Today in Charade: Stanley Donen

23 February, 2019 at 3:43 pm (charade, film)

Stanley Donen speaks with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn behind the scenes of Charade.Coming hot on the heels of the announcement of the death of actor Albert Finney, we discover today that his director of Two For the Road, Stanley Donen, has died.

It’s been a long time since I watched 2ftR (as no one is calling it), and I had intended to give it a rewatch after learning of Finney’s passing. My main memory of it is that it did an amazing and convincing job of making the actors seem young at the beginning and older over the course of the film — no mean feat considering we had watched co-star Audrey Hepburn age onscreen over the previous decade and a half. I also was bemused by some of the late-sixties mod styles of clothes and automobiles, and overall enjoyed the push-pull of the evolving and maturing relationship between the characters. I didn’t know how to place the film in Donen’s opus, as it wasn’t as comic as most of his works with which I was familiar. Even his pictures that bent serious did so within genre conventions, so while I felt I knew how to evaluate Arabesque or even Blame it on Rio, 2ftR had been hard to pigeonhole.

In the end, I decided to watch Finney’s performance in Murder on the Orient Express, which I’d never witnessed, and put off Road for a future day in which I was feeling maudlin about relationships. It seemed easier than opening up the can of worms that I was really avoiding: that all the film buffs I know have a deep, classic appreciation for Donen as choreographer-turned-director, and I do not. So as someone who still largely eschews musicals, my trying to figure out where that film fit amongst Donen’s work would be impossible. Because most of his work still eludes me.

I don’t believe I’ve ever watched Seven Brides for Seven Brothers aside from brief clips in some sort of That’s Entertainment!-esque Hollywood retrospective. I didn’t watch Singing in the Rain until a revival in January 2017 after Debbie Reynolds’ death. Despite an attempt to delve into the tumultuous history of Moonlighting last summer, I didn’t make it to the episode in the third season that featured Donen’s choreography. I’m well aware that I’m only slightly aware of how hugely influential Donen is in Hollywood history, and my small window of being “obsessed” with Charade doesn’t really do the man justice.

Japanese program for Charade, signed by George Kennedy, Stanley Donen, and Walter MatthauAt the close of my fiftieth anniversary retrospective on Charade, I mentioned that Donen had announced he planned on directing a new feature, and that I hoped it would manifest, if only for purely selfish reasons. Despite holding staged readings of the script, which he co-wrote with Elaine May, the obituary in Indiewire informs me that despite more than a year of shopping it around, funders declined to be interested. With today’s news, I find this disheartening. May has been undergoing a bit of a career renaissance within recent months, and it’s too bad that such renewed interested in her writing and direction didn’t lend itself to jump-starting her collaboration with Donen. It still might, of course, but not with him at the helm.

The Indiewire article closes with the claim, “If you love movies, you love Stanley Donen.” I do love my small slice of exposure to Stanley Donen, and I wish I’d seen more. Luckily, while I doubt I’ll see the untitled future Donen/May project, the fact that I know there’s much of his past work I haven’t experienced will give me that chance. Requiescat in pace, Stanley. I think I’m off to order your original Bedazzled and maybe track down a documentary that will help give me the retrospective I need.

Related Links:
+ A recent retrospective of Donen’s collaborations with Hepburn.
+ Vanity Fair interviews Donen in 2013.
+ The Los Angeles Times reruns a 2006 article about Donen’s 1998 honorary Academy Award.

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