Arabesque (1966)

*. Very much a second act to Charade. Screenplay co-written by “Pierre Marton,” which was a pseudonym adopted by Charade writer Peter Stone. Stanley Donen returning to direct and Henry Mancini scoring. Costumes by Christian Dior instead of Givenchy. The part of David Pollock had been written for Cary Grant but he’d basically retired so Gregory Peck was in. Despite the fact that none of the Arab characters is played by an Arab, Sophia Loren was at least more exotic than Audrey Hepburn and qualifies as Mediterranean. Alan Badel (a Brit) and Carl Duering (German) are laughable sheiks.
*. The main change-up in terms of the plot is that the gender roles have been reversed. Now the male lead is the naive innocent, oddly hooking up with a duplicitous female secret agent. Otherwise it’s a movie that very much follows up its predecessor, while doubling down on the Hitchcock.
*. What I mean by that are the number of sequences that play very much like Hitchcock’s set pieces. The trip to the eye doctor that goes bad. The flight through the zoo. The pursuit of the cipher at the racing track. The only problem with these is that when you try to do Hitchcock this literally you only highlight the difference between what you’re doing and the real thing. Brian De Palma only sometimes got away with his homages, while Gus Van Sant fell on his face.

*. Instead of looking to Hitchcock for more guidance, Donen resorts to gimmickry. He affects a lot of weird camera angles and tricks where he shoots through objects (a chandelier, an aquarium) or plays with distorted reflections. Personally I didn’t object to this, but at the same time I didn’t think it added much. After a while you just sort of smile and roll your eyes. There are a few spots though where it is rather clever.
*. Some of the action sequences also seem more than a little forced. As I was watching Peck and Loren dodge the wrecking weight from a crane I made a note to myself wondering if they could have come up with a more awkward way for the bad guy to try to do them in. I didn’t think so, but it does wind up with a pretty spectacular finale. Only a little later, however, our heroes are being hunted through a field by a . . . combine harvester and a couple of tractors. I thought this might have been even more awkward, as a combine isn’t really a hard vehicle to avoid. Like I say, I think they were reaching here.
*. I think I’m on safe ground in saying most people don’t like Arabesque as much as Charade, but personally I don’t think it rates far behind. Peck and Loren are easy to watch, and I’d hate to have to choose between them and Grant and Hepburn. In addition to having a pet peregrine falcon, an accessory fit for any good Bond villain, Badel’s Beshraavi also has a foot fetish. That made me laugh. Some of the dialogue and situations are still worth a smile, though the mod terrorist Yussef with his “daddy-o”s was a bit too much. The climax on the spectacular Crumlin Viaduct (the film was shot just before it was demolished) is pretty good, for the day. It’s all meant as entertainment and I think it’s put forward well enough, if not quite work of the first rank.

8 thoughts on “Arabesque (1966)

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    Quite conventional entertainment, but enjoyed by many; as you say, Hitchcock is hard to mimic, and only demonstrates the lack of inspiration. But if you’re going to copy, copy from the best….

    Reply
    1. Alex Good

      Yeah, it’s conventional, with a hint of weirdness. The villain with the foot fetish and the pursuit by a combine help it out. But it’s quite forgettable.

      Reply

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