STUDIO:  Paramount
MSRP: $16.99
RUNNING TIME: 112 Minutes
-    Audrey Hepburn: Fashion Icon
-    Sabrina’s World
-    Supporting Sabrina
-    William Holden: The Paramount Years
-    Sabrina Documentary
-    Behind the Gates: Camera
-    Paramount in the 50’s – Retrospective Featurette

The Pitch

Minor Wilder is still worth seeing in a major way.

“That’s right Bill, you can fuck up to eight – ten, if they’re strung out on heroin – women on this new tempurpedic mattress material I’ve created.”

The Humans

Audrey Hepburn, William Holden, Humphrey Bogart

One of the unsung heroes of the studio system era were the makeup artists who managed to hide the extra twelve pounds of face Bogart brought to each production.

The Nutshell

Rare is the modern fairy tale that begins with a suicide attempt, but so it is: Sabrina Fairchild (Hepburn), consumed with love for the younger, roguish David Larabee (Holden) attempts just that in a fit of young angst. She’s thusly sent to Paris to get away from this toxic non-relationship and reinvents herself in the process. She comes back looking much the same but in far more stylish clothes and wouldn’t you know that now David notices her. However, David is engaged to be married to a very beneficial partner business-wise. So older brother and lifetime company man Linus (Bogart) sees to it that Sabrina stays away from David. In the process he may just have found something he spent the majority of his life putting on the backburner. The question then becomes whether or not the considerably older Linus has any chance of wooing Sabrina from her childhood crush.

…whenever a full moon strikes, you’ll hear her feral growling in the junipers tearing through the crisp night air…

The Lowdown

One of those minor ironies in the annals of cinema is that Billy Wilder revered Ernst Lubitsch, despite the seeming polar opposites that the majority of their oeuvres took.* That might be a bit of an overstatement, as both filmmakers show life in all of its different shades and permutations, with the key difference being that characters in a Lubitsch film often persevere through life’s hardships with elegance and good humor while Wilder characters will just as soon get caught and mangled in the complex machinery that is life (see Holden in Sunset Blvd., MacMurray in Double Indemnity, Douglas in Ace in the Hole, etc.). That isn’t to say that Wilder didn’t make attempts at the sophisticated trappings of a Lubitsch at one time or another. And Sabrina is the most successful attempt at something whimsical and light in Wilder’s career (Some Like it Hot and Kiss Me Stupid have a little too much murder and infidelity pumping through their veins to make them ‘light’ by my standards, which may be word-mincing, but c’est la vie), never straining believability in the way that his other work in this vein, the similarly Hepburn-starring Love in the Afternoon did**. This is due in no large part to the exemplary work by the leads, a tight wire act of a script that manages to use each actors established personality to the role’s benefit, and some rock solid yeoman’s work from Billy Wilder in the director’s chair.

Born William Fitzgibbins, Holden got his nickname from the parlor trick he’d bust out at studio dinner parties.

The lynchpin on which the film rests is Humphrey Bogart. If you don’t believe that a romance could blossom between Bogie and Hepburn due to the age gap and the general charm of William Holden then the entire second half of the film will not work. But luckily Bogie is on fire with this performance, carrying the weight of the film on his shoulders with a deeply sympathetic performance the likes of which I don’t recall ever having had seen from him before. It’s an incredible bit of luck that Cary Grant stepped out right before filming, allowing Bogie to slip into the elder Larabee role. He’s able to bring something of himself to the film (it would be awful hard not to draw a parallel between the May-December romance of the film and that of his real life) and create a sympathetic portrait of a man who gave up on romance long ago and is trying desperately to reconnect with that emotional side of himself. Holden does an admirable job of taking a character that could fall flat on the screen and making him incredibly likable despite his playboy tendencies. His relationship with Bogart works too, allowing the love triangle to satisfy itself in a way that doesn’t feel cheap to the audiences.  Hepburn is the star around which this movie orbits and she does an admirable job. She really captures the fatalism and absurd drama that surrounds young love and has that uncanny ability to convey the fairy tale premise of the movie all in the twinkling of her eye and the beaming smile as she makes her way into high society via a little personal reinvention.

Don’s attempts to add ‘taint shaving’ to the business itinerary was yet again shot down.  Almost unanimously.

The film also moves remarkably well for something that was being written and re-written as it went along, which shouldn’t come as any surprise given Wilder’s talent. Like the best of his writing it manages to be heartfelt without being saccharine, never sacrificing the reality of the characters at any point in the story. It’s this embrace of all of the bundled contradictions that allows people to be as fascinating as they are that makes Wilder’s ability to write so special. It lacks the quotability or acerbic wit that makes so many of his other works still feel completely invigorated and alive today, but the fact that this movie works and is solidly written should come as no surprise considering Wilder could’ve shit out a good script in his sleep. So even though this doesn’t reach the dizzying heights of some of his other works (which should be said, are amongst the best American movies ever made) it’s still a prime piece of classic studio system filmmaking and well worth checking out for three on-their-game lead performances and some elegant direction from a director who was more in his element in seedier settings.

During one of his mid-day benders, Bogie was entranced by the Ghost of Bogie Past, and his two cloned sex slaves, halting production for over three hours.

The Package

The cover art is the traditional image utilized to promote this film but smaller to give it that extra-special fancy library edition feel that Paramount is aiming for. It’s slightly confusing why this is a 2-disc collection unless they just re-pressed the original one disc Sabrina and added the special features to a second disc, as they material isn’t so elaborate and expansive as to justify the second disc. However, the extras that are here are rock solid and I’d like to see more classic films given this treatment in terms of a little historical background and peeks into multiple facets of the production. Best of the bunch is Supporing Sabrina, a featurette that delves into some of the character actors that populate the fringes of the movie. A William Holden at Paramount feature is welcome as well, but it acts as though the man died of syphilis immediately upon not working with the studio despite the fact much of his best work came in the late stages of his career. As always, the decade retrospective Paramount likes to spear onto these discs with a harpoon gun feels odd and misplaced as ever. Still, a lot of good stuff here to supplement a nice example of studio system filmmaking gone right.

The ‘derbies for doggies’ program never took off like the government had hoped for.

7.5 out of 10

is given a whole extra level of Bizarro-world polarities by having
Cameron Crowe idolize Wilder, despite the fact that Crowe doesn’t have
a cynical bone in his filmmaking body.
** Which is a romantic film that is desperate for an unhappy ending. Watch it, and I think you might feel the same way.

Chef Pierre here demonstrates the perfect hand motion for crafting his most famous dish: cookies shaped like erect nipples.