From 20th Century Fox
Directed by Stanley Donen
While I did just finish watching this movie, I had to forgo the direct walk from easy chair to computer chair by going on a walk around our property. I told myself it was to check out the gardens after last night's first freeze but it was really to aid in snapping me out of the romantic haze this film always seems to bring about in me. Well, uh-huh, ok, let's see how that worked out.
It is my second favorite Audrey Hepburn movie (we already know it is bested by Breakfast at Tiffany's) but I believe that Two for the Road contains her best performance and in a few ways, her bravest. More on this in a bit.
Veteran director Stanley Donen (On the Town, Singin' in the Rain, Charade) and gifted screenwriter Frederick Raphael (Darling, Far from the Madding Crowd) were buddies and wanted to work together. Donen had some ideas and after discussing with his friend, Raphael sculpted a screenplay about a marriage. They agreed early on it would be a film that would be a road trip of sorts (actually a series of road trips) in the glamour of the south of France and would be told out of sequence.
Hepburn had originally turned down the role of Joanna Wallace. She found the out-of-sequence part a little too avant garde for her tastes and generally thought the role not really suited to her. Luckily, after reading a second draft and with a lot of persuasion from Donen, with whom she had worked a number of times, she reconsidered. What a stroke of good fortune for all of us.
Unlike Hepburn being the first choice for Joanna, Albert Finney was not the original choice for Mark Wallace and got the part only after Paul Newman and Michael Caine turned it down. No one knew at the time what a good catch Finney would be.
The marriage is full of romance and caring and humor but also blistering emotions, insults and fights... you know, like many such couplings. It is told over a 10-year period. When they meet, Joanna is a student and Mark is a beginning architect and near the end of the film, both have been adulterous, he is obsessed with work and she's at loose ends.
What is really smart about this film is how it's told. It's that out-of-sequence part I'm speaking of. That issue had a number of big studios turning down the project because most of us want stories laid out to us in a linear, sensible way and this hop-scotching all around is tedious and gimmicky. Or, ok, that's what I say. I'm a linear boy... give it all to me but do so in an orderly manner, thank you. For that reason, I should have hated Two for the Road. But as I said, this is what is so smart about it.
The entire film is told from the point of view of being on a holiday... or in this case, a number of holidays, all in the south of France. The couple is reliving in the present (a present-day car trip) the events (other trips) of years before. For example, should they pass a familiar landmark on the present-day trip, the scene will go to a prior trip passing that landmark. The juxtaposing of time sequences blend together by these physical connections and/or vocal connections. It is brilliantly done and certainly one of the reasons I consider this film noteworthy.
Finney, the only actor to ever call Hepburn a bitch on the screen, was a total delight as the hunky, handsome (at his best here), absent-minded, playful husband. I had seen some of his earlier work (certainly Tom Jones) but I never really connected to him until this film. I thought he was ideal casting and there was a certain magic between him and Hepburn. More to come on that one.
It was a rare opportunity for Hepburn and she likely turned it down originally not because of the storytelling methods but because she was afraid. She was afraid of the emotional intensity at a time that her own marriage to Mel Ferrer was unraveling. Hepburn never liked her body and she would have to reveal more of it, both in bathing suits and a nude sequence (most of it was cut out of final print). Worse was that Donen said her usual designer, Hubert de Givenchy, would not be allowed to do her wardrobe as was his custom. After all he knew how to hide all the imperfections she thought she had. She could be tougher than anyone could imagine when it came to her wardrobe but came to agree with Donen that not many college students are traipsing around France's back roads in Givenchy. If this wasn't enough, she would have to be pushed into a swimming pool and she had Natalie Wood's fear of water.
Hepburn had not met the unmarried Finney prior to the filming. He has said that he knew they would work well together from their initial meeting. He was always very playful in real life (as his character is) and he brought out a playfulness in her. Her control-freak husband, Ferrer, was usually on-set for her films, but because their marriage was on the skids, he stayed behind in Switzerland. The romantic haze of the film characters enveloped them to the point that they had an intense affair while making the film. The south of France can do that. It's been said a restaurant scene where Mark confronts Joanna with her adultery was a very difficult scene for all.
All supporting roles were well-cast but I need to put some extra attention on Eleanor Bron, William Daniels and young Gabrielle Middleton as the most obnoxious American family who become Mark and Joanna's traveling companions for one journey. If one is ever considering going on a long trip with someone else's child(ren), one should see this film first.
It's also worth noting in early scenes, Jacqueline Bisset at the height of her youthful beauty. She would go on to two more films with Finney.
Cinematographer Christopher Challis provided some magical looks shooting all over the south of France. He had his work cut out for him filming the many scenes in automobiles... something a lot easier today.
This was a special film for Stanley Donen, in the top echelon of his favorites. He received an Oscar nomination for his work. It had wonderful emotional moments along with enchanting humor. Two for the Road is an insightful look at a marriage and therefore I consider it an important film. I think it was a film that touched many on the subject of marriage because it was truthful and emotional for probably quite close-to-home for many.
Finally, let's talk about Henry Mancini's magical score. He has said it was his favorite of all he did and I adored it. Donen didn't like the first one Mancini came up with and asked him to try again. It was a winner that echoed throughout the film. It has some lovely and haunting lyrics as well.
Here, have a look: