Review: Gorgeous 'Arabesque' Complete With Cinematic Royalty - Sophia Loren and Gregory Peck

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday September 14, 2021

How did this Sophia Loren fan go so long without experiencing Stanley Donen's "Arabesque" (released in 1966)? It boggles my own mind! And when you factor in the always charming Gregory Peck and a dynamic score by Henry Mancini, you have a classy thriller I have neglected all these years! Perhaps I was waiting for the perfect transfer.

Peck is Professor David Pollack, a hieroglyphics expert hired by an Arab oil tycoon to decipher a secret message. He apprehensively agrees, and soon finds himself embroiled in an assassination plot with the lovely Yasmin Azir (Loren), who is not who she claims to be (ever, it seems). Before you can say double-cross... well, one of the issues with the film is that it is chock full of needless plot complications and too many characters.

The script, credited to Julian Mitchell, Stanley Price, and Peter Stone (as Pierre Marton), apparently went through many hands. Perhaps a few less was needed? Or a few more? It's a mess.

Donen initially relies a bit too much on trying to replicate the success of "Charade" (with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant), mirroring a lot of what made that suspense-mystery work (probably at the behest of Universal). Ironically, a year later he would make his masterpiece, also with Hepburn, "Two for the Road," where he would break all his old cinematic rules and set new ones. But here he eventually cuts his own groove and runs with it, having some fun with fascinating shots (kudos to cinematographer Christopher Challis) that are edited to Mancini's magnificent score.

Highlights include a shower scene where Peck tries not to look at a naked Loren, and a fantastic sequence at the zoological gardens.

Loren looks fabulous, making quite an entrance and dressed to the nines. Her wardrobe was specially created by Christian Dior, who received a BAFTA nomination for his work.

The film soars when Loren and Peck are onscreen together, bantering, and when Donen is allowed to experiment visually, which he does here with great flair.

The Blu-ray impresses with lovely visuals and a dynamic soundtrack. The audio commentary, by film historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson, covers quite a bit. And there are a few fun features including a 9-minute studio promo, "Music by Mancini," where the composer shows us a scene with and without music.

Convoluted script notwithstanding, "Arabesque" is a gorgeous film with two stellar performances by cinematic royalty, Sophia Loren and Gregory Peck.

Blu-ray Extras Include:

  • New Audio Commentary by Film Historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson
  • Music by Mancini: Archival Featurette with Henry Mancini and Nationally Syndicated Columnist Leonard Feather
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Theatrical Teaser
  • Television Trailer
  • Five TV Spots
  • Poster Gallery

    "Arabesque" is available on Blu-ray on September 14, 2021.

    Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep. Frank is a recipient of a 2019 International Writers Retreat Residency at Arte Studio Ginestrelle (Assisi, Italy), a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, a 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and a 2015 NJ State Arts Council Fellowship Award. He is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW, FIG JAM, VATICAN FALLS) and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild.