Released in 1963, A New Kind of Love and newly available on a bare-bones DVD, is predictable and borderline offensive. Writer/director Melville Shavelson’s film is the sort of studio comedy most often produced at the time, moderately clever and frighteningly conventional. Perhaps the most surprising thing about it is that it stars Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, whose politics certainly improved with age.
The film opens as a mob of crazed women push and shove their way into a Fifth Avenue department store. Their brutish behavior is underlined by the soundtrack of stampeding and mooing cows. Equally odious is Steve (Newman), a sports columnist who claims to bed six different women a week. After making a conquest of his editor’s wife, he’s banished to Paris, not exactly where the action is for his line of work. The intelligent woman who will overhaul her personality to win his attention is up-and-coming fashion designer Samantha Blake (Joanne Woodward). She’s also on her way to Paris, accompanied by her boss Harry (Marvin Kaplan) and his assistant Leena (Thelma Ritter). They all work for a discount clothing store that steals the designs from the major fashion houses, then sells budget versions. The trip to the City of Lights will be a chance to grab the hottest designs before they make their way Stateside.
Steve and Sam meet briefly on the plane; when Miss Goody-Goody witnesses his transparent flirting with the stewardesses, she is instantly repelled. She sees herself as unlike other girls. A tomboy with short-cropped hair and men’s button-down shirts, her difference is emphasized when she attends a Parisian gathering for unmarried (and presumably virginal) women. Here she observes a ritual celebration, where unmarried women parade the street, making their way to the statue of St. Catherine and ask her to deliver husbands.
The parade makes Sam suddenly realize that she, indeed, wants to be married. To that end, she decides she needs a makeover. Looking at the Vogue magazine-styled girls who participated in the parade, Sam figures that must be the look men want, replacing her former smart style with a garish getup. Her smart modern locks are replaced with a blonde wig, and her naturally beautiful face is coated with red lipstick and blue eye shadow. How her colleagues see this as an improvement is hard to fathom, but they compliment the distinctly more feminine version of their co-worker.
All this to get her to the point where she can meet Steve at a restaurant and he can mistake her for a prostitute. When he begins to hear about her various (invented) sexual escapades with higher society, he pays her and uses her stories for his column. As in earlier comedies of this sort—the Rock Hudson-Doris Day films come to mind—Sam is too embarrassed to let Steve know who she really is, and so must maintain the charade and continue to fabricate sexually adventurous stories. In talking to each other, they fall in love and proceed through the usual plot turns before they acknowledge it, and their true identities are revealed.
It’s hard to overlook the fact that Steve hasn’t fallen in love with Sam, but with the lady-of-the-night version of her. Outside of their brief interaction on the plane, their relationship as prostitute and journalist serves as the foundation of this supposed love. The film offers up a timeless double standard: a man who has many sexual partners is considered masculine, but a woman with multiple partners is a slut. For her part, Sam has no problem being considered a slut, as long as her actions (however made-up) win her a man in the end. It appears she hasn’t found a “new kind of love” after all.