It tells the story of a successful Los Angeles-area advertising executive of Greek-American extraction, Evangelos Arness, who goes by the professional name "Eddie Anderson." He is portrayed by Kirk Douglas.
Eddie is suicidal and slowly having a psychotic breakdown. He is miserable at home in his marriage to his WASPy wife, Florence, played by Deborah Kerr, and with his career. He is engaged in a torrid affair with his mistress and co-worker Gwen (Faye Dunaway), and is forced to re-evaluate his life and its priorities while dealing with his willful and aging father (Richard Boone).
Wealthy ad man Eddie Anderson makes a failed suicide attempt in his car. He is contemptuous of life and its "arrangements." His long marriage to Florence is now devoid of passion, and he has become the lover of Gwen, a research assistant at his Los Angeles advertising agency. He descends into a long depression and silence, often conjuring up memories or hallucinations of Gwen.
A psychiatrist, Dr. Leibman, eventually listens to stories of Eddie's nightmares and general discontent with life. Eddie returns to work, where he insults a valued client. He pilots a small plane about L.A. and buzzes its skyscrapers recklessly, causing the police to be called. His mental stability is now seriously in doubt. His wife also sees compromising photographs of Eddie and Gwen.
Arthur, his lawyer, gives wife Florence power of attorney as Eddie travels to New York to visit Sam Arness, his ill father. The father is so sick that Eddie's brother and sister-in-law want him placed in an institution. Gwen is also in New York now, living with a man named Charles and telling Eddie of many other affairs that she has had. She has a baby that she claims is not Eddie's (but it is strongly implied she's lying).
A delusional Eddie begins to have conversations with his alter ego. Arthur brings papers for him to sign, turning over all of his community property to Florence, but she tells him not to sign them, and it turns out he signed someone else's name. Florence and Eddie have a long intense conversation, in which Eddie says he just wants to do nothing for a while—Florence simply can't understand this, and says he's insane. He sets fire to his father's house and comes to Gwen's apartment, where Charles shoots him—after this, Eddie is committed to a psychiatric hospital, but can release himself at any time, simply by proving he's got a job and a home to go to.
Eddie seems to feel contentment in his solitude at the asylum, but Gwen brings the baby to see him, and manages to lure him outside to try again, saying she's got a job for him. At his father's funeral, Florence and Gwen are both there and see each other for the first time, and Florence seems to grudgingly accept the relationship between Eddie and Gwen as the only way Eddie can be saved from himself.Kirk Douglas as Eddie Anderson
Faye Dunaway as Gwen
Deborah Kerr as Florence
Richard Boone as Sam
Hume Cronyn as Arthur
Harold Gould as Dr. Leibman
Carol Rossen as Gloria
John Randolph Jones as Charles
Dianne Hull as Ellen Anderson
Charles Drake as Finnegan
Barry Sullivan as Chet Collier (uncredited)
Kazan wanted Eddie to be portrayed by Marlon Brando, who Kazan felt could bring a greater depth to the role and bring it close to the character portrayed in the novel and who had experienced great success with Kazan previously in the films A Streetcar Named Desire, Viva Zapata!, and On the Waterfront. However, Brando refused to take the role, stating that he had no interest in making a film so soon after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Kazan felt this to be a dodge on Brando's part and wondered if the real reasons had more to do with Brando's increasing weight or receding hairline.
The critics were overwhelmingly negative when the film came out, and it was the consensus that Kazan should never have filmed his own best-selling novel, which was panned by most literary critics as trash when it was published in 1967.
Tony Mastroianni in The Cleveland Press referred to the film as a "bad novel [that] didn't improve very much in the transfer [to film]."
Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that it "reeks with slightly absurd movie chic but, unlike Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind or Vincente Minnelli's Two Weeks in Another Town, it's not only not much fun, but it's a mess of borrowed styles. What's worse is that it may be largely incomprehensible, on a simple narrative level, unless one has read Kazan's best-selling, 543-page short story that the director has more or less synopsized in his movie."
A more mixed review came from Roger Ebert, who wrote that it was "one of those long, ponderous, star-filled 'serious' films that were popular in the 1950s, before we began to value style more highly than the director's good intentions. It isn't successful, particularly not on Kazan's terms (he sees it, doubtless, as a bitter sermon on the consequences of selling out). But it does draw nourishment from the remarkable performances of Kirk Douglas and Faye Dunaway."
The failure of The Arrangement was the end of Kazan's own career as an A-list director.