Saturday, March 21, 2020

Stubs - Sabrina

Sabrina (1954) Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, William Holden, Walter Hampden. Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Billy Wilder, Samuel Taylor, Ernest Lehman Based on the play Sabrina Fair by Samuel Taylor (New York, 11 Nov 1953). Produced by Billy Wilder. Black and White Runtime: 112 minutes. USA Romantic Comedy

Humphrey Bogart made a career out of doing films other actors turned down. Several of his films at Warner Bros. were his because the likes of George Raft turned them down. Even though he had reached his own stardom status, with films like The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1944), he was still not always every studio’s first choice. With Sabrina, the actor’s first film at Paramount, Bogart was second-choice to Cary Grant, who like Raft had done prior in Bogart’s career, turned down the role.  To his credit, Bogart could take almost any role and make you forget anyone else had ever been considered for it.

By 1954, Bogart had finally won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his depiction of Charlie Allnutt opposite Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen (1951). In the same year, he also appeared in The Caine Mutiny, as Captain Queeg, earning him his final nomination for Best Actor.

Knowing that he was Wilder’s second choice didn’t sit well with Bogart, who was also jealous of the closeness of the director with the other lead William Holden. Wilder and Holden had already worked on two films, Sunset Boulevard (1950) and Stalag 17 (1953) both of which had a lot to do with both men’s standings in Hollywood. Bogart also wasn’t enamored with Audrey Hepburn, having preferred that his own wife Lauren Bacall be cast in the role. He was also frustrated with the many takes it took the still somewhat inexperienced Hepburn to get her lines right. Finally, Wilder, Holden and Hepburn had also excluded Bogart from their after-hours comradery, cocktails in Holden’s trailer, which didn’t sit well with him.  As has been noted, he probably won’t have gone along if asked. He preferred to go home at 6 every day, something that was codified in his contract to do the picture.

Director Billy Wilder shows Humphrey Bogart how to dance with Audrey
Hepburn. Things were not always cordial on the set.

Meanwhile, Holden and Hepburn began a passionate affair during production. While production affairs were apparently old hat for Holden, Hepburn was in love with him and hoped to marry and start a family with her co-star. But Holden couldn’t have kids, having had a vasectomy, and couldn’t get a divorce so the affair ended when the shoot ended.

To add to the mix, the script wasn’t completed when production began and oftentimes it was a race to get pages completed in time. There is one report that Wilder even asked Hepburn to feign illness so the shooting would shut down so he could finish rewrites. Hepburn agreed which made her come across to others as being difficult to work with.

Even without a completed script, production got underway in late-September and lasted until late November 1953. There was location shooting in Long Island, including Paramount president Barney Balaban’s boat landing in Mamaroneck, New York City, as well at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, where process shots were re-done. The film wasn’t released for another year coming out on October 15, 1954. Budgeted at $2.2 million, the film made $4 million in rentals.

The film begins with narration by Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn), "Once upon a time, on the North Shore of Long Island...there lived a small girl on a very large estate."

The Larrabee estate on Long Island.
It is the evening of an annual party at the Long Island estate of Oliver Larrabee (Walter Hampden). The family’s chauffeur’s daughter, Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn) sits alone in a tree, looking lovingly on David Larrabee (William Holden), the younger ne’er-do-well son. Thrice married and divorced David is dancing with a giggling debutante and flirting with her in the indoor tennis court. Seeing this, Sabrina runs crying to the rooms that she shares with her widowed English father Thomas (John Williams).

Depressed that she can't have David, Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn) tries to commit suicide.

Her father reminds her that she’s “reaching for the moon” and that she is leaving the next day for cooking school in Paris. Still distraught, Sabrina writes her father a suicide note and then goes down to the garage where she starts the engines on all eight cars there. However, before she can succumb to the fumes, Linus Larrabee (Humphrey Bogart), David’s older brother, hears the rumbling of the cars and pulls her out.

Sabrina goes to Paris to attend cooking school.

Later, in Paris, Sabrina’s mooning over David gets the attention of the elderly Baron St. Fontanel (Marcel Dalio), who is also enrolled in the cooking school. He figures she must be in love, based on her actions in class.

Baron St. Fontanel: A woman happily in love, she burns the soufflé. A woman unhappily in love, she forgets to turn on the oven.

Sabrina writes a letter to her father catching him up on what has happened to her in Paris.

Sabrina writes to her father, telling him how the baron has taken charge of her as he transforms her into a sophisticated woman.

Sabrina's father Thomas Fairchild (John Williams) reads her letter home
to the other help at the Larrabee estate, including Margaret the Cook (Marjorie Bennett),
Charles the Butler (
 Emory Parnell). Jenny The Maid (Nancy Kulp),
and Ernest the Houseman ( Kay E. Kuter)
Meanwhile, back on Long Island, David continue to aggravate his brother with his lackluster attitude towards the family-run business. Upset by the newspaper reporting his engagement to socialite Elizabeth Tyson (Martha Hyer), David storms into Linus’ office.

Linus admits that he planted the story because he wants David to marry Elizabeth because her father owns sugar factories in Puerto Rico, which Larrabee industry needs to manufacture a new type of plastic. The financial merger hinges on the marital merger and David, who has been dating Elizabeth agrees to the engagement.

David Larrabee: What's so constructive about marrying Elizabeth Tyson?
Linus Larrabee: [offering a sheet of plastic] Taste it.
David Larrabee: [licks it] It's sweet.
Linus Larrabee: That's right. It's made of sugar cane.
David Larrabee: Sugar cane. Wait a minute. This wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that the Tysons own the largest holdings of sugar cane in Puerto Rico, would it?
Linus Larrabee: Second largest. The largest have no daughter.
David Larrabee: It's all beginning to make sense. Mr. Tyson owns the sugarcane, you own the formula for the plastics, and I'm supposed to be offered up as a human sacrifice on the altar of the industrial progress. Is that it?
Linus Larrabee: You make it sound so vulgar, David, as if the son of the hot dog dynasty were being offered in marriage to the daughter of the mustard king. Surely... surely you don't object to Elizabeth Tyson just because her father happens to have twenty million dollars? That's very narrow-minded of you, David.
David Larrabee: Just one thing you overlooked. I haven't proposed, and she hasn't accepted.
Linus Larrabee: Oh, don't worry. I proposed and Mr. Tyson accepted.
David Larrabee: Did you kiss him?

Even though he's engaged, David Larrabee (William Holden) is smitten
 with Sabrina, even though he doesn't recognize her.

Having completed her two years of training in Paris, Sabrina returns home. She has a new hairdo, new clothes, and a fluffy dog, named David, of course. Sabrina waits for her father at the Long Island train depot and is pleasantly surprised when David drives up and offers her a ride. Not recognizing Sabrina, David flirts with her and drives her all the way home before realizing who she is only when the help comes rushing out to greet her.

The help greets Sabrina upon her return from Paris.
Unfazed, David asks her out that night, before remembering that his family is hosting a party to which Elizabeth has been invited. Sabrina, who is aware of David’s engagement, insists on attending. She confidently tells her father later that the moon is now “reaching for her.”

At the party, David plans to slip away from an unsuspecting Elizabeth to dance with Sabrina, who is dressed in a dazzling gown she brought from Paris. He instructs Sabrina to wait for him in the tennis court, and he grabs a bottle of champagne and two glasses. This doesn’t go unnoticed by Linus who informs him that father wants to see him. David slips the glasses into his back pockets.

Sabrina waits in the indoor tennis court for David but he doesn't arrive.
After Oliver lectures David about dallying with the servants, Linus forces David to sit down. Of course, the glasses break and David’s rear end is impaled. While he writhes in pain, Linus goes to meet Sabrina at the tennis court. When Sabrina admits that she is in love with David, Linus claims to endorse the romance and dances with her.

David uses a specially made hammock imploring Linus to take care of Sabrina.

The next day, Linus presents David with a plastic hammock with a hole cut out for his rear end, that he had especially made that day for him. Linus announces he is taking Sabrina sailing, a move David appreciates and he thanks Linus for “taking care of” Sabrina for him.

Linus tries to dress young but it doesn't work out.
While pondering whether to go sailing in his Yale University beanie and sweater, Linus informs his father that he is wooing Sabrina in order to distract her from David and thereby protect the merger.

Linus takes Sabrina sailing.

Out on the water, Linus uses a portable record player he had in college, but only has the disc for “Yes, We Have no Bananas” a novelty hit song from back then. Sabrina is infatuated with the song. He talks to her about his two long-lost loves, claiming that he almost committed suicide over one, and Sabrina suggests that he go to Paris to forget his troubles.

The next day, while driving Linus to town, Thomas overhears him making arrangements for a date that night with Sabrina. He asks Linus to be “gentle” with his daughter but Linus reassures him that he is sending Sabrina back to Paris, first-class. However, when Sabrina arrives at his office that night, Linus tells her that he is sailing to Paris.

Linus hints to Sabrina that he's falling in love with her.
At dinner, Sabrina can’t say enough good things about Paris. She advises Linus not to bring his umbrella, as it will make him out to be a tourist. On the drive home, Sabrina sings the romantic French song “La vie en rose,” and insists on styling Linus’ homburg, pulling down the brim, so that it looks less formal. Linus hints that he is falling in love with her. When he asks her who’ll take care of him in Paris, tell him to change the brim of his hat, for example, she tells him he’ll meet someone on the boat on the first day.

Publicity still of David waiting for Sabrina and Linus when they come home from their "date".

Back at the mansion, Sabrina, tells David that she does not want to see Linus anymore.  She doesn’t admit it to him but her feelings are now confused. David, though, has another idea and insists that she be nice to Linus while he is still recuperating.  He tells her that Linus is their only “ally.”

The next day, at Linus’ office, Elizabeth goes over her wedding plans with Linus, and Linus presents Mr. Tyson (Francis X. Bushman) with the merger contract. Oliver is worried about Sabrina and Linus explains to him that he is going to buy two boat tickets and trick Sabrina into thinking he is on board until she is safely away from New York. Linus also reveals that he is paying for Sabrina’s living expenses in Paris, as well as giving her father shares of Larrabee stock.

Sabrina gets cold feet outside the Larrabee building in downtown Manhatten.

That night, however, Sabrina gets cold feet.  She goes to the Larrabee building but telephones Linus from the office lobby and tells him she cannot see him. She confesses to Linus where she is but insists she won’t come up to his office. Linus tells her to tell him everything and while she does he goes down into the lobby. He persuades her to come up to his office. They’ve missed their reservation for dinner and Sabrina offers to cook an omelet. Now, thoroughly confused, Sabrina starts to cry until she notices the two boat tickets on Linus’ desk and deduces that one is meant for her.

Sabrina finds the boat tickets on Linus' desk.
Not wanting to continue with the charade, Linus confesses his deception, and heartbroken, Sabrina takes her ticket and leaves.

The next morning, David confronts Linus in his office and slugs him after revealing that Sabrina broke off with him. David then declares he is going to Paris, even though he knows that Linus is in love with Sabrina.

During the board meeting to finalize the merger, Linus has his secretary standing by with smelling salts, as he plans to tell everyone that the marriage and merger is off. But David arrives, “late as usual” before Elizabeth, her father and the board can register their shock.

Linus takes a Larrabee tugboat out to the Ocean Liner to meet Sabrina.
David goads Linus into hitting him and admitting that he’s in love with Sabrina. After David tells him that he’s arranged for a tugboat to take him to Sabrina’s ocean liner, Linus races out of the office and has a police escort down to the docks.

Sabrina learns Linus is onboard after a ship steward (David Ahdar) asks her to proper stylize a homburg for Paris.
Sabrina is already on board with her dog and looking sad. One of the ship’s Stewards (David Ahdar) brings out a homburg and asks her to pull down the brim. Sabrina gets excited but Linus comes around the corner and surprises her. They are about to embrace when Linus realizes he still has an umbrella, which he loops on the coat belt of a passing passenger.

In watching this film more than once, I’ve come to see Linus as more aggressive when it comes to Sabrina. While on the surface he begins the relationship as a substitute for David, it seems clearer that he is actually interested in her. He knows that David has the champagne glasses in his back pocket when makes him sit down, opening up Sabrina’s availability. The kiss between Linus and Sabrina in the indoor tennis court maybe keeping it all in the family but Linus wants to kiss her. For her part, the kiss seems to give Sabrina second thoughts.

Towards the end, Sabrina doesn’t want to be in love with Linus, it’s been David all her life but she is overjoyed at the thought of going to Paris with Linus that it’s clear her loyalties have changed.
Linus may have second thoughts, mostly about the age difference between them but when he is forced to conclude he does indeed love her, he drops everything to be with her.

Humphrey Bogart had gone from playing gangsters to playing romantic leads.

The film helped to solidify metamorphosis of Bogart from a gangster into a romantic lead that had started with Casablanca about eight years earlier.  Despite his troubles with the director and his cast members, Bogart gives one of his more memorable performances here and over his career he delivered a lot of memorable ones.

One can wonder how long the fire between Sabrina and Linus would last but there does seem to be chemistry between the roles. The old-saying that chemistry on the screen means there’s none in real life has never been truer than in Sabrina.

Audrey Hepburn during the filming of Sabrina.

For her part, Audrey Hepburn seems so right for the role that would help solidify her place in Hollywood. Not only is she extremely beautiful but she plays the ingenue to perfection.  You can really see Sabrina falling for Linus, despite her life-long love for his brother David. A really good performance for which she received a nomination as Best Actress.

The film also launched Hepburn into a life-long association with Hubert de Givenchy, a French designer.  While Edith Head would win the film’s only Oscar for Best Costume Design, the dresses she designed were at least based on Givenchy designs that Hepburn liked. After Head's death, Givenchy stated that Sabrina's iconic black cocktail dress was produced at Paramount under Head's supervision but claimed it was his design.

William Holden had a romantic affair with Hepburn during the filming of Sabrina.
William Holden’s David character is, for the most part, a light-hearted character without a care in the world. He flits from woman to woman and from party to party without ever having to worry about his next meal is coming from. Holden appears to be having a good time with his part and it shows. He has a very easy-going way about him and he received good reviews for his performance.

Sabrina is yet another example that Billy Wilder could pretty much direct any genre. He seems to have an instinctive capacity to make nearly any story he sets his mind to and be a master at it. While Sabrina was a success for Paramount, it would mark his last film for the studio.

The writing is so good, in part due to Wilder, as well as Samuel Taylor, and Ernest Lehman. The movie is based on Taylor’s play, so it’s hard to know what is lifted, if anything, from the stage version of the story. There are little bits here and there that show Wilder’s touch.

There is so much to recommend Sabrina. If you’re a fan of any of the main stars and/or the director you will not be disappointed. The film is well-written, well-acted and well-directed. This is a film that really stands the test of time.

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