November 23, 2014


Audrey Hepburn’s fame is so divorced from the actual movies she made that it’s likely many people who think they adore her haven’t even taken the time to watch Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Funny Face, or Breakfast at Tiffany’s, to see for themselves just how boring they all are. Of those four, the one I can tolerate is Sabrina, but after re-watching it this weekend, I felt strongly that the nearly two-hour film was twenty minutes too long. Sabrina showcases Hepburn’s natural charm and her unusual, captivating screen presence, as well as her striking fashion choices, via French fashion designer Givenchy. But the movie lumbers along at a much too contented pace as Sabrina woos—and is wooed by—two brothers, played by Humphrey Bogart and William Holden. (Bogart was thirty years her senior, while Holden was just eleven years older.) Sabrina is the daughter of their chauffeur, so the movie gets to “examine” the class structure. (It’s not all that convincing.) By the time Sabrina made up her mind, I was frankly bored and not too thrilled with her choice. But the first half of the film has a lot of lovely moments. The director, Billy Wilder, knows how to create a mood. Sabrina is lit beautifully, capturing the enchanting quality of studio films of the 1950s. It’s also kind of a somber reflection on unrequited love up to a point, a sort of 1950s take on what it was like to be Juliet, only Sabrina doesn’t commit suicide (she tries), and she eventually does get what she wants. She’s so obsessed with William Holden’s character that when she returns from a two-year stay in Paris (for culinary school) all dolled up and all grown up, she wants to recreate his romances with other girls, the ones she would spy on from a tree-top when she was a girl. Maybe there’s a little of Fatal Attraction in there, somewhere. There’s also a distressing kind of cultural and economic prophesying in this movie: The corporation the two brothers work for (which is owned by their father) is developing all kinds of plastics, which are indestructible even to fire, and Bogart mutters with a perverse sense of pleasure that some day soon they’ll probably be able to eat the plastic. How na├»ve we were then to think we weren’t hurting ourselves—and our planet—with our inventions of convenience. Come to think of it, many romantic comedies of the 1950s were about mildly-career-driven women (like Doris Day) dating men who worked for big corporations making strange new inventions that are strangely normal to us now.

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