Universal // 1966 // 106 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Russell Engebretson (Retired) // April 14th, 2011
Ultra Mod. Ultra Mad. Ultra Mystery.
Professor David Pollock (Gregory Peck, To Kill A Mockingbird), an expert in ancient hieroglyphics, is enlisted by a Middle Eastern prime minister to spy on wealthy industrialist Beshraavi (Alan Badel) who may be plotting against him. Beshraavi's mistress, Yasmin Azir (Sophia Loren Nine), offers to help Pollock, but as the story unwinds her double-crossing ways make it difficult to determine if she is an ally or enemy.
Director Stanley Donen's Arabesque continues with the same comic thriller formula as Charade, but with Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren as stand-ins for Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Donen wanted Cary Grant as his leading man, but Grant announced his retirement from show business before filming began. Charade is the better of the two movies, but there are some similarities. Both films boast sparkling scores by Henry Mancini, include beautifully filmed locales, and feature suave leading men in the twilight of their careers paired with young gorgeous actresses at the height of theirs. But while Charade was graceful and stylish, Arabesque clanks along on a convoluted, Hitchcock-lite track that, if you pause for a moment of thought, makes almost no sense. The breathless storyline of the good and bad guys madcap pursuit of the mysterious hieroglyphic inscription, a simple MacGuffin device, falls apart under cursory inspection. I won't spoil the story by enumerating nonsensical plot points, but even the mildly analytical viewer should spot a few gaffes.
Arabesque was first released on DVD in 2008 as part of The Gregory Peck Film Collection. The 2011 standalone reissue appears to be the same transfer as the earlier release. The anamorphic picture is quite good. Colors are bright and saturated, but not artificially so. Contrast looks natural and not overblown. I did not spot any scratches or specks, and grain is present in a few darker scenes, which indicates that digital noise reduction is not excessive. Unfortunately, someone flicked on the edge enhancement switch, as there is noticeable ringing, although it's fairly mild. All in all, a nice film-like standard definition transfer. Audio is what one would expect for a movie more than 4 decades old. It's an adequate mono soundtrack with good dialogue levels and very little distortion. There are no extras at all, not even a trailer of the movie.
Gregory Peck's semi-arabesque ballet pose on the DVD cover (taken from a movie poster) treads perilously close to The Ministry of Silly Walks territory, but aptly reflects the tongue-in-cheek tenor of the movie. Arabesque, with its numerous flaws, is an easy critical target. Plot holes abound, and the lead actors are second-tier compared to the duo of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn (although Grant and Hepburn are a hard act for anyone to follow); however, I have a soft spot for this sort of comic thriller. I even enjoyed The Tourist -- an obvious homage to Donen's Charade -- in spite of its overall tepid reception. I recommend Arabesque as a rental or purchase for those who share a similar weakness for this style of mid-sixties caper genre.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Not Rated