Elaine May, the comedienne/actress/screenwriter/director who turns 86 next weekend, made news this week when it was announced she will co-star this fall in a Broadway revival of Manchester by the Sea Academy Award® winner Kenneth Lonergan’s 2001 play The Waverly Gallery. The die-hard New Yorker has been romantically partnered for nearly 20 years with another accomplished stage/screen talent who celebrates his 94th birthday today, the venerable director/co-director of a clutch of the greatest movie musicals and/or romantic comedies and thrillers, Columbia, SC, native Stanley Donen. She’s had three previous marriages and he had five, so each had some conjugal mileage on them before they hooked up – not tying the knot – and have stayed together longer than any of either one’s previous wedlocks. Donen told Vanity Fair’s John Heilpern in 2013 he proposed “about 172 times” (Has that amount grown since?) and the lady still demurred; however, the interviewer reported, “He adores her. She gave him a silver medallion he wears round his neck. It’s inscribed, STANLEY DONEN. IF FOUND, PLEASE RETURN TO ELAINE MAY.” Call them Two for the Long Haul.
Fifty-two years ago this summer, the helmer whose credits included On the Town, Singin’ in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Kiss Them for Me, Charade and other triumphs, was on a 60-day French Riviera location shoot making one of the more adult and acutely observant studies of romantic attraction and the downside of its marital aftermath of all time, the equally jolting and melancholic, decade-spanning Two for the Road (1967), written with both affection and acid by Frederic Raphael (Darling, Far from the Madding Crowd), beautifully shot in Panavision by Christopher Challis, and starring Audrey Hepburn (her third Donen ride following 1957’s Funny Face and 1963’s Charade) and Albert Finney at their charismatic career peaks. In an appreciation piece written last year for Film Comment, film historian and Pictures at a Revolution author Mark Harris contends with regard to this European-in-feel and modern-in-style comedy: “Under Donen’s steady hand, Two for the Road does what only a Hollywood movie can do: it convinces you that two beautiful movie stars tooling through France in a car are just like us. It’s everybody’s marriage that’s on trial in this film – if you have ever failed to let a fight go or said one thing too many or kept silent rather than apologized, you’re likely to recognize a bit of yourself in the shards of the Wallaces.” The movie, whose daring flashbacks and flash-forwards in time demonstrate that all the seeds of commitment and discontent are baked in to this relationship from first flush to sad resignation, is all of a piece with its storytelling and the startlingly innovative form it takes. Excerpting Harris’s essay doesn’t do it justice; by way of birthday tribute to the redoubtable Mr. Donen, read it in full here: https://www.filmcomment.com/blog/cinema-67-revisited-two-road/. And jump into the passenger seat of Twilight Time’s fine hi-def Blu-ray of Two for the Road, featuring Henry Mancini’s haunting music on an Isolated Score Track and a pair of smart Audio Commentaries, a solo by Donen and a duet by TT historian couple Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman.