Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA, 1966. Stanley Donen Films. Screenplay by Julian Mitchell, Stanley Price, Peter Stone, based on the novel The Cypher by Gordon Cotler. Cinematography by Christopher Challis. Produced by Stanley Donen. Music by Henry Mancini. Production Design by Reece Pemberton. Film Editing by Frederick Wilson.
It couldn’t possibly come as any surprise that an attempt to recapture the success of Charade would produce a cheap imitation. What’s shocking in the case of Arabesque is the fact that the cheap imitation has been made by the same people who produced the sterling original. Stanley Donen reteams with screenwriter Peter Stone to try and once again combine suspense and comedy to the perfect degree (super perfect, as in the case of Charade), but falter more than just a little. Gregory Peck plays a classics professor who is drawn into an international game of intrigue when a wealthy industrialist hires him to translate a hieroglyphic scroll. He meets a gorgeous temptress (Sophia Loren) who insists that the men he’s working for are crooked and that he’s in mortal danger. From there it all becomes a shell game of conspiracies and near-death experiences as Peck tries to figure out who’s got it in for him and whom he can trust (and, in a flipside to Charade, it’s the woman whose virtue is constantly being doubted). Loren is quite possibly at her most fetching, and she and Peck look happy to be together as they traipse about London in his tweeds and her gorgeous Christian Dior outfits, but the script is a dull mess and the two leads have little chemistry. Peck is no Cary Grant, a wooden cinder block who simply cannot pull off either the humour or the adventurous nature of the story, and Loren seems to be humouring him while waiting to go back to Italy to film another classic with De Sica.