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Two for the Road

Two for the Road(1967)

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teaser Two for the Road (1967)

After 14 years of international stardom, Audrey Hepburn enjoyed a change of pace -- and image -- with Two for the Road (1967), a bittersweet comedy-drama about a couple whose marriage disintegrates as they make repeated road trips through Southern France. While many of Hepburn's earlier comedies had amounted to romantic fairy tales, this one has a more realistic tone and abrasive edge. At times it calls upon Hepburn to behave in a manner at odds with her usual charming, wistful and slightly regal screen persona.

Stanley Donen directed the film from a screenplay by Frederic Raphael, who chose to tell his story in non-linear fashion, with episodes from the later stages of the marriage intertwined with scenes from its beginning. What happens in the meantime is at times left to the imagination of the audience, and at others dramatized in later sequences. The editing of Madeleine Gug and Richard Marden, with quick cuts that seemed radical at the time, reinforces the movie's edgy, New Wave feeling.

Hepburn plays Joanna, the wife of successful, workaholic architect, Mark Wallace (Albert Finney), who has his Mercedes roadster flown to Northern France so the couple can drive to Saint-Tropez to celebrate the completion of one of his most important assignments. During the drive the pair recalls past trips along the same road, including their first meeting a dozen years prior, and an unfortunate but very amusing drive with Mark's American ex-girlfriend (Eleanor Bron), her officious husband (William Daniels) and the couple's obnoxious little daughter (Gabrielle Middleton).

Another journey has the Wallaces driving an MG with spectacular mechanical problems and meeting up with wealthy Maurice Dalbret (Claude Dauphin), who will become an important client of Mark's, along with Maurice's wife Franoise (Nadia Gray). During this trip, despite the couple's vows not to have children, Joanna announces to Mark that she is pregnant. Later we see the pair traveling with their young daughter (Kathy Chelimsky).

During other episodes, both husband and wife have extra-marital affairs, with Mark pairing up with a flirty fellow motorist and Joanna having a fling with Franoise's brother David (Georges Descrires). The couple faces the possible end of the marriage, but new possibilities arise after the two face their problems honestly and Mark gets an offer to re-start his career in Italy.

Hepburn, who had previously worked with Donen on Funny Face (1957) and Charade (1963), had been the director's "first and only" choice for the role of Joanna, although she was not keen on the project when first approached. She was hesitant about playing such a brittle, jaded woman, and the risqu elements of a role that included swearing, appearing in revealing swimsuits, and suggestions of nudity. She reportedly was also leery of "avant-garde" approaches to storytelling after having been disappointed with the results of her earlier film with an unconventional structure, Paris When It Sizzles (1964).

Finally, the situations involving a bickering married couple may have seemed unpleasant to Hepburn since her marriage to actor Mel Ferrer was in a turbulent phase. (She would divorce him the following year.) But, after Donen and screenwriter Raphael visited Hepburn at her home in Switzerland, she was persuaded to reconsider the script -- and ultimately came to love it.

Donen briefly considered Julie Christie as a replacement after Hepburn became pregnant and abandoned the film -- but Hepburn later suffered a miscarriage and was able to return. Before Finney was cast, Donen had wanted Paul Newman or Michael Caine for the role of Mark. Tony Curtis wrote in his autobiography that he had unsuccessfully sought the part.

Two for the Road was originally planned as a Universal film but was taken over by Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown at 20th Century Fox. It was shot during the summer of 1966 in various French locations including Paris, the French Riviera, Saint-Tropez and Nice (where the Studios de la Victorine or "the Hollywood of the French Riviera," are located). Christopher Challis, who also shot Donen's The Grass Is Greener (1960) and Arabesque (1966), is responsible for the beautiful wide-screen cinematography.

Hepburn, then 37, at last had in Finney a leading man suited to her age range. (In earlier films she had May-December romances with such older stars as Humphrey Bogart, Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant and Rex Harrison.) Finney was in fact seven years her junior and full of youthful spirit and virility.

Donen would recall that during filming, Hepburn seemed happier and less constrained than he had ever seen her -- and he credited Finney with her vivacity. It's true that her scenes with Finney have a passionate undertone that, in comparison, often seemed lacking in her onscreen romances. Hepburn biographer Martin Gitlin wrote that the "similarities in Hepburn's current feelings and experiences in her marriage allowed her to react with tremendous realism, conviction and emotional depth." Donen thought Two for the Road marked the best performance of her career.

It was widely acknowledged by those close to the two costars that they entered into an affair during filming that hastened the end of Hepburn's 14-year marriage to Ferrer. Both Hepburn and Finney, however, remained very discreet about the matter. Later, Finney would say only that "Working with dear Audrey Hepburn is a memory I will never forget."

In another change to her onscreen image, Hepburn dressed not in the ultra-chic Givenchy wardrobe of past films, but in more contemporary fashions by such "hip" couture designers as Mary Quant, Andr Courrges and Paco Rabanne (who designed her shiny black polyvinyl "motorcycle" trouser suit, perhaps the most striking outfit in the film). Hepburn's hairstyles, moving in stages from young Joanna's carefree long tresses to a "mod" helmet-cut for the character's more mature period, are an important key to placing scenes in proper chronological order.

Vehicles in the movie, in addition to the white 1965 Mercedes-Benz 230SL roadster (actually director Donen's personal car) and the MG TD, include a Triumph Herald, a VW Microbus and a Ford Country Squire.

Jacqueline Bisset has her first substantial role in the film, playing a girl called Jackie who, instead of Joanna, almost takes that first fateful trip with Mark but is waylaid by an outbreak of chicken pox. Bisset recalled that "What I remember most about the movie is the food! We were in the South of France and the French, who are very civilized in these matters had installed huge tables beneath the trees where we'd sit down, as God intended, to eat. There was wine for whomever fancied it, and it wasn't so much a lunch break but more like a picnic in the countryside with friends."

Raphael's screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award. Hepburn's performance was nominated for a Golden Globe, but her Oscar nomination that year came instead for Wait Until Dark (also 1967), a thriller in which she played a blind woman threatened by criminals. Henry Mancini also earned a Golden Globe nomination for his music for Two for the Road. The composer said later that he considered this score the most difficult of all those he composed for films, and also named it as his personal favorite. (He also composed music for the Hepburn movies Breakfast at Tiffany's, Charade and Wait Until Dark.)

Two for the Road was critically well-received, with Roger Ebert calling it "a Hollywood-style romance between beautiful people, and an honest story about recognizable human beings." Commercially, the movie struggled in the U.S., perhaps because Americans found it difficult to accept Hepburn's new image, but did very well in Europe, where sophisticated considerations of marital life were more common. Thanks to video release the movie has gained a devoted following that is quite emotional in its support of this unusual and stylish film.

By Roger Fristoe

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