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Two For The Road
Directed by Stanley Donen with Albert Finney, Audrey Hepburn, Eleanor Bron, Nadia Gray, Claude Dauphin, William Daniels, Jacqueline Bisset, Georges Descrières, color, 111 minutes, 1967

Blu-ray edition cover

Cover of Blu-ray edition of "Two For The Road"

"perhaps we should be grateful that Shakespeare spared us Romeo and Juliet on Social Security..."
                                                                                                  - Roger Ebert

By Carter B. Horsley

"Two for the Road" is a witty, sardonic and slick look at marriage that is distinguished by great performances by Albert Finney as Mark Wallace, a young architect, and Audrey Hepburn, as Joanna, his wife.

Directed with great style and humor by Stanley Donen, who is best known for "Singin' In The Rain" (see The City Review article), the movie constantly switches back and forth in many flashbacks with many trick transitions that are cute but also rather poignantly stream-of-consciousness.

As portrayed by Finney, the architect is a great bluster of machismo but not without charm and ultimately deep affection and love.

Audrey on the beach

Audrey on the beach

As portrayed by Hepburn, his wife is patient but coy and full of humor.

We learn through one of the flashbacks that the young architect originally had high hopes for making a trip with one of Joanna's classmates, played with gleeful lust by Jacqueline Bisset, but had to settle for Hepburn when the classmate came down with chicken pox. The film was shot on location in Europe and Hepburn's costumes ran the full gamut of 1960s styles. While Hepburn has always been fashionable, she has never been more beautiful, especially in scenes in which her hair is long. Not a classic beauty, her smile has never been more radiant.

The performances of Finney and Hepburn may well be the finest of their careers. Finney is tempestuous, goofy, flirtacious, sullen, hurt, warm and happy. Hepburn is a shy gamin, a coquette, a frolic, an adventuress, a recontrite lover, and a loving and bemused wife.

The film skillfully negotiates the tightrope between frothy romantic comedy and melodramatic marriage. This is not the bitter pill of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" but the bittersweet maturing relationship between two very vibrant and strong personalities.

Frederic Raphael was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay, which has much of the same sophistication he brought to "Darling" for which he won an Oscar in 1966.

The film's very beautiful score is one of Henry Mancini's most memorable and was nominated for best original score for a Golden Globe award.

The MG

The MG

The film covers the couple's courtship and 12 years of marriage and is clever and perceptive in its presentation of married life "ever after."

The only drawback in the film is the couple's insufferable road trip with one of the architect's old flames, played by Eleanor Bron, and her husband, played by William Daniels and their obnoxious young daughter. Bron overacts and Daniels's role is a caricature of political correctness/fastidiousness. Bron and Daniels let their daughter run riot and at one point Bron tells Hepburn that the daughter senses she does not like her and that she should "woo her." When at long last, Hepburn woos her the audience is most grateful. The roadtrip with the couple probably seemed a good idea on paper but the couple is so horrible and the sequence so long that it pains the audience.

Hepburn has a brief affair with a man Finney has met and the scenes in which Finney comes upon the two of them at a café and then when Hepburn returns to their hotel room are particularly sensitive and fascinating. We often think we know how we might react to certain situations, but reality is filled with surprises.

This is a film of great affection that not only delightfully catches the exuberance of the mid-1960s but also the pains of growing old and maintaining the flame of love. By the end of the film, love remains precious, if not supreme.

On reflection, one might imagine William Powell and Carole Lombard handling these lead roles very well, but Finney and Hepburn are very perfect and epitomize here the special quality of truly great stars.

In his October 2, 1967 review, Roger Ebert noted that

"perhaps we should be grateful that Shakespeare spared us Romeo and Juliet on Social Security. The marriage gradually loses its novelty and charm; the love gradually transforms itself into a deep and weary familiarity; the child is as much a burden as a treasure, and the wife finally leaps into an adulterous affair....

"There are some very funny scenes, particularly when Finney and Hepburn tour Europe with an Incredibly organized American couple and their hateful, obnoxious, spiteful little girl. The scenes with Audrey's temporary French lover (played with such coolness by Georges Descrieres that you'd like to mash a grapefruit in his mug) are handled honestly, and are painful....

"Donen knows what he is doing, and does it very well. This is a slick, entirely professional, very smooth movie – but it is just because Donen and his associates are seasoned craftsmen that they never stoop to the obvious. They make 'Two for the Road' two things: a Hollywood-style romance between beautiful people, and an honest story about recognizable human beings. I'd call it 'A Man and a Woman' for grown-ups."

 

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This film is ranked 86th in Carter B. Horsley's Top 500 Sound Films.

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