Of all the restorations being touted at this weekend's third annual TCM Classic Film Festival, the one I'm most excited about is "Two for the Road," screening Friday at the Chinese (with a guest appearance by director Stanley Donen). The Mod, bittersweet, time-warping rom-com from 1967 has Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney at their very best. I'm not kidding. I'll take "Two for the Road" over "Breakfast at Tiffany's" any day. Its theme song was even Henry Mancini's favorite.
Like "Bonnie and Clyde" and "Point Blank," "Two for the Road" was a unique genre-bender. It brilliantly co-opted the New Wave and Alain Resnais, in particular: overlapping time and space and zigzagging memories, as Hepburn and Finney re-evaluate their troubled marriage by recalling a series of vacations in the South of France. It was all about the dark side of the swinging sixties in exploring the naked truth about love, romance, marriage and disillusionment.
The film totally demystified Hepburn before transforming her into an even stronger icon. And Finney turned his roguish "Tom Jones" image into an asshole. Imagine his character preferring Jacqueline Bisset and thinking of Hepburn as second best when they wind up together after an outbreak of chicken pox. Not an ideal romantic start. But Hepburn and Finney are divine together. And it becomes instantly clear how much they need each another: he brings her out of her shell and she grounds him yet keeps the romantic spark alive. I love the symbolism of how he keeps losing his passport and she keeps it safely tucked away.
When I spoke to Finney a few years back, he reveled in the film and the period. In fact, he recalled a prophetic anecdote in which he ran into Michelangelo Antonioni in London. Finney was directing "Charlie Bubbles" and Antonioni was making "Blow-Up." And over lunch the Italian director told Finney to enjoy their creative freedom because it wouldn't last.
I also had the pleasure of speaking with Frederic Raphael (who received an Oscar nomination for his daring and incisive "Two for the Road" script). As we discussed his bittersweet experience collaborating with Stanley Kubrick on "Eyes Wide Shut," I suggested that it was the perfect companion piece to "Two for the Road." He agreed but conceded that his earlier depiction of marriage is more truthful.
As for the restoration that premieres at TCM (in partnership with Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation), it should be a revelation, according to Schawn Belston, Fox's senior vice president, asset management/film preservation. The 4K digital work was done at Sony Colorworks, and the color has been fully restored along with a cleaner image.
Still, without a good reference print, they managed to rely on the negative for visual clues. Although the color is now richer, they didn't want to over saturate it and take away from the filtered stylization to help distinguish time periods.
"In talking to people while working on it, it feels like an acquired taste that people either love or don't get," Belston offers. But it has little to do with the film appearing dated. On the contrary, "Two for the Road" seems strangely timeless."It simply comes down to tone," he believes. "It has all of those beautiful [glam] things [going for it] and yet they fight the entire movie."
Yet, despite the bumps and bruises along the way, Hepburn and Finney belong together.