Friday, January 23, 2004

REVIEW: Sabrina (1954)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 January 2004 at the Brattle Theater (Humphrey Bogart: The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of)

Okay. Perhaps I was a bit harsh when I told my brother that I would have to burn my VHS copy of the Harrison Ford/Julia Ormand/Greg Kinnear version after having seen this first adaptation of Samuel Taylor's "Sabrina Fair". There are, in fact, some things that the remake does better - David's fianceée isn't so disposable a character, for instance - but it's interesting to note how many scenes in the remake are exactly like those in the original, right down to Linus shooting his astounding new product with a gun he keeps in his desk drawer for no apparent reason. (This scene may or may not appear in Yeh Dillagi, a Bollywood remake)

Still, trying to surpass Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn is a fool's errand. Hepburn is luminous on screen like no other actress before or since, and Bogart scowls and makes wiseass remarks with similar ease. Director Billy Wilder does a good job of creating a fairy-tale environment, from the opening narration to making Hepburn's Sabrina seem innocent even while she's quite matter-of-fact about trying to steal another woman's fiancé. It places us in a world of the ridiculously rich, with servants who feel happy in and, indeed, proud of their stations, and while never acknowledging the triviality of the characters, seldom looking down upon them or stooping to melodrama.

When reviewing The Barefoot Contessa, I mentioned that there is a difference betweeen a movie star and an actor, though many people can fit in both groups. Here, Bogart, Hepburn, and William Holden are doing their best as movie stars - Bogart has a wonderfully snarky exterior with a decent human being buried underneath, Hepburne is the impossibly sophisticated/naïve girl-woman she almost always played, and Holden an almost-caricatured playboy. They are fun to watch, though, and because they're in a fairly tale, their simple characters are iconic rather than flat. And because these folks are good at being movie stars, you're comfortable and familiar with everything even as the movie begins.

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