Sunday, December 5, 2010

Review – Sabrina

December 5, 2010

Sabrina – U.S., 1954

One of the best things about Billy Wilder’s Sabrina is its length. That may be strange to some, but bear with me a moment. Sabrina could easily have been ninety minutes long without sacrificing much of the story. However, it’s hard to imagine what could have been cut to make such a running time. The humorous scenes in which the Larrabee’s servants read Sabrina’s letters aloud and delight at the sentiments she expresses? Sure, they’re not completely essential, but there are quite delightful. I suppose the scenes in France are not exactly essential either, but they do provide some of the biggest laughs in the film. Where else can you see a master chef devote an entire day to teaching the proper way to crack an egg? Truth be told, I can’t think of anything that I would cut. My hat’s off to Billy Wilder. The man knew how to both craft a story and film it.

Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn) is the daughter of the Larrebee family chauffer, and judging from the number of industries the family has a hand in, it’s safe to say that the Larrebee's are one of the wealthiest families in America. The Larrebee’s have two sons. First, there’s the older one, Linus (Humphrey Bogart). He’s smart, single, and dedicated to the family business. His young brother, David (a very funny William Holden), is rather different – immature, impulsive, and unreliable. He’s also the object of Sabrina’s affection. In a way, she should consider herself fortunate that he isn’t aware of her feelings. Three times divorced, David is hardly the person her father would wish for her. His persistent message is: “Don’t reach for the moon, child.” I can’t think of any young person in love who’s ever heeded such advice, and Sabrina is no exception. However, the pain of a broken heart is a bit too much for her to bear, and in a moment of weakness, she writes a letter saying good-bye to her father. The scene is shot masterfully, for Wilder allows Hepburn to sit quickly contemplating her actions and looking around her room one last time before leaving for the garage. Hepburn expresses a range of emotions without uttering a single word. In the garage, there’s an equally impressive moment, during which Sabrina bends low to the ground coughing, and then almost by accident notices the moon through a window. She looks at it, this object that she has always reached for, this thing that has always seemed out of reach, and she seems fully aware that this may be the last time she does so. Hepburn plays both scenes perfectly.

Later, Sabrina is sent to Paris to learn the art of cooking, for her father hopes she’ll become a chef like her mother, and if she happens to also get over David while she’s there, that’s even better. When she returns two years later, the naïve child is nowhere to be seen, replaced by a rather mature woman – she’s knowledgeable, fashionable, skilled, and unfortunately still madly obsessed with David. This time, however, she’s in luck, for David takes one look at her and falls head over heel in love. Everything would be perfect if only for one rather major road block: he’s engaged – albeit unwillingly, but engaged none the less. Surprisingly, this fact doesn’t seem to faze her. “He’s not married yet,” Sabrina remarks. When reminded not to reach for the moon, she replies whimsically, “The moon’s reaching for me.” It therefore falls upon Linus to ensure that David does not marry Sabrina. To accomplish this, he decides to make her fall in love with someone else, and lacking any other candidates, he reluctantly nominates himself for the job.

One of the delights of Sabrina is the performance of Humphrey Bogart. Bogart has such screen presence that he almost steals every scene he’s in. This includes scenes in which he only appears in the background. At one moment in the film, David and Sabrina are flirting with each other on the dance floor, while Linus is showing guests a form of plastic that is practically indestructible. One moment he’s getting everyone to bounce on it; the next he’s demonstrating how impervious it is to fire. All of this takes place away from the main action, and we don’t hear anything that Bogart says. Yet we can tell that there’s an entire scene taking place just out of earshot, and it must have been hilarious. I laughed, and I couldn’t even hear it.

If there is a fault with Sabrina, it is its unwillingness to let Bogart’s character remain as he is, and this is a shame. It creates the potential for the same awkward picture that I had such a hard time with when I watched Funny Face – the younger woman with the much older man. After all, Paris is supposed to be one of the most romantic places on earth. Surely, Sabrina could have found someone her own age there. You may be saying at this point, “There he goes again – not accepting a film for what it is.” I prefer to think of it as wanting a film to be more challenging that it is, and throughout the film, Sabrina fights her attraction to Linus. She seems to know it’s not wise to fall for him. If the film were truly daring, it would have just let her be right. I certainly thought she was.

To call Sabrina a modern-day Cinderella story would be to oversimplify the film, for I highly doubt Cinderella would have approved of the things that Sabrina does, yet Sabrina is a movie without a villain. Sabrina is a woman simply in love with the wrong man, David is simply a child in a man’s body, and Linus is simply a man trying to ensure a business deal. If that last details doesn’t make him sound likeable, watch his speech about improving the lives of people in Puerto Rico. I wish more businessmen thought like that.

Billy Wilder gave us some truly great films – The Fortune Cookie, The Apartment, The Seven-Year Itch, Double Indemnity, Some Like It Hot, and Sunset Boulevard are just a few of his films that have left a lasting impression of audiences. With Sabrina, he again demonstrated how masterful he was at his craft. Bogart, Hepburn, and Holden are superb in their roles, and the film’s supporting cast, which includes Walter Hampden as the elder Larrebee and John Williams as Sabrina’s father ,Thomas, is a delight. Sabrina is a truly fun film that stands the test of time. (on DVD)

4 stars


Anonymous said...

I finally watched the movie, and I immediately read your reviews! WOW!
A lot of detailed observation.

Bogart's presence - check
Hepburn's alluring performance - check
wonderful and delightful details that made the movie longer than necessary - um...I disagree

The pace was nice, well articulated scenes, but there were just too many details to the film..the part with the plastic hammock, and David falling 'accidentally' into the hammock...(roll eyes...why)

I did enjoy the witty exchanges and banters throughout the film. I especially enjoyed Sabrina's father, a man true to his chauffeur status, from beginning to end.
"there's a front seat, a back seat, and a window in between"

Anonymous said...

I also like the movie.