We Know. Very popular as a Carpenters
radio hit, it was heard at weddings for the next 20 years, ad infinitum.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Lovers and Other Strangers rates:
Video: Fair ++ (formatting issues)
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 1, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson