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Two for the Road

Two for the Road(1967)

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Plenty of 60s-style sophistication is on display in Director Stanley Donen's bittersweet comedy/drama Two for the Road. Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn star as Mark and Joanna Wallace, a couple who have been together for so many years that they have become the "old married couple who sit at the table in silence" for which they have always had so much disdain. As they cross Europe by car with their marriage seemingly on the rocks, the story alternates between the present and memories of several other similar trips they have experienced together over the years throughout their relationship, slowly revealing the flaws and foibles that would both draw them apart, and at the same time inextricably bind them together.

They first meet when Mark is hitchhiking across France and Joanna is traveling with an all-female singing group led by a beauty named Jackie (Jacqueline Bisset). Mark is instantly attracted to Jackie, and when the rest of the girls are fortuitously stricken with chicken pox, Mark plans to spirit her away to join him on the road. Unfortunately, Jackie herself succumbs to the disease, and Mark is left with Joanna, the only one in the brood who is immune to it. They manage to fall in love as they make their way across the country, while Mark expounds at length on his natural antipathy toward marriage.

Another thread finds the pair now married and traveling across Europe by station wagon along with family friend Cathy (Eleanor Bron), her husband Howard (William Daniels), and their nightmare child Ruth, the product of a permissive upbringing that has the quartet bowing to her whims. This trip is contrasted with a much later one during which Mark and Joanna go on the road with their own young daughter, whose behavior is decidedly better than that of her parents, who bicker about everything, including whether or not they're bickering ("Just because you're using a silencer doesn't mean you're not a sniper," Mark quips early in the film).

Little by little, through these small and telling moments, we learn the trurth behind Mark and Joanna's troubled marriage: that these are people who are most comfortable communicating with each other through barbs and insults, and despite outward appearances they were made for each other.

Two for the Road is a difficult movie to warm up to, since its central characters are so doggedly unpleasant; and the screenplay, which aims for elegance and sophistication has a tendency to come off as smug: despite its self-consciously challenging structure, the story itself is surprisingly conventional, and one that was told much more concisely and with more heart and humor in the Cary Grant/Irene Dunne film The Awful Truth.

The film really owes its success to sheer star power: Hepburn gives what is perhaps her best performance in a part that requires more subtlety than most of the other roles she would play. She meets the challenges of the material with great finesse, particularly given Frederic Raphael's deliberately repetitious script. Finney is probably incapable of giving a bad performance, and his work here is so richly textured and so completely believable that he provides layers to the role of Mark that are missing from the screenplay. Of the supporting cast, The one true standout is Eleanor Bron, who most will recognize from The Beatles' film Help!, and more recently from her role of Joanna Lumley's demanding mother on Absolutely Fabulous. The characters of Cathy and her husband are an obvious sendup of A.S. Neil's Summerhill school of permissive child-rearing that was popular in some quarters in the 60s, but the eminently talented Bron takes the role of the mother beyond stereotype, letting us see the angry woman seething beneath the surface.

For their Studio Classics release to DVD, Fox has performed a massive digital restoration to the film, cleaning and color-correcting it to bring it back to its original glory. The result is nearly pristine source material that yields a lovely transfer that does full justice to Christopher Challis' beautiful cinematography. The same is true for the full bodied audio presentation, which gives a crystal clear presentation of Henry Mancini's score. The disc includes a feature length commentary by Donen.

For more information about Two For the Road, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Two for the Road, go to TCM Shopping.

by Fred Hunter