I’ve been a fan of Donen’s films since I was a child when Seven Brides for Seven Sisters was among my favourite films. While now it’s been over ten years since I’ve seen this particular film, and I’m due for a much needed rewatch, he has since inspired me with my interest with Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Charade (1962) and the extremely underrated Two for the Road (1967). Although I’ve been slow getting through his films, I am always excited when I bring a copy home. This was the case earlier this week when I found a copy of Arabesque (1966) at my local video store. Starring Sophia Loren and Gregory Peck, Arabesque is a psychedelic espionage set in England but with a distincly Middle Eastern flair. The film plays with issues of identity and gender roles, ideas and sources of comedy that Donen touches on througout his career. Unfortunately in this case, the film fails in that it’s a little too close to Charade and just a tad less interesting.
It’s unfair to malign the film for being too similar to a previous effort, but really the films are so much alike it’s impossible to draw a comparison. The biggest fault in this film probably lies in the script, that unlike Charade reaches a little too wide for my taste. It was far more interesting when we were not dealing in international affairs, and the reality of the film felt far more immediate. The film is not without it’s moments, the visual style is quite interesting if not excessive, one scene at a race track is a great tribute to Hitchcock’s Notorious and offers a good deal of laughs as Loren and Peck imitate the English. While I don’t think either compares to Hepburn or Grant, they hold their own to make the film worth watching. Loren especially is beautiful enough to draw your attention in every shot, and Peck is so gosh darn likeable it’s hard to fault him. It’s Alan Badel who really shines though as the film’s villain. His humour is dry and he seems to be having an enormous amount of fun. What’s especially wonderful is his reactions to Loren, he manages to show just enough interest in her that you believe the premise, but not enough to believe he really cares. It makes all their scenes particularly fascinating.
Overall it’s an enjoyable if not minor romp.