I always like to have a variety in this blind spot series, so for April I decided to watch the 1967 romantic comedy Two for the Road. As a huge Audrey Hepburn fan this is one I had heard about but never seen and was excited to check off my list.
It’s interesting because this film was made 2 years after Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou which we just reviewed for The Criterion Project (my podcast with my friend Conrado about films on The Criterion Channel. We had guest artist Esther Ko on and it’s a fun listen!). I mention it because both films feel very similar. They are both about couples going on road trips in France and their relative tumultuous relationships. I don’t know which one I like better but they are both unusual romances to say the least.
Two for the Road is about a couple (Hepburn and Albert Finney) and their relationship over 12 years all told with their road trips in France over the years. It’s an experimental film like Pierrot le Fou and goes in and out of non-linear storytelling without any notice of a changing time (you have to tell by what car they are suddenly driving). It’s all very creative and the script is well done.
All that said, this is one of those movies I admire more than I like. I found both of them to be very unlikable and cynical takes on romance just aren’t my thing. I can see it is well done and understand why it was given an Oscar nomination for best screenplay.
However, I like my romances more on the fluffy-side (big shocker coming from the Queen of Hallmark movies). Even when they were supposed to be young and in love it still felt cynical and I wasn’t feeling the chemistry between Hepburn and Finney.
Two for the Road is directed by Stanley Donen with style and I can see why Roger Ebert said it was a ‘romance for grown ups’. Like I said, it’s well done but just not for me. This makes giving it a grade difficult (these are the hardest reviews to write) but I will go with…
For the most part for Scrooge Month if I saw a version I did not care for I let it go and moved on to the next one (animated versions have been rough!). But the Albert Finney version is so iconic that I feel like I need to talk about it. Alas, it is not a favorite of mine. If you like it that is awesome. Sincerely but it took turns that I was not a fan of.
Scrooge is clearly a result of the huge success of Oliver! in 1968. Coming out in 1971 it is a musical version of the Christmas Carol story (like Oliver! was a musical version of Oliver Twist). Just a reminder Oliver! won Best Picture when 2001 Space Odyssey wasn’t even nominated….Oscars is such a joke.
Anyway, the styling and feel of Scrooge feel similar to Oliver but it is not as true to its source material. So, let’s talk about it.
I couldn’t find a trailer but you’ll get an idea from the screen caps and photos I show.
Albert Finney as Ebenezer Scrooge
Alec Guinness as Marley’s ghost
Edith Evans as Ghost of Christmas Past
Kenneth More as Ghost of Christmas Present
Paddy Stone as Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
David Collings as Bob Cratchit
Frances Cuka as Mrs. Cratchit
Richard Beaumont as Tiny Tim
Michael Medwin as Fred, Scrooge’s nephew
Mary Peach as Fred’s wife
Gordon Jackson as Tom, Fred’s friend
Anton Rodgers as Tom Jenkins
Laurence Naismith as Fezziwig
Kay Walsh as Mrs. Fezziwig
Suzanne Neve as Isabel
The cast is honestly fine in the film. It’s not my favorite but it’s not the reason it didn’t work.
Scrooge- At first I kind of liked Albert Finney as Scrooge. I like when his anger is filtered by his work and not just anger at everything and everyone . He is mad at Fred for interrupting his work. Same with the Benefactors. However, when Scrooge meets Present he drinks from the milk of human kindness and for the rest of the movie Finney appears to be half drunk. That kind of inebriation works for the Crazy Scrooge moments but not throughout the whole film.
Also there are times when Finney seems to be playing Quasimodo more than Scrooge. He is a sharp, capable businessman not someone with special needs that is hunched over and garbling words.
Strengths- Like I said the cast is pretty good. Alec Guinness is fine as Marley (in the early section at least).
A few of the songs are engaging. I really liked the opening number and the credits sequence a lot. Also David Collings was fine as Bob Cratchit although the Cratchit scenes didn’t quite work for me. Cratchit actually defends Scrooge too much in the toast. It doesn’t feel genuine and the Cratchit’s must feel genuine.
The scenes with Isabelle and the songs there are fine, and Finney actually plays the young Scrooge which I doesn’t happen very often.
The sets are also pleasant to look at until it takes a turn…
I combined these because they are basically one in the same. There are a lot of problems.
1. It takes too long to get to Past- 40 minutes. Why? Because of the songs. I still hold the best musical version of Christmas Carol is Muppets Christmas Carol and the reason why is because most of it’s songs tell the story. For example, we hear all about Scrooge in the opening number.
In this film the songs, competently written as they might be, stop the narrative. We don’t need a song about how Scrooge hates people. We already know that . Nearly every song tells us things we already know so it slows everything down.
And really Scrooge taking the time to sing a song about how he hates people doesn’t really fit with his character. He is totally absorbed in his work and would want to get back it as soon as possible. Again, in the Muppet version the songs are sung about Scrooge, not from him until the end when Scrooge singing is appropriate .
They also make some strange casting choices like Edith Evans as Ghost of Christmas Past. Everything from her costume to her demeanor did not fit that ghost at all.
Kenneth More is ok as Present but again I don’t like that he gets Scrooge drunk.
Then we get to Future and things start going downhill. We get a song called ‘Thank you Very Much’. This is sung by a mob gathered to cheer on the death of Scrooge and the removal of their debts. First of all they will be transferred to someone else. In the book the couple is grateful for a few days respite from the loan, not tearing up loan books.
But even if the loans are forgiven aren’t the people supposed to be an example of the goodness of Christmas? It is only in the slums of the Pawn Shop that we see the glee over Scrooge’s things. Not a mob of people singing with a coffin coming out. That felt so against the tone of the story to me.
Plus, it is awkward because Scrooge thinks they are cheering him on . He says ‘I have labored all my life to be worthy of this demonstration”. I felt bad for Scrooge. Again, he’s a smart businessman and understanding the events of the Future humble him and make him want to change. This just feels uncomfortable and not in keeping with Christmas…
But then it takes another turn. We get the scene with the grave and I thought ‘that’s strange. There are still 20 minutes left in this movie. What else are they going to do?’
Well my friends Scrooge goes to Hell. That’s right H E L L. And who does he see in Hell. Why Jacob Marley of course. (Wasn’t Jacob’s hell to wander the earth and see the joy he could not enjoy?). The special effects are laughable. The sets look like a a cheap haunted house.
Can you believe it? In the world of this story where Scrooge is going to be the head clerk for Lucifer in Hell why would Marley be given the opportunity to come and rescue his friend? And why would he seem happy to see said friend in Hell? Wouldn’t he be a little disappointed that his friend didn’t listen to the Spirits?
The chains are over the top, the oily chain laborers are ridiculous, the whole thing was like something out of an old Ed Wood movie. I sat there stunned at what I was seeing.
Scrooge is terrified at the idea he is the dead man left alone with no mourners. That is enough. If it takes Hell to turn him around is that not a pretty shallow repentance? It’s kind of like if I told you I was going to beat you to death if you didn’t say you were sorry than of course you will say you are sorry.
If I told you how your injury to me had hurt me and how it left you alone and you pondered it and said sorry that is true repentance worthy of change. Anyone would repent if shown Hell.
Maybe other people can overlook this turn the story takes but I could not. So this is definitely one of my personal least favorite versions. I am open to different interpretations. I think I’ve shown that (I even had a laugh at Tori Spelling) but at least those versions kept the basic framework of miser, visitors, recognizing loneliness and despair, and change.
This is like a Wagnerian opera where we are told how awful sin is and how the wicked will be punished without any of the subtlety or heart of a true conversion experience.
So this is a definite skip. On to better versions.