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Strangers When We Meet (1960)

Kirk Douglas takes a break of sorts from the he-man pictures he’d been primarily appearing in at this point in his career (Last Train From Gun Hill and The Vikings) to star alongside cinematic beauty Kim Novak in this straight drama of marital discord.

strangersposter1

Kirk’s been cast as the high end architect landing writer Ernie Kovacs as a client. Ernie is playing it fairly straight this time out though usually smiling. He’s a bit of a playboy who has Nancy Kovack hanging around flirting with the cleft chin superstar when he drops by to discuss building plans.

Supposedly Kirk is a happily married man. His wife is the beautiful brunette Barbara Rush who it should be noted delivers a powerful performance when her character is called upon to convey the emotional goods. For Kirk, the lure of the blonde Novak dropping off her son at the same school that he shuttles his children to becomes too much. Friendly invites to drop her off or visit the location of the house he’s building atop a small mount become to tempting for the duo to ignore. Soon they’ll find themselves wrapped in an adulterous affair with their emotions running deeper at every rendezvous.

kim novak and kirk douglas

Kim is once again playing the fragile beauty that she so excelled at. She’s practically begging her husband at home to stop her from beginning an affair but to no avail. She’s overly needy to the point where if this were made today, we could have a reworking of Fatal Attraction on our hands. Which brings to mind that Kirk could very easily have played that role just as well as son Michael had if career timing had been different.

Tell tale signs are beginning to become noticeable to those around them. Novak’s mother easily sees through the charade when Kirk happens to stop in at the house when Novak doesn’t appear at the morning school drop off. A past lover of our blonde haired beauty spots them and knows that Kirk isn’t her hubby. Worst of all is the lecherous Walter Matthau as Kirk’s neighbor. He’s hanging around watching them at a party. Hinting to Kirk at just how fine looking the blonde is. Matthau is totally convincing here as a man you wouldn’t want to leave your daughter with.

strangers when we meet lobby

The irony of Kirk’s affair is that his own wife Rush is becoming the needy wife who wants and desires more attention from her own husband just as Novak did from hers before entering into the affair with Kirk. That’s not to say she’s going to resort to the same solution as Novak. This will lead to the most uncomfortable scene in the film involving Matthau which I won’t go into. See for yourself.

“How am I any different than you?” Matthau smiles at Kirk.

matthai in strangers

I can understand why I never gave this title much thought seeing it years ago when I was looking for Kirk the action star as opposed to the dramatic side of the legendary actor. Now I see that the film carries some weight, mainly due to the performers delivering the goods. Kirk and Barbara the real standouts.

rush and douglas

Strangers was directed by Richard Quine. He had already worked with Kim on Bell, Book and Candle in 1958 and would reteam with her once more in 62’s The Notorious Landlady. This was the only time he would work with Douglas on a film that was credited as a Bryna-Quine production. Bryna being Kirk’s personal releasing company.

This above par soap opera is available on DVD and sometimes has been known to turn up on TCM for us Douglas/Novak fans.

Oh, yeah…… for Walter’s as well. Meaning me.

10 Comments »

  1. Ha! Your opening line now has me thinking of Kirk playing He-Man (which he probably would have done had those toys existed some 20+ years earlier and there was more Vikings-like movies to be made, lol)… 😀

  2. I know this movie well. My mum took me to it by accident. I have no idea what movie she thought she was taking her little boy to; I have no idea why the cinema allowed me into what must surely have been an A (13 and up) movie — I must have been about 11, so maybe they just assumed I was small for my age. I can recall being startled by the content and having a difficult time following bits of the plot, but most of all the increasingly glacial presence by my side as my mum realized her dreadful error.

    Years later I appreciated her dilemma, and sympathized. Which would be worse? — letting me watch in the hope that my innocent (hah!) little mind wouldn’t understand it, or dragging me out of the place and then trying to invent a plausible reason for having done so that wouldn’t shatter my (snort) innocence. There was another factor: as a good Scot, she was disinclined to waste the ticket price by opting for the latter course. So we watched on . . .

    • That’s a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing. Those are the ones I like to write about on occasion when thinking back to my own experiences and the discovery of film. I would encourage you to pad that out a bit and share the tale on your site.

  3. Saw this about a year ago – a very engaging movie, and you can’t help feeling sorry for the main characters doomed romance even as they’re treating their spouses despicably. Matthau is particularly loathsome – that scene with him and Rush is shudder worthy example of what can be done with restraint. One thing I didn’t like (SPOILERS AHEAD) is how Rush’s character threaten’s Douglas with never seeing their children again. I thought it was petty, and a weak point in an otherwise sympathetic character. On another tack, Douglas would have been awesome as Batman!

    • The Matthau scene actually reminded me of the tension that Mitchum was bringing to the start of his scene with Polly Bergen in Cape Fear. You just don’t know how far he was Walter was gonna push it.
      Can you imagine the Douglas cleft chin and mouth visible under the Batman face mask?……. Iconic!

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