[Last Film I Watch] Arabesque (1966)

Arabesque poster

Title: Arabesque
Year: 1966
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime
Director: Stanley Donen
Writers:
Julian Mitchell
Stanley Price
Peter Stone
Gordon Cotler
Music: Henry Mancini
Cinematography: Christopher Challis
Cast:
Gregory Peck
Sophia Loren
Alan Badel
Kieron Moore
Carl Duering
John Merivale
Duncan Lamont
George Coulouris
Ernest Clark
Harold Kasket
Malya Nappi
Rating: 5.9/10

Arabesque 1966

A classic Stanley Donen’s Hollywood big-budget popcorn adventure banks on two leading actors’ star power, in the shopworn formula of an innocent guy (middle-age, single and bookish) who is unwittingly involved into some convoluted scheme, and with the aide from a mysterious femme fatale, together they will scotch the sinister plan (whatever it is) in the last second fashion, so crisis will be solved and romance is here to stay.

The exotic sex-pot here is Sophia Loren, during her clout peak in Hollywood, where her filmography doesn’t reflect her capacity (her best roles are uniformly made with her native tongue in her native land), however it endows her tremendous international fame and wider admiration from a mass audience. She plays an Arabic woman Yasmin Azir, whose true identity has been deliberately designed in a complicated double, even triple-crossing layer, and the trust issue between her and our male protagonist Prof. David Pollock (Peck) is a running motif in this London-based spy thriller.

The plot concerns about a cryptic hieroglyphic message, and I don’t want to spoil the details but it would be a quite disappointing turnover for the fuss, and the adventures are arranged one on the heels of another , an expedient strategy to cover up the ludicrousness of the happenings, jammed with comic reliefs, unexpected twist and arduous action set pieces, on a similar scale, the movie is a crowd-pampering blockbuster of its time, money is splurged to a keep the ever-present fatigue at bay.

On a technical level, DP Christopher Challis’s cinematography dares to go out on a limb to be occasionally hypnotic (when Pollock is drugged and left walking in the highway), menacing (the opening sequence where a blatant murder is carried out in an eye-doctor clinic), or ominous (a night chase in a zoo with flashes on awaken creatures); Henry Mancini’s score concerts seamlessly with the story to establish a pleasant viewing experience albeit its larger-than-life goofiness.

No Arabic is cast in the film, only blackened Caucasians, apart from two leads, supporting ones are unvaryingly one-noted, Alan Badel’s “money can buy anything” pomposity is flagrantly crude. Loren and Peck both make an effort to be inopportunely upbeat to narrow their age gap (Peck is visibly too old for certain action requirements) and be romantically linked in a fabrication with good intentions. I’m not impressed, but cannot be too harsh on the picture either thanks to its unflagging self-serving seriousness, so just let me stay in the harmless middle ground.

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