Arabesque (1966)

Arabesque (1966), produced and directed by Stanley Donen.

Unwisely, a professor agrees to help an Arab prime minister in spy-vs-spy shenanigans in London. He must translate a scrap of ancient hieroglyphics, which must be important because people are being killed for it. He falls in with a beautiful if not entirely trustworthy adventuress and it's off to the races.

Donen wanted to repeat his success with Charade (1963), which was inspired by Hitchcock romance/thrillers like North by Northwest (1959). We have all the usual bits: bewildered hero caught up in peril, wrongly suspected of murder, drugged and forced into traffic, menaced by flying machines, and a lady love who is sleeping with the enemy.

This is lighter than anything Hitchcock did, tending toward the silly. It was written for Cary Grant and I wonder if Gregory Peck wasn't trying to imitate him. Which really can't be done: with Grant, "I didn't mean to interrupt your threat" would have packed comical punch, but with Peck it just slips by; he's too much the gentleman for sarcasm.

As we proceed into the 1960s, the old romantic thriller conventions are subsumed into the 007 world. It can be fun, but is in some ways a decline. Next stop: Fathom (1967). End of the line: Year of the Comet (1992).

Sophia Loren: anytime, anywhere. Most painful bit: Kieron Moore as the beatnik Arab revolutionary.

Henry Mancini score.

Available as an Italian all-region Blu-ray. I don't see any other Blu-ray version. [Later: a region-free Blu-ray from Universal appeared in the US].