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…
Today I had the treat to see the musical classic My Fair Lady on the big screen! It is a specially remastered edition and even included the intermission. It’s amazing how with a great film 3 hours goes by without me even noticing it; whereas, I’ve sat for 1 hour films and been very antsy. I hadn’t seen My Fair Lady for a little while but I listen to the music quite often. Let’s just say it was even better than I remembered it.
My Fair Lady was of course based on the Lerner and Loewe Broadway musical, which in turn was based on the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion. It is basically a variation on Cinderella with the homely girl finding out she really is a princess (which British nobility and genteelness basically is). We’ve seen it in Princess Diaries, What a Girl Wants and many other films. While the plot may not be groundbreaking it is executed with such warmth, humor and charm it made me smile from beginning to end.
Rex Harrison was famous for playing Henry Higgins on Broadway and his live singing with the speech singing style is proof of that kind of nightly performance you get on Broadway. Some people may see Higgins as a bit of a pig but I think the movie knows he is a pig and for the most part Eliza is up to the challenge and certainly doesn’t back down to his bullish ways. While watching Higgins I kept thinking of Sherlock Holmes or Sheldon Cooper, these characters we see from time to time who are selfish but kind of in an innocent way. They see their world as making the most sense and everyone else should just come around to their genius.
I guess if you don’t know Henry Higgins is a professor of the science of speech. One day he meets a Cockney flower girl named Eliza Doolittle played by Audrey Hepburn. She overhears Higgins boast he could teach her to be a duchess at a ball, so the next day she makes a proposal to him to pay for lessons. This starts Higgins, Doolittle and their friend Colonel Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White) on a 6 month struggle to change the way Eliza speaks.
Eventually Eliza is tested out at the Ascot Raceway where she can’t help but be a little competitive. The costumes by Cecil Beaton during this segment and the ball later on are some of the greatest in movie history. Cecil Beaton not only won Oscar for Costume Design but also for Art Direction which is also outstanding.
Notice Eliza is the only one with any color to her hat.
The hats alone are works of art.
George Cukor does a fine job directing the film with an ease and flow and an incredible attention to detail. Henry Stradling’s cinematography and the art direction make each scene a joy to watch whether it is a street in London, Ascot or the Ball. George Groves weaving sound mixing of Harrison’s live singing with the dubbed singing of Hepburn and others is also remarkable. My Fair Lady still holds the record I believe for 8 academy award wins.
Some people were upset at the time Julie Andrews wasn’t chosen to pay Eliza but with Hepburn winning an Oscar for playing a princess in Roman Holiday the choice made sense and I think she is lovely in the part (as I’m sure Andrews would have been but then we might not have gotten her in Mary Poppins!). Marni Nixon does the dub work for Hepburn and what a pro she is. To think she is the same singer for Deborah Kerr in The King and I and Natalie Wood in West Side Story it is pretty amazing.
The music is so divine. Wouldn’t it Be Loverly, The Rain in Spain, I Could Have Danced All Night, On the Street Where You Live, Show Me, I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face, are all completely lovely and I found myself singing to myself as I exited the theater. I think my favorite is I Could Have Danced All Night. It’s actually a very difficult song with a full octave range and some very high notes!
The only songs I could do without are sung by Stanley Holloway as Eliza’s dopey father, a character I could also do without. Holloway is a good singer and you can see his Broadway background but the character is such a lazy bum I don’t really find it that charming.
The ending isn’t my favorite. I would rather they went with the ending of the original play but I don’t hate it so much to ruin the film. I think with Higgins singing I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face moments before it feels more acceptable that he does love her and may treat her well.
For Sherlock Holmes fans we get to see a young Jeremy Brett as Freddy Hill. He isn’t a super developed character but there is a charm to Brett’s performance. I like him and Hepburn in Show Me.
One critic said of My Fair Lady “the film’s charm is undeniable”. I agree! That is probably apparent from the framed poster I have in my living room. 😉
It’s certainly one of my favorite old school musicals and one definitely worth checking out. Meanwhile I will keep singing the songs to myself! 🙂
The special release I saw is available for pre-order right now on Amazon with all kinds of special features. I know I have it on pre-order!
Overall Grade- A (not an A+ just because the Dad stuff isn’t my favorite)
I just had a neat experience. Cinemark movie theaters have a Cinemark Classics series where about 3 times a month they show on the big screen a classic movie. I recently enjoyed It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve and today I saw arguably my favorite movie (definitely in top 3) Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
It might surprise you that a good little Mormon girl from Utah loves a movie about a call girl and a male slut who get drunk and make terrible life choices. That’s the thing. I don’t need my characters in books and movies to make the same choices I would, or even be admirable. They just need to teach me something and Holly Golightly does that in spades.
I will put it out there that I think Holly Golightly is one of the most complex characters in movies. She’s a puzzle and every time I see the movie I learn something new about her.
I love characters that are contradictions and Holly is full of them from the moment we meet her. Of course her first scenes are in the iconic black dress and costume jewelry looking in the windows at Tiffany’s and eating a croissant. She looks like she could be off to the Oscars tiara and all.
Then the next scene is her letting Paul into her dumpy apartment with no furniture in an oversized shirt. Too top it off we learn she is going to visit a man in prison and gets $50 to go to the powder room from men.
She has strange philosophies on life like not naming her cat and fighting what she calls the mean reds:
“The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?”
And what does she do when she has the mean reds? Why go to Tiffany’s of course!
“Well, when I get it the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany’s. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there. If I could find a real-life place that’d make me feel like Tiffany’s, then – then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name!”
Isn’t that interesting? The woman who throws crazy parties and plans to marry for money twice in the movie likes Tiffany’s not for the diamonds because it is quiet and calming. See what I mean about a complex woman?
Holly is also the woman who can look like a star in minutes to go to a prison.
But is probably the most honest in a scene where she is simply strumming a guitar looking like she is ready to clean the house. Actually she is honest in both scenes. That’s what makes her so interesting. As OJ Berman says “she’s a phony but she’s a real phony” or in other words she’s like all of us.
We find out she has been running in her life. She ran from her child bride husband Doc (probably for the best but it isn’t as cut and dry as you’d think).
I love this scene when she tells Doc she’s a wild thing.
“You musn’t give your heart to a wild thing. The more you do, the stronger they get, until they’re strong enough to run into the woods or fly into a tree. And then to a higher tree and then to the sky”
If we think about the end when Paul tells her about being a wild thing it is so perfect. To use Holly’s lingo she’s ‘just a scared little mouse” . In a way she has become used to fear, proud of it even if it gives her the mean reds from time to time.
“I’ll never get used to anything. Anybody that does, they might as well be dead”
Of course Audrey Hepburn is the star of the picture but George Peppard is lovely too as a man who has given up. He’s settled for a convenient love, living and life. It is such a contrast to Holly but both are equally lost. I think that is why she gives him a new name. It is the only way she who wears so many faces can relate to this person.
In a way it is an extremely hopeful picture as all love stories really should be. That no matter how screwed up we are (and aren’t we all) there is someone out there who will love us for it. That is why I love the ending so much.
Holly tells Paul “I’m not going to let anyone put me in a cage.
Paul: I don’t want to put you in a cage. I want to love you.
Holly: It’s the same thing.
Paul: No it’s not.
Then she throws out the cat and he gets up to leave. And this is my favorite speech in all of movies.
“You know what’s wrong with you, Miss Whoever-you-are? You’re chicken, you’ve got no guts. You’re afraid to stick out your chin and say, “Okay, life’s a fact, people do fall in love, people do belong to each other, because that’s the only chance anybody’s got for real happiness.”
You call yourself a free spirit, a “wild thing,” and you’re terrified somebody’s gonna stick you in a cage. Well baby, you’re already in that cage. You built it yourself. And it’s not bounded in the west by Tulip, Texas, or in the east by Somali-land. It’s wherever you go. Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.”
Both of these characters have been lost but in different ways and he is absolutely right ‘no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself”. That’s why it is so important we find people who love us and who will help us get out of those cages. Help us deal with the mean reds and the often strange choices we make. People who will love us no matter what.
That’s the hope of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. That all humans can be redeemed from our various transgressions through love. It’s kind of like in Les Mis when they say ‘to love another person is to see the face of God”.
Anyway, I love Breakfast at Tiffany’s and I love Holly. She’s so much fun and yet fascinating at the same time. The only part of the movie I don’t like is the embarrassing racist performance of Mickey Rooney as a Japanese photographer who lives upstairs from Holly. I so wish that character didn’t exist. It’s just awful for a white man to be playing a person of another race and the makeup, voice, and teeth make it even worse if that is possible.
But I try to ignore that part because the rest in my eyes is perfect. It is also one of the few adaptations that actually improves upon the original source material which despite being written by Truman Capote isn’t nearly as nuanced and tough to pin down as the script by George Axelrod.
The great Blake Edwards deserves a lot of credit for his direction which is so appealing and then garish when it has to be.
Finally the music by Henry Mancini is perfect. I love they didn’t dub Audrey. It helps add a vulnerability a more polished singing performance wouldn’t have had. I could listen to Moon River all day and sang it for voice lesson recital a while back.
It’s such a beautiful song because it captures the contradictions in the movie. It’s a dream maker and heart breaker at the same time. And then it ends just as the movie ends with hope for our heroes.
“Two drifters off to see the world. There’s such a lot of world to see. We’re after that same rainbow’s end, waiting, round the bend”