Wednesday, March 30, 2016
cinema obscura: Fred Coe's "Me, Natalie" (1969)
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.
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.
Posted by joe baltake at 4:00 PM