The Arrangement is a movie that walks the thin line between brilliance and incoherence. It is a movie that was ahead of its time, yet not easily viewed. It was intriguingly pieced together, yet the narrative never came together for me. This is not a linear film, and the meandering and cutting is what sinks it in the long run, despite effective performances from its leads.
The movie opens with a wonderful scene, a scene that held my attention and held so much promise for the future. A man and wife (Kirk Douglas and Deborah Kerr) wake up, in separate beds, kiss each other good morning and go about preparing for their day. They have breakfast while watching the news and listening to various versions of a cigarette ad. The man gets in his car and leaves, presumably to go to work. While en route to his unmentioned destination, he turns his little sporty convertible under the wheels of a tractor trailer that was driving beside him. It was a failed attempt at suicide by a man who, we will learn, is at a crossroads in his life.
Kirk Douglas is Eddie Anderson, an ad executive who is struggling with a mid-life crisis. His mistress, Gwen (Faye Dunaway), has left him, his wife is cold, and he is questioning his career and life choices. He aspired to be a writer, but feels like a sell-out because he chose to work in advertising. This is a fact that you will not be allowed to forget — the Zephyr cigarette commercial and taglines are repeated quite often throughout the two hour runtime. Following his failed suicide attempt, Eddie turns his eye away from death and reflects on his life.
This is not an easy movie to watch, and I don't really mean that in a good way. The movie's timeline is jumbled, the past is the present, the present the past, and sometimes it is surrealistic fantasy. It is a fascinating piece in the way that everything is attempted to be put together. Unfortunately, whatever the desired effect was, it did not work that well for me. I can appreciate the attempt to do something different, and even applaud it, but it comes across as fractured, hard to follow, and did not work for me.
The one thing that is worth watching are the performances. In particular, Kirk Douglas is fantastic as our central character. A more straightforward narrative, or a better attempt at the fractured structure could have given the performance more power. Still, Douglas is wonderful in his portrayal of a man possessing a damaged life, seeking to put the pieces together and salvage his life. Perhaps it is the strong male characters he had, like in Spartacus. It is a true highlight of the work.
Writer/director Elia Kazan has become something of a polarizing character over the years, following his perhaps misguided decision during the the McCarthy era and his involvement in blacklisting. I cannot claim much detailed knowledge of the era, but there is no denying his talent as a director. This may not be one of his strongest works, but it is definitely an interesting, if ultimately disappointing experiment.
Audio/Video. The disk looks very good. The colors are sharp, contrast is good, and it is very pleasing to the eye. Warner Brothers has done a fine job of transferring the movie for its first iteration on DVD. It is presented in its original ratio of 2.35:1 and anamorphically enhanced. The audio is the original mono and also does the film credit.
Extras. They are a little slim, but those who enjoy the film should not be deterred. The extras are limited to the theatrical trailer, which I found interesting in the focus on the director, as it also seemed like it was trying to make a statement on his naming of names. The other extra is a brief making of called "A New Lifestyle." This runs about six minutes and features some interview footage and some behind the scenes footage.
Bottom line. It is a film that just did not grab me and hold my attention. It seems to drag along and too often the rug is pulled out from under you just when you think you get it. I applaud the craft, just not the end result.