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Arabesque (1966 film)

Directed by Stanley Donen
Produced by Stanley Donen
Denis Holt
Written by Julian Mitchell
Stanley Price
Peter Stone (as Pierre Marton)
Based on The Cypher
1961 novel 
by Gordon Cotler
Starring Gregory Peck
Sophia Loren
Alan Badel
John Merivale
Harold Kasket
Music by Henry Mancini
Cinematography Christopher Challis
Edited by Frederick Wilson
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • May 5, 1966 (1966-05-05) (U.S.)
  • July 28, 1966 (1966-07-28) (UK)
Running time
105 minutes
Country the United States
Language English
Budget $4.8 million[1]
Box office $5 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[2]

Arabesque is a 1966 Technicolor thriller starring Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren filmed in Panavision. The film is based on Gordon Cotler's novel The Cypher and directed by Stanley Donen.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


In an undercover mission, Sloane (George Coulouris), an ancient hieroglyphics expert. Sloane steals a hieroglyph-encrypted message Ragheeb wrote and concealed within his glasses.

Professor David Pollock (Gregory Peck), an American, has taken over an absent Professor Ragheeb’s class on ancient hieroglyphics. Sloane, working on behalf of Middle Eastern shipping magnate Nejim Beshraavi (Alan Badel), asks David to meet with his boss on a business matter;. David declines, but changes his mind after being forced to enter the Rolls-Royce Phantom IV where he meets Middle Eastern Prime Minister Hassan Jena (Carl Duering), who David deeply admires, and Mohammed Lufti (Harold Kasket), Jena’s ambassador to Great Britain. Jena asks David to take Beshraavi’s job to discover what he is up to regarding a matter of national security to his country, but David is not to mention to anyone that he has either met Jena or that Jena is already in Great Britain.

The rare Rolls-Royce Phantom IV featured in the film.

David meets Beshraavi in a luxurious and expansive house in London. Beshraavi asks David to decode a Hittite inscription – the piece of paper Sloane stole from Ragheeb. He subtly threatens that David will be a prisoner at the house until the job is complete. The house belongs to Beshraavi’s beautiful girlfriend Yasmin Azir (Sophia Loren), to whom David is immediately attracted. Beshraavi infers that David can look but cannot touch with regard to Yasmin.

Beshraavi, Yasmin, David and an English businessman named Beauchamp (Ernest Clark) are having dinner. Yasmin slips David a note, which is nearly discovered before David manages to conceal it. Alone together, Beauchamp remarks to Beshraavi that Prime Minister Jena’s signing of a business treaty with the British in two days will ruin Beshraavi’s shipping business. Beshraavi is confident that the treaty will not be signed, as told to him by a dependable soothsayer.

David meets with Yasmin in her ensuite after reading the paper, which is a news clipping of Ragheeb’s death. Yasmin tells David that Beshraavi had Ragheeb killed, and will do the same to David once he decodes the cipher. Their conversation is interrupted by Beshraavi. David is able to keep hidden until Sloane brings it to Beshraavi's attention that David and the cipher are missing. Overhearing the conversation, David wraps the cipher in a candy he has in his pocket, among others, a red one with the number “9.” As Beshraavi’s men search for David, Beshraavi demonstrates to one of Yasmin’s employees, Hemsley (Jimmy Gardner), that he can buy people for their loyalty or else exact extreme revenge. Hemsley tells Beshraavi that he saw David come into Yasmin's bedroom. Forced to show himself, David seemingly abducts Yasmin at scissor-point. They flee from one of Beshraavi’s henchmen, Mustapha (Larry Taylor). In the course of the chase, Mustapha and David get into a struggle at the zoological gardens, when another man intervenes and kills Mustapha. He identifies himself as Inspector Webster (Duncan Lamont) with CID. When a guard approaches, Webster kills him, before revealing that he is working with Yasmin. Webster knocks David unconscious.

David awakes in the back of a moving panel van in the presence of Webster, Yasmin and another of Yasmin’s boyfriends, Yussef Kassim (Kieron Moore), who is looking for the cipher. David, seeing the bag of candies on a shelf in the van, tells Yussef that Beshraavi has the cipher. They decide to use truth serum on David, after which, in a drugged stupor, he talks what they believe is gibberish about the number “9”. Believing that he was telling the truth about Beshraavi, Yussef tells Yasmin to work on Beshraavi while they throw David out in the middle of the highway. Still hallucinating, David is almost killed several times over as he imagines he’s a bullfighter and the passing cars are bulls. Eventually, he stumbles across a bicycle and rides away.

The next morning, Yasmin arrives home and tells Beshraavi that Yussef, for whom the cipher was originally intended, killed both David and Mustapha but does not yet know the coded message. While Yasmin believes Beshraavi has the cipher, Beshraavi states that David, who was seen arriving home, must still have it. Later, Yasmin bursts into David’s apartment as he finishes a phone conversation with Jena. She is able to convince him that she hates Yussef and pretends to help him because his boss, a General Ali orchestrating a military takeover, has her mother and sisters hostage. Likewise, she is only being friendly to Beshraavi on Yussef’s orders. She tells him he needs to crack the cipher so she can report back to the embassy, which will ensure their safety.

David and Yasmin go to the construction site Yussef uses as his front. They spot the van, but Webster takes the candies to eat. Following him, David and Yasmin watch him discover the cipher and telephone someone from a phone booth; they learn that person is Beshraavi, with whom Webster is entering into a double cross against Yussef. Beshraavi and Webster are to meet at 3:30, at the Ascot racetrack, which Yasmin knows Beshraavi attends.

At Ascot, Yasmin is with Beshraavi, while David searches for Webster. David and Yasmin are able to make plans to meet at 9 o’clock that evening at Trafalgar Square after David gets the cipher from Webster. David spots Webster rendezvousing with Sloane, who hands over an envelope of money. David is able to knock the cipher out of Webster’s hand, and the paper floats out into the middle of the track with the horses approaching. As David and Webster struggle, Sloane attempts to stab David but accidentally kills Webster. David runs out onto the track and retrieves the cipher just before the horses gallop by.

David makes hand written copies of the cipher, mailing the original to himself for safekeeping. He then sees headlines of the newspaper, which implicates him as Webster’s murderer. He telephones Jena for help in this matter, Jena who can offer none except for the advice to stay clear of the police, which David does as he notices a bobby heading toward the telephone booth.

Beshraavi tells Yasmin to get the decoded message from David. He threatens that he will kill her if she doesn’t succeed.

David believes that Mrs. Ragheeb (Malya Nappi) may know something important about the cipher. He tells her that Beshraavi killed him because of it. Looking at the copy of the cipher, Mrs. Ragheeb tears it up in frustration, she implying that she knew that Ragheeb was working on something dangerous. David also tells her that he is working with Yasmin, her mother and sisters in danger at the hands of General Ali. On this news, Mrs. Ragheeb states that Yasmin is lying in that she has no mother or sisters, only a father who happens to be General Ali himself.

At 9 o’clock that night at Trafalgar Square, David hops into Yasmin’s just arrived car and they drive off. Angry at Yasmin’s deceit, David lies and tells her that he does not have the cipher with him but has decoded the message, he making up some nonsense, which means nothing to Yasmin. She relays that information back to the embassy via telephone regardless. David and Yasmin make arrangements to meet later at the hotel where he is staying. After she drops him off while she heads to the embassy, David flags down a taxi to follow her. They follow her to Yussef’s construction site, she obviously having telephoned him to arrange this meeting. However, hiding in the shadows, David can see Yasmin looking for Yussef in the building, and can see Yussef operating the wrecking ball, he who is planning to kill Yasmin with it. David rushes to save her, just before the wrecking ball comes crashing to where she was standing. Yussef, with wrecking ball, has the two of them on the run through the semi-demolished building, with one near miss after another. David eventually is able to maneuver himself to a spot where the wrecking ball hits an electrical power source, sending a major jolt of electricity through the wrecking ball machine to its cab, electrocuting Yussef to death.

David is mad at Yasmin for the deceit, both about the embassy and her family. Yasmin retorts that Mrs. Ragheeb works with Yussef, she who must have told Yussef about Yasmin’s double cross against him. Learning that Yasmin was telling the truth, David confesses that the story he told her of the decoded message was made up, and that he has not yet decoded it.

At David’s hotel room with Yasmin, David, with one of his copies of the cipher, decodes the message. It is not Hittite hieroglyphics as he initially believed it to be but rather a simple children’s code. The decoded message is the nursery rhyme “goosey goosey gander”, the significance neither knows. Remembering that Ragheeb’s widow tore up a copy of the cipher upon seeing it, David finally realizes that it is not the drawings themselves, but rather something else on the original piece of paper which contains the message. Retrieving the original from the Hammersmith post office where he mailed it, David ultimately discovers the cipher was written with dissolvable ink, which leaves the actual message remaining. The coded message is, “Beshraavi plans assassinate Jena twelve thirty June eighteenth”, which is in twenty minutes time. They don’t know where to go until Yasmin sees on a newscast that Jena has just landed at the airport. Facing road obstacles, David and Yasmin are able to make it to the airport a few minutes before 12:30. They, however, have problems trying to gain access to the Jena’s press conference. In the background, Jena, who has just been asked by a reporter about the business treaty he is about to sign with the British government, states that he will not be signing the treaty upon review of its contents. Fighting the police and the crowd, David is able to get to Jena and knock him to the ground, when bullets, from Sloane’s machine gun, land where Jena was just standing. Jena is grateful to David for saving his life, David in turn telling him that the coded message stated that Beshraavi was going to kill him. Shocked, Jena asks to speak to David in private. Then, Lufti, as Jena is trying to make his way into a private room, shoots Jena dead. Yasmin whisks David off among the melee. She tries to convince him that the man who was just shot is not Jena. David is incredulous to this as he tells her that he knows Jena, has met him and talked to him several times in the last few days. Yasmin, who now knows the entire picture of David’s involvement, knows now that Beshraavi hired this man to impersonate Jena to David, without Beshraavi disclosing to the imposter that it would be a suicide mission. What tipped Yasmin to he not being Jena was that there was no recognition on his face of who she was, she who is a spy working for the real Jena.

They discover that the real Jena was abducted by Beshraavi, who is in the back of a truck in a trunk to be transported back to Beshraavi at Yasmin’s house. Beshraavi needed the fake Jena to denounce the treaty before being killed in order to save his shipping business. David and Yasmin are able to free Jena from the trunk. As soon as they arrive at Yasmin’s house, Beshraavi sees that there is something wrong with the trunk, which they quickly learn is devoid of Jena. He sees David, Yasmin and Jena running off in the distance. A chase ensues through a wheat field and through the countryside, with Beshraavi and his men almost killing David, Yasmin and Jena. The chase concludes at a bridge, Beshraavi and Sloane, with guns in hand, now following in a helicopter. Exposing himself, David finds a ladder on the bridge, and as the helicopter flies immediately under them, David drops the ladder into the helicopter’s rotor. Disabled, the helicopter crashes below them into a burning blaze.

David and Yasmin end up in romantic bliss back at Oxford.



Donen later estimated they spent $400,000 on the script alone.[1] Cinematographer Christopher Challis recalled that the film went through several rewrites. As both Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren were contracted to do the film Challis stated that Stanley Donen told him "Our only hope is to make it so visually exciting the audience will never have time to work out what the hell is going on"[3]

See also


  1. ^ a b Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p341
  2. ^ "Big Rental Pictures of 1966", Variety, 4 January 1967 p 8
  3. ^ p. 176 Challis, Christopher Are They Really So Awful?: A Cameraman's Chronicles Janus Publishing Company Lim, 1995

External links

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