(L-R) Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn and William Holden in "Sabrina"
A lot has changed since the 1950s, most notably the way we take into account, and react to, other people's feelings. Consequently, some classic old films need to be enjoyed for what they are, a reflection of an era and its sensibilities. Predictable, stagy, but thoroughly charming, Billy Wilder's 1954 version of "Sabrina" (the remake of which is scheduled to open next Friday, Dec. 15) is an excellent case in point, a representation of a chauvinistic and less touchy-feely society that is, nonetheless, based on universal emotions and feelings.
Sabrina Fairchild (Audrey Hepburn) is a starry-eyed chauffeur's daughter living on the grounds of a stately Long Island mansion. Long in love from afar with David Larrabee (William Holden), the polo-playing son of the resident wealthy industrialist, she is sent to a Paris cooking school by her father to learn the fine art of haute cuisine in hopes that she will forget her unrequited love. Two years later, she returns as a cultured and sophisticated woman. Naturally, David immediately falls for her and threatens to throw over his sugar-heiress fiancee in the name of true love. Enter the responsible brother, all-work-and-no-play Linus Larrabee (Humphrey Bogart), who is determined to salvage the marriage and, in the process, finalize a brilliant business deal by merging two family-owned financial giants.
Co-written and directed by the witty Billy Wilder ("The Lost Weekend," "Sunset Boulevard," "The Apartment"), "Sabrina" is a candy-coated fairy tale that is substantially more lightweight than most of Wilder's work. This is the 1950s, however, and the carefree attitude and laissez-faire spirit is a tonic to the emotion-laden heavy-handedness that defines much of moviegoing in the '90s. The dialogue is banal but effective thanks to the seasoned performers' professional delivery. Casting is sketch, with a bored and expressionless Bogart acting like he'd rather be anywhere else (one wonders, since the part was originally Cary Grant's), and the romantic chemistry suffers accordingly. Holden is perfect as the rake, an effortless jaunt that requires nothing more than oodles of charm and wit. Hepburn delights as the wide-eyed, love-struck waif.
The 1995 remake of "Sabrina" is one of many holiday offerings this cinematic Christmas season. It remains to be seen whether a "modernization" of a confection so light and frothy will satisfy '90s audiences without a great deal of plot reworking and substantive dialogue. Stay tuned.
Not rated. 1 hour, 53 minutes.
- Leonard Schwarz