Audrey's Hall Mark
The experience of seeing films at Radio City Music Hall in its cinematic showcase prime was like that of no other movie palace in the U.S., although residents of other nations may lay claim to their premier exhibition temples. One of the Hall’s best tour guides to fascinating characters in exotic places from the early 1950s through the mid-1970s was the reliably radiant Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993), who starred in 10 grand attractions across premiering there across that span. Fans paid court to her as a royal, a couple of nuns, a dreamy party girl, a would-be target of sinister victimizers, a Venezuelan “bird girl,” an intellectual-turned-fashion icon and a thief, in locales like Rome, Paris, the Belgian Congo, medieval England and an alternately charming and menacing Big Apple. By and large, the movies (not to mention the accompanying stage shows) were supremely rewarding: Roman Holiday (1953), Funny Face (1957), Green Mansions and The Nun’s Story (both 1959), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Charade (1963), How to Steal a Million (1966, just out on an effervescent Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray), Wait Until Dark (1967) and Robin and Marian (1976). There’s also the challenging project that opened at the Hall 50 years ago today, a stylish and sophisticated study of a modern marriage viewed through the lens of travel along the French Riviera, aptly named Two for the Road (1967), also starring Albert Finney as the other half of a tempestuous partnership. Written by Frederic Raphael (Darling, Far from the Madding Crowd) and directed by Stanley Donen (Charade, Bedazzled), it was not typical fare for the Music Hall or Hepburn. Biographer Donald Spoto wrote in Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn: “The screenplay covered a 12-year period in a marriage threatened by routine, infidelity, remorse, mistaken cues, false hopes – and occasionally buoyed by shared satisfactions, warm memories and indelible moments of love, support and empathetic understanding. The story was not told in strict chronology, but rather by bending backward and forward in time, interlocking episodes as they are evoked by one or another event or recollection – all of it supporting the notion that relationships do indeed proceed along an uncertain road with unforeseen curves and turns….When she read the script, Audrey was wary of the content and protective of her image. The seriocomic dialogue was acerbic, often cynical, and the character of Joanna, the wife who changes and matures – not always admirably – was not at all prettified from Raphael’s primary idea (as, earlier, Holly Gollightly had been transformed from [Truman] Capote’s rougher original). Indeed, Joanna was nothing like a Hepburn character at all: she bore no similarity to any woman Audrey had impersonated, and so the actress feared losing both her image and her public. Joanna did, however, resemble some aspects of Audrey herself, and the recognition of this frightened her. Perhaps the most unsettling element for her was not the character’s infidelity, or even the frank bedroom scenes, but rather the disturbing parallels of the couple to her own marriage, then in its 12th year.” Her husband Mel Ferrer, Spoto noted, “understood that, if her career was not to be a casualty of the new age in entertainment styles, Audrey had to rise to the moment;” she was ultimately persuaded. The production went smoothly and Hepburn was happy, her work bolstered by the personal chemistry she enjoyed with Finney, which led to the two stars having an affair during the summer 1966 shoot. It made for a great movie, although the personal fallout would be damaging, as the back of her faltering marriage was finally broken, ending in divorce a year later. Spoto summarized: “’The role required a depth of emotion, care, yearning and maturity that Audrey had never played before,’ according to Stanley Donen. ‘She gave what I think is her best performance.’ Critics worldwide agreed, but, as she had anticipated, the American public was resentful of the shift in Audrey’s image. When the picture was first released in 1967 in America, at Radio City Music Hall, the theater did not sell enough tickets to cover even a minor portion of its usual lavish, live entertainment. Box-office receipts abroad were far healthier, perhaps because European audiences were accustomed to franker depictions of marriage in the movies.” The Music Hall management didn’t fault Hepburn; they’d done well eight years earlier when lackluster business done by Green Mansions (directed by Ferrer) in March was completely reversed by the smash success The Nun’s Story brought them in June. It would happen again in 1967 when the “artistic” Spring underperformer would be offset by the record grosses of the thriller Wait Until Dark (produced by Ferrer) at Halloween. Fifty years later, the reputation of the “road” movie among the bunch looms the largest, confirmed when you buckle up for TT’s Two for the Road Blu-ray luxury ride, with its Isolated Henry Mancini Score Track and two Audio Commentaries (Director Donen on one, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman on the other).