Sabrina (1954)

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It’s All in the Family….

Billy Wilder’s Sabrina is a rather odd little film, wedged in his repertoire between Stalag 17 and The Seven Year Itch– the latter of which is referenced twice during the film. Sabrina is a rather light film that waffles throughout between romance and humor: this waffling results in a nice blend of sap and smiles.

Sabrina tells the rags to riches Cinderella story of the daughter of the chauffer of the fabulously wealthy Larabee family. Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn) has perpetually been in love with the younger of the two Larabee brothers, playboy David Larabee (William Holden). However after returning from a metamorphosis in Paris stodgy older brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart) falls in love with the much younger Sabrina as he tries to divert young David’s amorous charms and preserve an impending corporate merger made possible by David’s marriage to his current fiancé.

Bogart, filling in for last minute dropout Cary Grant, reportedly disliked both his costars intensely, and perhaps because of this – or the significant age difference- one never truly buys into the Bogart-Hepburn relationship. (It should be noted however, that Audrey Hepburn repeatedly played against much older leading men with great success.) Plus Bogart surely realized that this was Hepburn’s vehicle and Holden’s studio, making him the odd man out. Luckily for Bogie, he also starred in The Caine Mutiny in the same year.

Bogart does provide a strong contract to Holden (much better than Cary Grant or other consideration Joseph Cotton would have). Not only does Bogart convincingly portray the hardened business man, but by this time in his life the lifelong habits of smoking and drinking had begun to show on Bogie making his contrast with Holden all the more severe.

Holden seems to relish his role, which definitely mirrored his own life in its playboy like tendencies. For some reason here his hair is blonde. And please ignore his ridiculously overdone back flip on the board table in the last act.

It is of course Sabrina herself who steals the show, as was intended. In only her second feature film, Audrey Hepburn is the driving force of the picture. As many do, take special note of her wardrobe. Pre-Paris her wardrobe was designed by Edith Head, but after-Paris designs were done by eventual long-time Hepburn collaborator and friend Hubert de Givenchy.

What makes Sabrina work is that the humor involved is subtle without the overbearing stupidity of today’s imitations. Rarely does Wilder look for belly laughs, except perhaps when David inadvertently sits on two champagne flutes and as a result must swing in a clear vinyl hammock with a hole strategically placed to assuage his perforated bottom. Rather the jokes are witty and subtle, such as Linus reminding David what day of the week it is or Linus dictating (in his car no less) instructions to David on the location and operating hours of his own office.

Although remade in 1995 by Sydney Pollack with some degree of success, the original has intangible magic that the remake simply cannot replicate. Harrison Ford? Please.

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