Sabrina is charming, humorous and aglow with some of Hollywood’s greatest stars. Humphrey Bogart, William Holden and Audrey Hepburn star in a Cinderella story directed by renowned filmmaker Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot). Bogie and Holden are the mega-rich Larrabee brothers of Long Island. Bogie’s all work, Holden’s all playboy. But when Sabrina, daughter of the family’s chauffeur, returns from Paris all grown up and glamorous, the stage is set for some family fireworks as the brothers fall under the spell of Hepburn’s delightful charms.
Sabrina (1954) 7.0
I know that ‘Sabrina’ is considered a classic (so much so that it was remade in the ’90s), but I really wasn’t impressed with it. And it’s not because I don’t like romance, only appreciate modern films, or even hate black and white cinema. Nothing as trivial as that. I just don’t think it’s anything special.
Firstly, I don’t find Audrey Hepburn entrancing at all. To me, she looks like a gamine, a girl, dressed up as a woman. In none of the films I’ve seen her in have I found her alluring or even remotely appealing: she is stick-thin, has no shape whatsoever, is short and has long feet. Perhaps if I had a fondness for 13 year-olds she might be a draw. But I don’t.
So this puts a wrench in the story, because she is supposed to be so beautiful that all the men’s heads turn – and they lose their senses at the sight of her. I simply couldn’t buy it; when David comments favourably on her short, shapeless legs, I wondered if we were looking at the same person. For reasons that escape me, men are drawn to her like moths to a flame. Go figure.
To make matters worse, she has very little personality or charisma. Oh, sure, she gets all starry-eyed when she sees her paramour, and that’s endearing, but she’s no more than a little girl with a crush. She was actually quite credible as the young Sabrina, actually, so perhaps if they had used another actress to portray the grown up Sabrina, I would have bought into the character.
It doesn’t help that neither William Holden or Humphrey Bogart are suited for their respective roles: while Holden looks the part of the careless gigolo, he plays his character in a very unnatural way. It’s not over-the-top, but it’s also not as convincing as the part would have required. Meanwhile, Bogart fits the role of a stuffy businessman perfectly, but nary loses his pastiness when it comes to romance. I certainly didn’t feel his heart melting.
Bogart himself didn’t feel right for the part, in fact, and I think that this belief may have hobbled his performance (or maybe he was just very honest about his limitations. ). It is said that Carey Grant was Billy Wilder’s first choice but couldn’t get him. I can totally see how Grant would have pulled it off, but I wonder if it would have made the film any better. I suppose that, at the very least, it would have adding charm to the mélange.
Beyond the trite romantic drama, ‘Sabrina’ made minor attempts at humour – but it was infrequent and it was rather plain and/or corny. Perhaps the humour is subtly layered in the dialogue, as it often is with Wilder’s material, but I didn’t get that impression. Come to think of it, his funniest material would come later, after finding writing partner I.A.L. Diamond, so it’s probably not the case here.
For me, one of the more amusing moments was when Hepburn and Bogart decided to see ‘The Seven Year Itch’ at the theatre – because it would be Wilder’s next film. It was like a gratuitous plug for the film, even though it hadn’t been made yet. Still, this is only amusing in retrospect – audiences wouldn’t have known at the time. And, let’s be honest… most people wouldn’t be tickled by this anyway; it’s likely just me.
If there had been more humour, perhaps the film wouldn’t have played as blandly as it did. And, with another cast, it might have lit up the silver screen. With both… well, it quite possibly would have been a prime example of a golden age romantic comedy. But, as it is, ‘Sabrina’ is nothing more than a standard, run-of-the-mill, romantic drama. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not at all bad. But it’s conventional and uninspired.