The Road Between I Do and I Don't
When it first opened nearly 50 years ago, Two for the Road (1967) felt quite fresh and seemed to travel the cinematic road less taken. Polish and professionalism prevailed courtesy of director Stanley Donen (who made his name in blissful Hollywood musicals but had branched off into the areas of stylish adventures like Charade and Arabesque and smart romantic comedies like Indiscreet and The Grass Is Greener) and screenwriter Frederic Raphael (who fashioned the startling jet-set intrigues of the social-set strivers and adulterers in Nothing but the Best and his Academy Award®-winning script for Darling). The photogenic pair at the center of this combination travelogue and complex, intelligent study of love’s pothole strewn highway – Audrey Hepburn as music student Joanna and Albert Finney as womanizing architect Mark – represented both traditional glamour and rough-hewn roguery. Its European-influenced style and zigzagging cascade of incidents (drawn in part from the contours of Raphael’s own marriage) take some getting used to, cross-cutting among scenes from six different road trips in various vintage vehicles across lovely French locations taking place in a 10-year period that depicts first encounter, courtship, marriage, parenting a child and sexual detours in between. But film historian Jeanine Basinger, writing in her marvelous I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies, sees a direct connection – a basic throughline between Two for the Road and an earlier 1939 Hollywood depiction of a hasty marriage jeopardized by second-guessing, career disillusionment, bad behavior and the shadow of divorce starring Carole Lombard and James Stewart. Basinger says: “Two for the Road could easily be the story of John and Jane Mason from Made for Each Other, or even Blondie and Dagwood, if either of those two couples had been rich, well dressed, and casual about heir wedding vows. Although there are differences between Made for Each Other and Two for the Road regarding sex, fashion and automobile design, the films tell the same story underneath. Despite its shaky morality, slick surface and open ending, Two for the Road is a traditional ‘I do’ marriage movie. It’s a very shaky form of ‘I do’ – a kind of ‘Well…I kinda do’ – but it is an ‘I do.’” What gives this star vehicleits reverberant horsepower still after 50 years is the unblinking honesty behind the caustic wit and affluent trappings. “Hepburn and Finney do love each other, but all their initial vows and promises have been broken,” Basinger assesses. “But for an audience’s sake, the couple will soldier on. There’s no resolution for this couple, only more confusion and uncertainty, and probably more affairs…and, ultimately, another new car, another journey across time. These two will always be on the road. And yet the movie shows, if constructed chronologically, a story of love and marital happiness established, destroyed, and if not fully reassembled, at least maintained. The purposeful question – ‘What happened to us?’ – has been asked.” Since its mixed critical and audience reception in 1967, Two for the Road has grown in stature. “The ingenious cross-cutting which allowed Joanna and Mark’s vehicles to literally pass their earlier (or later) cars on the very same road, fully realizing the cinematic equivalent of Raphael’s original idea, made Two for the Road a masterful piece of cinema that flew from sequence to sequence like a train of thought, key occurrences leading to similar moments in time, just as our minds would think of them, in stream-of-consciousness fashion,” The Sound of Music FAQ scribe Barry Monush concluded in Everybody’s Talkin’: The Top Films of 1965-1969. Critic Danny Peary enthusiastically made Hepburn the 1967 Best Actress choice for her Two for the Road performance (as opposed to the same year’s also impressive Wait Until Dark work) in his Alternate Oscars compendium (rather than the Academy’s sentimental selection of the other Hepburn, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’s Katharine), and in his other marvelous reference book Guide for the Film Fanatic reflects on Two for the Road’s Joanna and Mark: “We come to like these two people more than they do themselves – and we understand why their marriage has lasted and will survive. They are a great couple, flaws and all; they are one of the few screen couples since William Powell and Myrna Loy who make marriage seem exciting. Even their squabbling is romantic. Finney and Hepburn are wonderful – it’s too bad they never teamed up again.” Also starring Eleanor Bron, William Daniels and Claude Dauphin, Twilight Time’s 50th anniversary hi-def Blu-ray teams you up with the gorgeously remastered movie in 1080p, as well as Henry Mancini’s tender score on an Isolated Track, a Newsreel Excerpt and two Audio Commentary tracks, one with director Donen and the other with TT’s in-house two for the road, film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. Hitch a ride January 17. Preorders open January 4.