Friday, 9 October 2015

Sabrina (1954)

My blog briefly returns to 1954 to catch up on an extra movie. When I went through the year I noticed that the movie “Sabrina” was not on the List, but was generally highly regarded. Being an Audrey Hepburn fan this seemed like a miss so I belatedly found that one and watched it between my 1955 movies.

And yes, this is a pleasant movie. So pleasant in fact I will, again, break my rule of only reviewing List movies and add it to my Honorable Mentions list. Frankly this is a movie that belongs in the 1001 book and I consider it a terrible oversight that it was not included in the 10th edition revision that was supposed to fix those problems. 1954 was a very strong year and there are better movies this year than “Sabrina”, but to be middle of the field of 1954 List movies is also quite an achievement.

“Sabrina” was remade in the mid-nineties with Julia Ormond and Harrison Ford (before he turned grumpy) in the leading roles and I know the story from that movie. To see the original movie however is like an epiphany on how this story should be told. There are four reasons for that:

Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden and Billy Wilder.

With such a team I do not really care what the movie is about, this can only be a winner.

Did I mention I am an Audrey Hepburn fan?

When she smiles it is like watching the sun rise. I am also proud to say that my wife carry some resemblance to Audrey Hepburn, I wonder if that is a coincidence… If I continue on this track this will turn very embarrassing.

William Holden is the younger Larrabee brother David who is a lazy playboy with a rubber spine and no resistance to pretty women. His brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart) is the opposite character, on the surface a hardworking business man with cunning but also integrity. Beneath that surface however lurks a romantic heart.

Sabrina (Hepburn) is the daughter of the Larrabee’s chauffeur and hopelessly in love with David since childhood. She watches him from afar and dreams of being one of his women. Two years in Paris transforms this Cinderella into a sophisticated princess and when she returns it is to get David.

David however beats her to it and in his usual style he falls head over heels in love with her. This is not so good because David is about to be married for the fourth time and a big 20m$ merger depends on it. Linus is not going to watch this deal go out the window so he works out a scheme to make Sabrina fall for him instead and then send her off to France again. He did not count on that he would fall in love with her in the process.

This is not a very complex story, in fact it is quite light, but that is not really important. Billy Wilder elegantly turned this story that could easily have been a corny rom-com or a painful triangle drama, into a charming comedy. The comedic elements are never laugh out loud funny, but small nudges at the right places to disarm a crisis or to charm the socks off the viewers. It is the right remark at the right time and that little wink that makes us smile. This is a delicate balance and few people mastered that balance like Billy Wilder. That man could direct anything, but the way he could insert something funny at just the right time is legendary.

I am also not a big fan of some of the sensibilities in the movie. Sabrina is on the wrong track to begin with. That infatuation she has is doomed from the beginning, not because David belongs to society’s elite and Sabrina does not, but because the David Sabrina loves is a product of her fantasy and bears no resemblance to the real David. When she finally would discover what a spineless jerk he really is she would get sadly disappointed. That is sort of the point with the story. Even when Linus comes into the picture and she eventually learn that she has been manipulated she soon returns to dreamland when he shows up on the boat to France. This is a celebration of the romantic dream, but it is on dangerous ground.

Then again what do I care. This movie is so sweet, so well played and so well directed that they could have played bowling for ninety minutes if they wanted. The cast is just perfect. I had some reservations with Humphrey Bogart as a romantic lead, but he did beautifully. He may be a bit old for the role and the age gap between Bogart and Hepburn is disconcerting, but when you ignore this he becomes quite believable.

This may not be up there with “Roman Holiday”, but it is a pleasant movie nonetheless. A good time with great actors and a movie I would not mind to watch again. Highly recommended.


  1. This is a rare instance where I think the remake holds up about as well as the original. You're not going to get better than the main cast of this version, but there are some moments in the remake that go deeper than this original and that I really appreciate. If you liked this, I recommend the one from a couple decades ago with Julia Ormond.

    1. That was exactly the one I mentioned. Its been two decades since I saw it so I do not remember it too well, but I do not remember it as being as good as the original. Then again, I take your word for it, I should make another go at it.

    2. In a lot of ways (like the cast), it's not as good as the original. Try as you might, you'll not do much better than Hepburn, Bogart and Holden.

      But there are places where it digs a little deeper into the characters. The remake makes her father a much more important character, and he's a wonderful addition to a good story. I rank them about the same, and that in and of itself is a rarity with a remake.

    3. Then I better find it. I really do not remember it being that good, but it is a long time.

  2. I love this movie for the same reason as you. For some reason, any movie that features the music to "Isn't It Romantic" always has a leg up in my book. I wonder why Hepburn always seems to be paired with much older men. Maybe because they were the only big stars worthy of her?

    1. Yes, the music is very well placed in this music. La Vie en Rose may be a tad corny but not when Audrey sings it.
      Maybe Audrey Hepburn was considered this little innocent girl who needed an experienced man? At least in Breakfast at Tiffanys she is matched a bit more evenly.

  3. I didn't have a problem with the age difference between Bogart and Hepburn (after all, in real life he was with the much younger Lauren Bacall), but just to show I'm inconsistent I did have a problem in that I felt he just wasn't good looking enough for Hepburn. (And yes, the earlier point about Bacall also refutes my issue with his looks.)

    1. My only problem with Bogie is that he looks like our sales manager. Otherwise he can do nothing wrong. With any other guy I would have felt sorry for Audrey.