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Lovers and Other Strangers

Lovers and Other Strangers(1970)

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teaser Lovers and Other Strangers (1970)

Oscar® welcomed a new wedding standard to the party when the 1970 Best Song Award went to "For All We Know," the popular ballad introduced in the romantic comedy Lovers and Other Strangers. With its combination of witty dialogue grounded in believable relationships and strong performances from a cast where many were on their way to even bigger things, Lovers and Other Strangers has remained a fan favorite through the years.

The story of two families facing relationship problems during a wedding celebration started out as a play by husband-and-wife writing and acting team Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor. Although Lovers and Other Strangers -- in which Taylor starred as the neglected wife played on-screen by Anne Meara -- only ran for 70 performances on Broadway, it generated enough interest to warrant a film version from no less a producer than David Susskind, the legendary talk-show host who also had brought such esteemed projects as A Raisin in the Sun (1961) and Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962) to the screen. For director, he hired veteran comedy writer Cy Howard, who had just won an Emmy as part of the writing team for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

To give the film a box-office name, Susskind and Howard cast Gig Young as the bride's father, a role played by Dick Van Patten on stage. Young, who had started his career at Warner Bros. as the studio's "Cary Grant Lite," was just starting a new career as a character actor following his acclaimed performance as the marathon dance master of ceremonies in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969). By the time Lovers and Other Strangers came out, he was an Oscar®-winner for that performance, the crowning achievement of his career. Lovers and Other Strangers was another milestone in that it cast the once glamorous star in his first grandfather role, though the actor was quick to remind reporters that his character was still virile, with a major plot line revolving around his comic affair with his wife's best friend. Less attractive were his off-screen problems during shooting. Dental work had left him with a painful occlusion that made it impossible for him to eat anything chewier than mashed potatoes. By the time he finally had his bite corrected, he had lost 40 pounds and ingested large quantities of sedatives.

Young brought his customary professionalism to the film, but he and the rest of the cast were upstaged by 37-year-old "newcomer" Richard Castellano, cast as the groom's Italian-American father, a loving man struggling to understand the relationship problems of his sons. Castellano had been building a stage career in New York, most notably in the 1964 off-Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge, when he was cast in the Broadway run of Lovers and Other Strangers. His performance brought him a Tony Award nomination, a feat he repeated when his film performance was tapped for an Oscar® nomination as well. His repeated "So what's the story?" became the catchphrase that consistently brought laughs and helped sell the film. And his performance caught the attention of Francis Ford Coppola, who cast him as Al Pacino's mentor, Clemenza, in The Godfather (1972).

Castellano wasn't the only cast member to go on to bigger things. On-screen wife Bea Arthur was a year away from creating the character of Maude Findlay, first on All in the Family, then in her own series, after years of stage stardom in New York. Co-star Cloris Leachman was already attracting attention as Mary Tyler Moore's pretentious neighbor, Phyllis Lindstrom, and would win the Oscar® for a film released later that year, The Last Picture Show (1971). And making her film debut was Diane Keaton, who had recently co-starred with Woody Allen in the Broadway run of his Play It Again, Sam (1972).

Lovers and Other Strangers scored solid reviews and surprisingly good box-office, placing among the year's top 25 earners. Some critics suggested it might have done better had it not been hit with an R rating, a surprising classification considering that the film contains no nudity and only a few swear words. Those were the early days of the ratings system, however, and often more restrictive ratings were assigned simply for the presence of certain words or subjects. When Lovers and Other Strangers eventually came out on home video, the rating was reduced to a PG. Nonetheless, the picture was considered a sleeper hit, helped greatly by the success of its wedding song, "For All We Know." Although performed by Larry Meredith in the film, it would become the first hit single for the Carpenters, holding a place on the charts as the Oscar® voters were making their choice for Best Song.

Producer: David Susskind
Director: Cy Howard
Screenplay: Renee Taylor, Joseph Bologna, David Zelag Goodman
Based on the play by Bologna and Taylor
Cinematography: Andrew Laszlo
Art Direction: Alan Hicks
Score: Fred KarlinPrincipal Cast: Gig Young (Hal Henderson), Bea Arthur (Bea Vecchio), Bonnie Bedelia (Susan Henderson), Anne Jackson (Cathy), Harry Guardino (Johnny), Michael Brandon (Mike Vecchio), Richard Castellano (Frank Vecchio), Bob Dishy (Jerry), Marian Hailey (Brenda), Diane Keaton (Joan), Cloris Leachman (Bernice), Anne Meara (Wilma).
C-104m. Letterboxed.

by Frank Miller

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