Alternate Best Actor 1963: Steve McQueen in Love With the Proper Stranger

Steve McQueen did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Rocky Papasano in Love With the Proper Stranger.

Love With The Proper Stranger is a decent enough semi-comic drama about a relationship that almost accidentally develops due to a one night stand.

The film itself can be noted as an example of a straight drama featuring Steve McQueen in a leading role. McQueen being more typically associated with epics, spectacles and war films. This is a much lower key affair even by “dramatic” McQueen standards, as even his more noted dramatic turns, later on, were typically in film with some sort of grander scale to them. McQueen’s just a basic layabout musician looking for a job as we open the film and is a bit befuddled as he runs into a young woman paging him. She’s Angie (Natalie Wood), whose not paging for a job but rather finding him to let him know she needs him to find an abortionist after their one night stand. Not a great meeting point for either of them, as Rocky’s initial reaction is trying figure out who the woman is before confusion of the sudden bit of responsibility that has fallen upon him. This initial reaction seems to inform McQueen’s whole performance which I suppose you might say is a bit of an antithesis of the typical McQueen, in that he makes Rocky decidedly uncool. This might seem a grievous waste of the King of Cool, however it does offer an interesting alternative as he takes a decidedly atypical approach from his usual screen presence.

McQueen usually is someone who owns the screen without trying, and that is typically just a given with him on screen. That is not the case here, as he does not make Rocky some hip cool musician, but rather almost a bit of a doofus. This approach actually is more fitting than expected, as the guy asks another lady friend to try to find an abortionist for Angie, and is obviously not exactly the sharpest tool within any shed. McQueen then very much”tries” more than usual in giving what in some ways feels like a more “active” performance from him. This is as he makes Rocky almost look out of place in a given scene, of trying to play the part of the pseudo respectable romantic. This right down to McQueen’s physicality which is bereft of his typical ease, to this cumbersome manner of a non too bright man. Instead of owning a given scene, McQueen awkwardly exists within them, which again actually works in creating a character outside of his typical oeuvre. It is a different sight from McQueen as he comes off as almost petulant, which is quite different from the ultimate man’s man that typically defined the McQueen presence.

Steve McQueen’s dash outside of his comfort zone is a tad limited here, only as the film does favor Angie more in the narrative, with his only major scenes coming when he directly shares the screen with Wood. McQueen actually doesn’t have amazing chemistry with Wood, which I’ll again say actually fits the role of Rocky once again. The two are not suppose to be a dream couple by any measure, in fact the first real bonding we see of them as they wait together before being able to see an abortionist. McQueen however is effective in cultivating the certain connection in these moments of interaction. This with this slightly humorous awkwardness as physically he still keeps the same distance, however McQueen uses his eyes towards an understanding and an eventual warmth. Again, it never becomes this rapturous love affair, but rather this slow growth of feeling really between the two. McQueen’s performance realizes the difficulty of the situation in every moment, while also slowly finding any ease within the interactions.  He’s then effective in the moment of going to the abortionist, who is even shadier than originally expected, to where Rocky, concerned for Angie’s safety insists they leave. This is an important moment in McQueen’s work as he does not fall into tough McQueen, which would be dishonest to the character. He instead remains consistent in even this more heroic act, he delivers it with a hesitant voice, and without physical command. It is still of a fairly hapless man, but one who finds a better self in the moment. The film after this moment becomes a bit rushed as Rocky is willing to marry Angie, however she rejects his proposal as dishonest. The rest of the film is this dance, with Rocky gradually proving his sincerity. These scenes honestly are a little strangely paced, however McQueen does prove his measure in them. The two have a date of sorts where Rocky’s compliments towards Angie come off as insults, unintentionally and in this McQueen finds a genuine charm in each delivery of Rocky’s messy earnestness. This along with in his eyes finally conveying a want for her, rather than just a bit of responsibility. This all gets rushed a bit more as the film smashes towards the big romantic gesture of Rocky’s that comes off as almost an afterthought in the film’s bizarrely handled climax. McQueen’s slightly befuddled face though again is rather enjoyable, as we see him present himself with a banjo and bells, with a sincere offer to marry. This isn’t extraordinary work by McQueen by any measure, however it is an interesting side to him as a performer. Although limited by the part, McQueen does use it to show off a bit of range outside of his typically dominating presence as the King of Cool. 

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