Monday, January 04, 2010

Underrated Movie #4: Two for the Road

Title: Two for the Road
Year: 1967
Director: Stanley Donen (Singing in the Rain, Charade)
Writer: Frederic Raphael (Darling, Eyes Wide Shut)
Stars: Audrey Hepburn (Roman Holiday), Albert Finney (Tom Jones), Eleanor Bron (Bedazzled), William Daniels (Dr. Craig on St. Elsewhere)

The Story: A quarrelling English couple, flying to Paris, are overwhelmed by jumbled-up memories of five previous trips across the continent, back when they were broke and happy.

How it Came to be Underrated: Donen’s musicals were so great, right out of the gate, that his later, more humanistic work was seen as a disappointment at the time. So many directors who had been ahead of their time in the '50s found themselves left behind by the '60s (think Hitchcock), but Donen had the opposite problem—he embraced the sixties too fully and alienated his audience. As a result, we are still belatedly realizing how ambitious and smart his non-musicals were.

Why It’s Great:

  1. Mark Harris recently published a fantastic book, “Pictures at a Revolution”, about the tumultuous film year of 1967, when daring young American directors, inspired by anarchic French directors like Jean-Luc Godard, started making films like The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde, which upset Hollywood’s fading aristocracy. Harris doesn’t mention Two for the Road, nor could he, without admitting that it’s the exception that proves the rule. Donen, though he epitomized old Hollywood class, also steals brazenly from Godard (a sped-up trip through a French landmark, jump cuts) and makes a film on par with those other, far more legendary breakthrough films.
  2. But the ambition of the direction was merely an attempt to do justice to an extremely modern, super-smart script. Raphael proves that you can take a tough, realistic look at modern relationships but still indulge yourself with some sparkling dialogue: “You were sniping. Just because you use a silencer, doesn’t mean you’re not a sniper” “When do we start? Yesterday? Yesterday I can’t do. I have things I have to do yesterday.”
  3. If nothing else, the movie would be worth a rental for one sequence alone. Anyone who has been driven insane by listening to parents who are over-indulgent of their children will be shocked to discover that this current archetype dates all the way back to 1967. The always wonderful Eleanor Bron and William Daniels get two of their best big-screen roles as maddeningly “modern” parents who drive Finney, Hepburn, and the whole audience into fits of rage.

  4. But the best thing this film is that it shows us so much more of Hepburn than we’d ever seen before, or would ever see again, as she was about to declare her early retirement. Throughout her career, she had been paired almost exclusively with much older men (Peck, Bogart, Cooper, Grant). Suddenly here she was kissing a man seven years her junior, no longer a supplicant, but a more-than-equal sparring partner. Also, she had finally parted ways with her longtime designer Givenchy, so we now get to see her as a dressed-down, modern woman. (She even wears a shiny vinyl suit! Meow!) This is the film that proves that underneath all that beauty was a genuinely great actress.

Underrated Compared To: It towers above such terrible late-Hepburn movies as Paris When it Sizzles and How to Steal a Million, but I would argue that it even stands up to Donen’s best, like Singing in the Rain and On the Town.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: All of Donen’s ‘60s films are well-worth seeing, especially Charade and Bedazzled.

How Available Is It?: It’s on Netflix on DVD and watch instantly, in its proper aspect ratio, I’m happy to say.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: The Fearless, Fabulous Females of Women's Lib!


Unknown said...

I so remember going to see this film in 1967 at the height of my Francophilia. I was 20. It was shown in the Odeon chain in my then hometown of Brighton on the Sussex Coast in the UK. A town annually invaded in the summer by French students, hence the burgeoning romance with all things French. I was illustrating Le Grand Meaulnes at art school and was unaware of the cynical edges of the script and saw instead only the beauty of Miss Hepburn, the stylishness of her clothes, and their enviable trip through a France drenched in summer down to the south and those sophisticated parties, sigh. A great film and a great choice. Thank you
Best Ian

Greg Holch said...

Hi. We met briefly at a Kidlit Drinks night. Congratulations on your blog. Two for the Road fits the list perfectly.
My reactions to the film are similar to "Ian's". I saw it first at the Greenwich Library (CT) Friday Night Films in the late 1970's. I was captivated by Audrey Hepburn and by the fun that the director was having, including what I remember as a sideways cut between two phone booths. I saw it again on New Year's eve twenty years later, and then I noticed a sadness and sharp edge to some of the scenes that I hadn't seen before.
Good luck with the blog. You've got me thinking that if you and EB can do this, maybe I should give it a shot, too.
Best wishes -- Greg Holch