Monday, August 23, 2004

Review: "Sabrina" (1954)

For some actors, typecasting is a fact of life in Hollywood. Some actors were simply born to play and excel in certain types of roles, and there is no shame in admitting that other roles may be beyond them. Humphrey Bogart wasn't really what you would call pidgeonholed in terms of his career. He had played good guys and bad guys, detectives and thieves, and many others in between. But even he had some roles that, well, were best left to others.

The title character "Sabrina", played by Audrey Hepburn in her second starring role, is a chauffeur's daughter. She's infatuated with the young gigilo David Larrabee (Holden) on the estate her father works for. Her father sends her to a cooking school in Paris so that she can grow up a little and forget about David. After two years, she has grown into a mature and breathtakingly beautiful young woman, but she still yearns for David. She returns to the estate in order to pursue David, but his older brother Linus (Bogart) is determined to get rid of her. Linus eventually finds that getting her back to Paris may not be as simple as he thought.

The making-of documentary on the DVD mentions that Cary Grant was originally cast as Linus. He had to drop out at the last moment, and Bogart was brought on to take his place. Mrs. Mosley and I watched this together and, true Grant fanatic that she is, commented that she would have rather seen Grant in the role. Even setting aside her personal preferences, she has a good point. Bogart is nowhere near convincing as a serious businessman, and even less convincing when his character "loosens up" near the end. His rough features and manor are at home on rainy New York streets, war-torn Morocco or a tugboat in Africa. Grant could do a lot with a nicely cut suit, a pair of glasses and a briefcase, and we the audience are left to wonder what could have been.

Holden, on the other hand, surprised me. Going in, I thought that he would be the one to be out of place as the shallow playboy David. You can hardly blame me after having been exposed to his smart, tough guys in "Stalag 17", "The Bridge over the River Kwai", and "The Wild Bunch". Yet he did surprise me, and I'm delighted to say that he ends up being more likeable than Bogart, eventhough he's the womanizer. Humphrey didn't know what hit him.

And then there is Audrey. It's a cliche, but its true: There will simply never be another one like her. The charm she effortlessly exudes blows out of the water nearly all the actresses working today. It's not their fault, of course. Charm like hers can only come naturally. Just take a look at the scene between Sabrina and David after she gets back from Paris. Most red-blooded males with any sense would give anything to be William Holden at that moment, driving his little sports car and chatting away with this radiant beauty. Hepburn is what movie magic is all about.

One other item of note is the set design. Being the super rich mogul that he is, Bogart has an incredibly expansive office. Outside of Hepburn, the office may be the most memorable aspect of the film with it's multi-branched conference tables, remote controlled doors, adjacent bedroom and even a kitchen stocked well enough to prepare a souffle. Many scenes occur here, and the director makes interesting use of the space and furniture that is available.

Audrey Hepburn is the star of this show, and its for her you'll want to see this film. Her character's stay in Paris allows the girl Sabrina to blossom into womanhood, and we should thank the city of romance for that. As for Bogart, well, he'll always have Paris, but not for this film.

Eight out of Ten

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