A great film and one of the most unique American movies ever produced in the style of the French New Wave, Two for the Road has lost none of its flavor or bite in the half a century since it was first introduced.
The Production: 5/5
The best film of 1967 wasn’t actually the critics and Academy choice In the Heat of the Night nor the popular box-office champion of the year The Graduate but rather Stanley Donen’s stylish, sophisticated view of a troubled, quirky marriage in Two for the Road. Featuring one of the most urbane scripts for a romantic dramedy written to that time and directed by a Hollywood veteran using French New Wave stylish chic to tell his story, Two for the Road remains even all these years later a perceptive and complex view of marriage in its many facets. Odd that it came a year after the coruscating Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, another cinematic examination of a tottering marriage that seems odd to outsiders but seems to work for the couple involved personally in it.
Coupled for a decade, Mark (Albert Finney) and Joanna (Audrey Hepburn) Wallace have endured many highs and lows in their topsy-turvy life together beginning with a chance meeting when she was a member of a school female vocal group and he’s a young would-be architect wandering around France for inspiration. Thrown together when a case of chicken pox robs him of the girl (Jacqueline Bisset) he was originally interested in, the two begin hitchhiking together and find a mutual kinship for one another early on which eventually blossoms into love, marriage, and parenting despite infidelities on both sides and a marriage which more and more exists on sarcasm and sniping as much as it does on love and support.
Oscar-winner Frederic Raphael (who was also nominated for his story and screenplay for this film, shockingly its only Oscar nomination) has taken about a half dozen memorable time periods in the couple’s relationship (all tied in with travel either on foot or in various vehicles, hence the film’s title) and then artfully juxtaposed the segments in order to scramble moods and tones into a meaningful whole punctuated by biting, razor-sharp dialogue that is witty, funny, or poignant in varying degrees. Good times and bad times split years apart can in his unique arrangement come back-to-back or interrupt one another with a striking and unexpected shift in emotion in the blink of an eye. Stanley Donen has directed the film with such stylish élan that segues are accomplished cleverly but without undue attention being brought to his staging (a van running through chickens on the road introduces the chicken pox plot point into the story; a character diving onto a bed jump cuts into a plunge into a swimming pool, a near-fatal breakup moment for the couple is climaxed by a slapstick antic). One is never quite sure where the screenplay is going or what the mood will be on its journey to its conclusion, but all of it is set to one of the most enchanting Henry Mancini scores in the composer’s entire filmography. While the patchwork arrangement of sequences may seem confusing on paper, the filmmakers have made the audience’s job much easier by allowing us to piece together the timeline as we watch through the various cars the couples have, the hairstyles and outfits worn by its leading lady, and a repetition of motifs – Mediterranean seashore visits the couple enjoys or endures at various stages of their marriage, the same hotel accommodations at different stages of their financial situation, and the unforgettable French vacation the couple shares with an obnoxious American couple (William Daniels, Eleanor Bron) with the world’s most annoying brat of a daughter (Gabrielle Middleton), unquestionably the sequence we enjoy returning to most often but which sadly ends once the child spills her mother’s real opinion of the woman who married her long-ago beau Mark.
This is an Audrey Hepburn we’ve never seen before in Two for the Road: brittle, jaded, even profane at certain moments and with not a Givenchy dress in sight (though her mod wardrobe throughout is an absolute knockout) and yet she’s still the elfin charmer with those bright, occasionally sad eyes and hopeful expression who never gives up on the marriage even when she embarks on an affair she doesn’t even attempt to hide from her neglectful husband. She’s playing quite a bit younger than her actual age in much of the picture, and yet we don’t mind: she is ageless and timeless. Albert Finney really enjoys the rascally rogue he acts here, in some ways a 20th century version of his award-winning Tom Jones as he philanders in secret and yet is heartbroken when his wife does the same openly and manages throughout the film to never lose our affection with his forgetfulness (a running gag with a passport never gets old), his klutziness, and his needfulness (unquestionably, despite their problems, he cannot be happy without Joanna). William Daniels is perfection as the persnickety fussbudget father planning their vacation to the last kilometer and franc, ably abetted by Eleanor Bron as the somewhat snooty wife and Gabrielle Middleton as their demon spawn. Claude Dauphin as Mark’s demanding boss Maurice and Nadia Gray as his wife Francoise (who may or may not have had her own affair with Mark) show up importantly in the later sequences. Georges Descrieres stiffly plays Francoise’s brother David whose attentions to Joanna sweep her off her feet.
3D Rating: NA
The original Panavision 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in 1080p using the AVC codec. Fox has delivered a near-perfect transfer of this stylish and gorgeously appointed film with the added detail enabling us to see facial features, hair textures, and those fantastic fashions in great detail. Color is wonderfully solid and consistently rendered including luscious and appealing skin tones (one can almost feel the sunburn in one of the film’s most memorable compositional shots). There is the slightest bit of moiré glimpsed traveling across Albert Finney’s arm in a bedroom close-up, but otherwise, the film is gloriously clean and artifact free. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.
The disc offers DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono and stereo (the default) tracks, but the stereo seems very undemonstrative and barely present. The mono track is a much sturdier and more effective aural experience with the expertly recorded dialogue, great Henry Mancini music, and atmospheric effects balanced very nicely in the mono track. There are no age-related artifacts to contend with here.
Special Features: 4/5
Audio Commentaries: ported over from the DVD is Stanley Donen’s stop-and-start comments on his film with lots of long pauses between comments the longer the film runs. Better is the new commentary with film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman pointing out their pluses and minuses on the film in entertaining fashion.
Isolated Score Track: presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono.
Fox Movietone Newsreel (1:45, SD): silent footage of the 1967 Academy Awards where Audrey Hepburn (nominated for Wait Until Dark but unfairly not winning) presents Best Actor to Rod Steiger and George Cukor accepts Katharine Hepburn’s Oscar for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner from Sidney Poitier.
Theatrical Trailer (2:17, SD)
Six-Page Booklet: contains some color stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s perceptive essay on the movie.
A great film and one of the most unique American movies ever produced in the style of the French New Wave, Two for the Road has lost none of its flavor or bite in the half a century since it was first introduced. The Twilight Time Blu-ray is aces all around and comes highly recommended. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.