I saw this when it was new with my great good friend Calvin Stanley. Not very far into it we began to notice something. In every shot where he could possibly justify it—and in many where he had to reach way into his cinematographer’s bag of tricks—director Stanley Donen would frame things so that we would see things in a mirror, through a lens, behind glass, or with something projected on it. Distortions were everywhere. Shots would be up through a glass table, a car moving through the street would be seen only in passing shop windows, Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren would crouch behind a car with the rearview mirror in the foreground, and we would see the action reflected in the mirror. It got to where we were laughing at it, but happily, delighted at his determination and ingenuity. In one shot there are a dozen concave lenses set out on black velvet, each with a small reflection, and in one is Peck’s face and in the other, Loren’s, both very tiny. It was clear he was having fun.
The fun continued through the plot and the incidents, none of them meant to be taken real seriously. This was Donen’s next film after the very successful Charade, with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, and he was clearly going for the same romantic thriller magic.
But he didn’t quite get it. In fact, Cary Grant had been originally cast to play the lead, but couldn’t do it. That was probably the worst problem. Gregory Peck was a fine actor, but couldn’t “Cary” off this sort of light romance very well. He was too stiff, without that indescribable ease and good looks that made every straight woman who ever saw Cary Grant fall in love with him. (Hell, I fell in love with him the one time I saw him, in the MGM commissary as he swept through one day, and so did everyone else in the room, male and female, gay and straight. He had that effect.) And the chemistry between Greg and Sophia was off. She is certainly in the Top Ten most beautiful women who have ever lived, but with her sophisticated patrician British accent and uncaring attitude and almost too perfect make-up, she seems cool and distanced from the action.
Which is all outrageous. At one point a bad guy tries to kill them by swinging a wrecking ball all over the place. This is the sort of pointless excursion into silliness that, if you think about it for only a moment, screams out how stupid it is. Why not just shoot them? Guns aren’t that hard to find in London, not for a very bad man. So you’re not supposed to think about that. Trouble was, I did.
There are pleasures to be had here, if you want nothing more than a slick, colorful romp with two attractive people … but if that’s what you want, you’d do a lot better to watch Charade again. This is the B-team.