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Two for the Road
Studio Classics

Two for the Road
Fox Studio Classics
1966 /Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 111 min. / Street Date November 1, 2005 / 14.98
Starring Audrey Hepburn, Albert Finney, Eleanor Bron, William Daniels, Claude Dauphin, Nadia Gray
Cinematography Christopher Challis
Art Direction Marc Frederic, Willy Holt
Film Editor Madeleine Gug
Original Music Henry Mancini
Written by Frederic Raphael
Produced and Directed by Stanley Donen

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Some of Stanley Donen's films don't hold up as well as they should but the visual invention of Two for the Road is still refreshing forty years later. Frederic Raphael's top-drawer romantic comedy drama mixes insightful marital observation with both satire and slapstick and in general comes out ahead; and the film has a surprisingly adult view on infidelity. Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn are an excellent couple viewed exclusively through four different road trips through France at different stages of their relationship.


Architect Mark Wallace and his wife Joanna (Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn) speed toward a party given by Mark's wealthy benefactor, Maurice Dalbret (Claude Dauphin). As they consider getting a divorce the trip becomes mixed up with other cross-country memories from earlier days: When they met on the road; travelling with an annoying American couple (Eleanor Bron and William Daniels) and their brat of a child; footloose in an unreliable MG roadster; and an unhappy trip traveling with their young daughter.

Two for the Road still makes us sit up and pay attention even if its central time-tripping gag became a cliché even before it started. Mark and Joanna will be sitting in their junky sports car when a fancy Mercedes passes. One hard cut later and we've jumped to the future when they are riding in the Mercedes. The loving couple with their fun times and rough spells don't seem to realize that the road they're traveling is a time machine to the past and the future ... it's the Road of Life, get it?

Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller surely approved of this storytelling method, which allows for maximum flexibility while keeping the tale from congealing into linear episodes - there is no need for flashbacks to relate to the past as everything in the movie is a flash- something or another.

The device never becomes invisible but it does help us to pay attention, as we never know how long we'll be in one time frame. Finney and Hepburn make an extremely attractive couple and their meet-cute device of a misplaced passport becomes an (overworked) gag that follows them the rest of their lives.They're thrown together by the unpredictable chicken-pox virus, which decimates the rest of Joanna's choir group, including gorgeous "Jackie" Jacqueline Bisset. Soon it's just Joanna and Wallace hitchiking together, and they quickly become inseparable.

The time-shifting story structure invites dozens of visual comparisons that in another format would have to be handled through dialogue. They start off with one small bag but subsequent trips require more and more luggage. What eventually becomes a predictable air-conditioned traveling arrangement begins with crazy adventures in the rain, and misadventures like sneaking cheap food into a posh hotel only to discover on checking out that gourmet meals were included in the room rates. Everywhere they go they see examples of other marriages - bored couples, newlyweds and the horrible Manchesters, obnoxious Americans imposing their narrow views and their vile daughter on everyone within earshot.

Two for the Road has a lot of well-timed comedy but also a tendency for lame slapstick. Joanna and Mark fall or are pushed into pools and the ocean about 5 times too many, which isn't bad considering how freshly the actors perform such slapstick duties. Eleanor Bron (Alfie, Donen's Bedazzled) and William Daniels (The Graduate) are Ugly Americans providing a world-class bad example for marriage, and stop just short of being a bad satirical exaggeration. Unfortunately, people like that are all too real.

Joanna and Mark are far from perfect themselves. Mark is predictably the butt of jokes when he panics over his lost passports and lets his bad temper get them kicked out of hotels. He conducts half his dialogue in a Humphrey Bogart accent. He's also no saint, as when a silent-movie style flirtation between two cars ends in an extramarital one-night. If there's something dated about the film it's that it finds almost no fault with Hepburn's Joanna - until she causes every female in the audience to hold their breath by admittng that she's slept with another man. Not our Hepburn ... not Sabrina! That revelation disabuses us of the notion that Two for the Road is going to resolve as a light-snack romance.

Perhaps Heburn is the key to this whole thing, as she represents an image of perfect womanhood that goes back at least to 1953's Roman Holiday. Women have looked up to Hepburn as the pinnacle of grace and charm, the 1950s romantic anti-sex symbol completely opposite the blonde bombshell Monroe image. Here it is thirteen years later and she's still completely convincing as a college-age woman. Hepburn was seven years older than Finney, as well. She looks good in all the various costumes (the credits list seven or eight designers), even the ridiculous Mod fashions. If there is a fault to the basic framework of Two for the Road it's that Joanna doesn't seem to have many flaws. When she strays from Mark, we immediately think of her as the victim of boredom, or of inattention by her (observed) wandering husband. Ethically challenged viewers might take the film as an "it's inevitable" apologia for poor marriages.

Fox's Studio Classics disc of Two for the Road looks splendid. The only time Savant tried to watch this picture was pan-scanned on TV with commercials, and soon gave up. Christopher Challis' cinematography must have stimulated French tourism, and Henry Mancini's lush but unobtrusive score is very pleasant.

The disc has a restoration comparison (Fox comparisons are always too technical but unconvincing anyway), a short still gallery, an original trailer and a commentary by Stanley Donen. It quit about a half hour in and I got tired of waiting for it to start again (it comes back after a couple of chapters). We enjoyed his track on Charade and he's just as charming here. His is an enviable life, working with such pleasant people on such worthwhile projects. I wish Fox would bring out his wonderful Bedazzled so that uninformed college kids could feast on the comic talents of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore at full power.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Two for the Road rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Commentary by Director Stanley Donen, Restoration Comparison, Trailer, Still Gallery
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 3, 2005

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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