Starring: Albert Finney, Audrey Hepburn, Eleanor Bron
Director: Stanley Donen
Despite the gritty presence of Albert Finney, Two for the Road (1967) is a film that feels cocooned from everyday life, with its gem-like Technicolor, its lush Henry Mancini score and its clothes by Mary Quant and Paco Rabanne. Scriptwriter Frederic Raphael raided his store of amusing anecdotes about what happened to him on his hols for this story of a well-heeled, elegantly disenchanted couple driving across a picture book France to St Tropez while recalling similar excursions in the past – as hitchhikers, penniless but happy, then as newlyweds on a tour with some ghastly Americans.
The structure of overlapping flashbacks is tricksy to say the least, the dialogue cutesy and brittle and full of the sorts of things people only ever say in movies, and the shifts from sunlight to showers feel contrived. And yet those with a taste for such bitter-sweet confections will absolutely love it. For all its artificiality, the dialogue is great fun, bitchy and aphoristic, and the nightmare excursion with the yanks (beautifully played by William Daniels and and Eleanor Bron) and their over-indulged daughter provides an extended comic highlight. And while Albert Finney might seem a strange interloper into this glossy milieu, his salty, energetic way with this kind of material is a revelation – it makes you realize what a genuinely powerful movie star he was – and he draws from his co-star Audrey Hepburn one of her best, most spontaneous and spiky performances.
It’s worth acknowledging, too, that the film is something of a technical feat for director Stanley Donen – shot entirely on location with Panavision cameras that required huge amounts of light delivered by arc lamps powered by huge, noisy generators. And this brings us to the movie’s other great pay-off – it looks beautiful. This Masters of Cinema Blu-ray offers one of the best HD transfers of a film of this period that you’re likely to see – from first to last, it’s immaculate, vibrantly coloured, without the slightest dirt or trace of grain. The visit to the (fictional) Hotel Saint-Just is perhaps the best example of the deluxe splendour of which this transfer is capable, but it’s all wonderful. The Blu-ray format is now allowing us to appreciate just how glorious the widescreen colour cinematography of the ’50s and ’60s could be, and the couple’s tour of taverns and chateaux and seaside resorts has a lyrical, bejewelled beauty which is irresistibly exhilarating.
As for the extras, there’s a charming 24-minute chat with Frederic Raphael (speaking in French, oddly enough). He reminisces about Albert and Audrey, as he calls them; talks about what it was like working with Donen; and reveals that he drew on his own travels and marriage for material for the script. In addition, you get an audio commentary with Donen, who describes the difficulties of filming on location at that time (all of the dialogue had to be post-synched, and a young Jacqueline Bisset, who made her debut in a small role, had to be dubbed by another actress, so quickly was she whisked off to Hollywood).