David Pollock (Gregory Peck) finds himself embroiled in international
intrigue when a mysterious oil magnate (Alan Badel) hires him
to decipher a coded message...
the 1960s, producer/director Stanley Donen helmed the two best
Hitchcock thrillers not directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Charade
(1963) and Arabesque offered a stylish
blend of exotic locales, twist-filled plots and wry humor. Charade
has received considerably more attention down through the years
no doubt helped by its slipping into public domain for a period
of time and it is arguably the stronger picture, but Arabesque
is no poor cousin. Following Hitchcock's formula of taking an
innocent protagonist and embroiling them in a mystery that is
as strange to them as it is to the viewer, the film manages to
be equal parts romantic, suspenseful and amusing.
film is effortlessly carried by Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren.
Peck is terrific in a role that truly seems to have been written
for Cary Grant (the star of Charade).
The normally stolid actor is allowed a chance to play somewhat
against type he starts off as a stuffy academic but slides easily
enough into the role of hero. Peck relishes his many wisecracks
and asides, and he really seems to be having a blast with the
material. Sophia Loren is every bit as effective. Not only was
she never more radiant than she appeared here and that's saying
a lot! but she, too, seems to have responded enthusiastically
to playing such a duplicitous character. She and Peck have real
chemistry, which is nowhere more evident than in the marvelously
sexy scene in which Peck hides out in the shower while she bathes
herself. Of course, a film such as this requires a strong villain
and fortunately, British character actor Alan Badel (Children
of the Damned) fills this role with sardonic aplomb. Decked
out in full middle Eastern skin coloring, Badel plays the erudite
villain with a fine sense of underlining menace. Badel manages
to come across as dangerous without ever raising his voice, and
he wrings every bit of perverse innuendo out of his dialogue.
John Merivale (Caltiki the Immortal Monster),
Duncan Lamont (Quatermass
and the Pit, The
Witches) and George Coulouris (Citizen
Skull) are also effective in smaller roles.
direction is stylish throughout, aided in no small measure by
some superb widescreen cinematography by Christopher Challis (The
Private Life of Sherlock Holmes). The locations are interesting,
the art direction is sumptuous, and the various action set-pieces
are handled with flair. If the film has a failing, it's that it
simply runs too long. At 106 minutes, it really would have benefited
from about ten minutes worth of tightening. Even so, the actors
are so much fun to watch, one will hardly notice. The script by
Julian Mitchell, Stanley Price and Pierre Marton (based on the
book The Cipher, by Gordon Cotler) is fairly standard,
but the flair with which it is executed helps to offset any feelings
of deja vu. Mention must also be made of the terrific music
score by Henry Mancini (The Pink Panther,
Touch of Evil), which also helps
to keep things moving along. A fun titles sequence by Maurice
Binder (who also designed the classic titles and logo for the
James Bond series) is the proverbial icing on the cake. As far
as cinematic confections go, they don't come much sweeter than
was long the victim of faded, panned and scanned TV airings, which
served to slice off about half of its artfully composed images.
The film first hit DVD as part of a set of films starring Gregory
Peck, but has only recently been issued as a stand-alone release.
The transfer is the same one found on the Peck set, and it's a
good one. The 2.35/16x9 image is sharp and colorful. Colors are
vivid, detail is very strong, and there's a nice coating of grain.
The mono soundtrack is crisp and clean, and Spanish and French
dubs are also included. Sadly, there are no extras
not even a trailer. 5/03/11