Monday, September 14, 2020

Arabesque: Stanley Donen's Follow-up to Charade

Sophia Loren as Yasmin.
Oxford University professor David Pollack (Gregory Peck) is ill-prepared for spies, murder, and abduction when he agrees to translate a hieroglyphic message. On the plus side, he rather enjoys spending time with an exotic beauty named Yasmin (Sophia Loren), who may be working for the good guys...or the bad guys. Frankly, for much of Arabesque, David doesn't know who to trust.

Made in 1966, Arabesque is a breezy entertainment in which the plot is purely secondary. For the record, it has something to do with a Middle East country whose prime minister is about to sign an agreement that will devalue an oil baron's (Alan Badel) empire. The key to everything is a piece of paper with the aforementioned hieroglyphics (which in Hitchcockian terms is the film's MacGuffin).

Gregory Peck as the professor.
Style takes precedence over narrative in Arabesque, which was clearly-intended as a follow-up to the more successful Charade (1963). Both films were directed by Stanley Donen with music by Henry Mancini and with two big stars in the lead roles. More specifically, both films featured male stars who were much older than their female co-stars. A key difference, though, is that the roles have been reversed. In Charade, Audrey Hepburn's character is the innocent who gets caught up in the intrigue. In Arabesque, Gregory Peck plays the naive college professor who soon finds himself mixed up with villains and double agents.

Unsurprisingly, Donen wanted Charade star Cary Grant to play Pollack opposite Sophia Loren. However, Grant allegedly didn't like the screenplay, although the dialogue was written with him in mind. While Gregory Peck is a fine actor, it's strange to hear him spout Cary Grant one-liners--which seem to fall flat most of the time.

Loren being zipped into Christian Dior.
In contrast, Sophia Loren appears much more comfortable in the role of the mischievous Yasmin, whose willingness to use Pollack eventually gives way to caring for him. She also gets to wear a lot of fabulous Christian Dior dresses and hats. I've read that she wears twenty different pairs of shoes in Arabesque, though I didn't stop to count them.

With its colorful locations and Donen's nimble direction, Arabesque works as a satisfactory way to spend 105 minutes. Still, those hoping for a repeat of the Charade magic will be sadly disappointed.


  1. Funny, cuz the word was that Grant so adored Loren that he would do anything to be in a movie with her. Even a film about dragging a cannon across Spain.

  2. Fashion Show or not, I've tried a couple of times to sample whatever charm is to be found in Arabesque, but gave up fairly early on.

    However, thanks for putting your finger on where it may go wrong for me.

  3. Christian Dior + 20 pairs of shoes? I'm in!

  4. Alan Badel is such a chilling villain. Quote::. David Pollock: [Takes a date, then offers one to the falcon] Friends?
    Beshraavi: Flesh, Mr. Pollock. Hassan eats only flesh.
    David Pollock: I thought he looked at it wistfully.
    Beshraavi: It must have been your fingers.