James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
James Clay// Film Critic
Available now via Kino Lorber or other major online retaillers
ARABESQUE is a shocking studio film. Released in 1966, just on the cusp of the New Hollywood age Stanley Donen (CHARADE) directed a supremely entertaining comedy spy thriller. The film pushes the boundaries of visual entertainment with trippy camera movements, and a visual aesthetic that has more in common with an acid dripped weekend than the spy genre. After the huge success of CHARADE, Donen needed another hit and replicated the formula he nailed with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.
On the commentary track for the Kino Lorber blu ray film, historians Howard Berger, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson discuss how notoriously bad the script for ARABESQUE was when it came across Donen’s desk. So bad that it barely could be salvaged, which is why Donen wanted to pack the film visually. His reasoning is “if the audience is engaged visually, they won’t notice that we don’t have a story.” Unfortunately, Donen was correct; the plot for ARABESQUE is complicated and nonsensical in so many ways flubbing even the most straightforward narrative beat. However, its stars Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren are a truly excellent on-screen team.
The duo’s movie star charms are at the forefront of this film, bouncing off of each other while complimenting each other’s strengths as performers. Peck does his best to spout off a bunch of dialogue about hieroglyphics and decoding ciphers, but when he and Loren trade glances against Christopher Challis’ (CHITTY, CHITTY BANG, BANG) images, its a chef’s kiss of cinema.
BUY/RENT: This is a fascinating release from Kino Lorber’s Studio Classics line because it’s a film that was a hit but has now been forgotten. So they gave this thing the special edition treatment with a sharp slipcover and colorful original artwork (which is what brought the film to my attention).
ARABESQUE was a big surprise for me as a blu ray collector and a fan of classic cinema. It’s cliche, but this is the reason to blind buy a film, that sense of discovery can lead you down a path you didn’t know existed. Now, after falling for ARABESQUE, I need ten more pre-1970 studio films that stop mid-movie from having Gregory Peck trip out on acid.
As mentioned earlier, the commentary track is a great companion guide to the film itself, dissecting the plot and letting the audience know more about the artists.
BIRD ON A WIRE
BIRD ON A WIRE was a massive hit in 1990, grossing nearly $140 million bucks against a $20 million budget. The film has a solid supporting cast including Stephen Tobolowsky (GROUNDHOG DAY), Bill Duke (MANDY), and David Carradine (KILL BILL) trying to track down the star-crossed lovers played by Goldie Hawn and Mel Gibson who, as the box office, proved to be white-hot in the early 90s. Unfortunately, directed by John Badham (SHORT CIRCUIT) and scored by Hans Zimmer (DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY, BAWWWMMM), this repeated cable actioner isn’t able to walk the tight rope.
Above the title billed with only their first names Mel and Goldie confidently enter this film as estranged lovers who are inadvertently caught back in the crosshairs of the men who Gibson’s character threw under the bus to the FBI 15 years prior.
Relying fully on their movie star personas Gibson and Hawn fumble their way through the film’s beats. True, their confidence has never been higher, but they could have at least tried to embody their characters’ independent motivations. Alas, these two megastars were not interested in nuance, only attempting to get laughs and look good on camera.
BUY/RENT: Overall, BIRD ON A WIRE is a welcome addition to the Studio Classics line, even if the results were a little disappointing. The transfer looks great, and the soundtrack, including the titular “Bird On A Wire” theme song, is what made this film so distinctly part of its era. In my opinion, this wouldn’t have been worth the blind buy. However, there have to be many defenders out there.