Wednesday, March 30, 2016

cinema obscura: Fred Coe's "Me, Natalie" (1969)

The sad passing Patty Duke brings to mind a lost film that is, arguably, her best movie, one that made the most of her potential and promise.

Fred Coe's "Me, Natalie" (1969) was something that should have rehabilitated her professional reputation after the disaster of Mark Robson's "Valley of the Dolls" (1967) but didn't. Too bad. The film is a minor gem and Duke tears into her role of an ugly duckling with the kind of passion that almost always wins Oscars - or is supposed to.

But she did receive a well-deserved Golden Globe for her affecting performance.

She plays Natalie Miller, a girl with what she perceives to be a nose problem. Her nose isn't big, but it does have a hump. (Duke initially wears a prosthetic nose and teeth created by Dick Smith in the film.) And this, she believes, is the source of all her problems, her self-deprecating humor and her general discontent. When she moves out of her parents' home and into her own apartment, Natalie finally comes into her own.

For one thing, she meets James Farentino's handsome David, whose attention gives her the confidence she needs but whose presence creates a different set of problems. Farentino, a hugely underrated actor, is effortlessly dashing as a guy who seems too good to be true - and who, sadly, actually is.

Surrounding Duke is a stellar New York cast - Nancy Marchand and Phil Sterling as her doting, clueless parents; Martin Balsam as her understanding uncle; Solome Jens as Natalie's co-worker at a club questionably called the Topless Bottom Club; Elsa Lanchester as her eccentric landlady; then-newcomers Bob Balaban, Catherine Burns and Deborah Winters as assorted denizens in Natalie's universe, and for all you trivia freaks out there, Al Pacino entirely memorably in his first film role (and single scene) as a charismatic, hyper jerk who toys with Natalie. The cad.

"Me, Natalie" was produced by Stanley Shapiro who wrote a couple of Doris Day's popular '60s comedies and who also came up with the story here, fleshed out by scenarist A. Martin Zweiback.

Director Coe, meanwhile, was noted largely as a Broadway producer - he oversaw Anne Bancroft and Duke on stage in "The Miracle Worker" (and Bancroft in "Two for the Seesaw") and produced the 1962 film version of "Worker," again directed by Arthur Penn. But he actually began his professional life as a television director-producer in the late 1940s and throughout the '50s and is beloved for the classic "Mr. Peepers" TV series.

Coe made an auspicious movie directing debut in 1965 with "A Thousand Clowns," followed by "Me, Natalie." He also directed the 1971 TV movie version of  "All the Way Home," based on Tad Mosel's play (by way of the James Agee novel) that he produced on Broadway.

"Me, Natalie," a Cinema Center release, remains teasingly inaccessible on home entertainment. Long missing, it took the sad news of Patty Duke to restore its fleeting pleasures to my memory.

And to remind me of the wonderful actress herself.


Jan said...

You've really jogged my memory with all of these film. I fondly remember "Me, Natalie." Would love to see it again!

Alexandra McHugh said...

"Me, Natalie" - Lovely little movie, as I remember it.

Beef said...

I found "Me, Natalie" on YouTube the other day while looking for Patty Duke "stuff"--the person who uploaded it apologized for the horrible quality, so I don't know if it's even worth watching--I've never seen it, and I will try viewing the YouTube version this weekend. I recall reading an interview with Duke in one of those Rex Reed books (maybe "Do You Sleep in the Nude?") where she talked about how proud she was of "Me, Natalie"--have always wanted to see this flick! Have also never seen "My Sweet Charlie," a TV movie for which she won an Emmy--it's also apparently on YouTube. It's unfortunate that YouTube is the only option to watch Duke's most-acclaimed "adult" acting roles!

joe baltake said...

Beef- I also have a copy - VHS - that I purchased on-line a few years ago and the condition is ... horrible, as you say. Perhaps the source is the same. Anyway, it is unwatchable. But I still have it and may give it another try. I wish whoever has the current rights to that particular Cinema Center film will make it available on DVD. I'm sure it was once on video but years ago. -J

Kiki said...

I'm so glad you did this. I remember this movie vaguely but recall her performance which was done with so much more restraint and intelligence than Liza Minelli (who was doing those "type" roles of the "coming of age" era) would have been. And poor, batty Elsa Lancaster! Type cast as poor, batty Elsa Lancaster. Salome Jens was some interesting gal. Very few recall her big affair with JFK.

Walt said...

R I P, Patty Duke

Marvin said...

OY!!!!!! Patty Duke has died.

m.h. said...

This is a brilliantly written "tribute" to Ms. Duke -- as fine a tribute as any that I have seen for her.

A.N. said...

I remember that ME, NATALIE was viewed by me 3 times during the summer of 1969. I was only a teenager, but I never felt so involved. The film needs a DVD release.