“Arabesque” means either s decorative design that employs outlines of living things to form a pattern of interlaced lines, or a ballet position. After thinking that neither definition applied, I decided that the design thing actually works, because the crucial coded message at least partially relies on outlines of living things.
Like Charade, Arabesque is a tale of suspense and mystery, but without the laughs. Why mention these two films together? Stanley Donen directed them both, Henry Mancini scored them both, and Peter Stone wrote the screenplay for Charade and contributed to the screenplay for Arabesque (got third listed credit).
But Arabesque doesn’t deliver like the earlier (by only one year!) movie. It’s okay, but really dwarfed by Charade. Gregory Peck plays an American, Professor David Pollock, who is working in London. He is asked by a wealthy, but shady, even dangerous, man named Beshraavi (Alan Badel) to translate a Hittite inscription. Pollock is reluctant, and the payment offered goes up to $30,000, so he accepts. There are certainly difficulties – the scrap provided turns out to be something other than Hittite. Only by ignoring everything in each cartouche except the principal organic form can Pollock figure it out. And it’s a nursery rhyme! Clue: the forms are not limited to organic ones. So it turns out to be worthless. Or does it? There is another way of looking at it.
Beshravi is staying at the London home of his mistress, Yasmin Azir (Sophia Loren). Can she be trusted? As attempts on Pollock’s life and attempts to get the inscription increase, the outlines of an up-coming assassination emerge. The Prime Minister of Beshraavi’s and Azir’s unnamed country is coming to London to sign a treaty which will give Great Britain oil rights in one part of the country in exchange for an hydo-electric dam to be built by the British, because the Minister feels that in his country the water is actually more valuable to his people than the oil. And as Pollock and the also-in-danger-now Azir try to save the life of the Prime Minister, you may snicker (I did) at the way in which he always seems to be behind Pollock and Azir in their escape tries, and he is wearing a white burnoose, making an excellent target.
Turn off your brain and you may well enjoy this movie. Just don’t expect another Charade.