Arabesque (1966 USA)

After the success of his Hitchcock homage “Charade”, director Stanley Donen made this very similar comedy-thriller with Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren in the lead roles. While Peck and Loren are not quite as suited to this kind of thing as Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, they still make an attractive couple. If you thought “Charade” was complex, you’ll find “Arabesque” resembles a hundred shoelaces tangled into an impenetrable knot. The plot is not really meant to be followed – it merely exists as an excuse to stage one dazzling set piece after another. But it’s Arabesque’s wildly inventive cinematography which sets it apart from virtually every other action film. Its beautiful to behold. Quite a feast for the eyes.

American scholar David Pollock (Gregory Peck) works at Oxford University and is noted as one of the world’s foremost experts in ancient hieroglyphics. He is asked – firstly by oil tycoon Beshraavi (Alan Badel – who really steals the show with his intensity), and later by a Middle Eastern prime minister (Carl Duering) – to decipher a hieroglyphic code that contains details of a sinister espionage plot. Not really a man of action, Pollock suddenly finds himself thrust into the world of international intrigue, where sudden death and double-crosses are never far away. Various factions want to know the secret of the hieroglyphic code, and Pollock finds himself on the run from enemies on all sides. The only person who seems willing to help him is Beshraavi’s mistress, Yasmin Azir (Sophia Loren), but she lies to and crosses him so frequently during their flight that he begins to question whose side she is really on….

Of course it is silly and Gregory Peck is not the right man. It was written for Cary Grant after all, but it is also irresistible. The film begins with a standard enough thriller set-up and ends stunningly with a similarly effective Hitchcockian chase through the countryside and over a magnificent metal bridge, pursued by agricultural machinery and a helicopter. We see reflections in shop windows, reflections in car windscreens, coloured lights also adding to the reflections. Upside down images, sideways images, shots through lights, fish-tanks, people’s legs. the screen shines with constant and curious op-art images, constantly surprising and complementing whatever action is being played out. Oh and among the wondrous sights is, of course, Sophia Loren: shot lovingly in a multitude of costumes and shoes and boots, reflecting here there and everywhere.  Of course it’s insufferably smug and camp to the point of annoying modern viewers. And the England portrayed here is typical display of obvious  tourist locations. But despite these little foibles its still a joy to watch. An actress and a director having fun. Everything about this is stylish and unreal in that off beat 60s way.

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Comments

  1. This film sounds extremely charming, I’ll have to give it a go! Thanks for sharing. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you…I sometimes wonder what would we do without 60s nostalgia?

    Like

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