Friday Film Review: Sabrina
Sabrina – either B&W or color (The Centennial Collection)
Genre – Romance
This is the version I first saw and the one I fell in love with. When the 1995 version was released, I watched it but didn’t initially care for it as much though I’ve come to appreciate it for itself. However, when I think of the title “Sabrina,” it’s the Audrey Hepburn edition that immediately comes to mind.
It’s a simple Cinderella plot. Sabrina, the daughter of the chauffeur of the ridiculously wealthy Larrabee family, has been in love with the younger son of the family for years. David’s a young, handsome playboy who’s been married three times, has a different date each night and who barely even remembers that Sabrina lives on the estate. It’s not that he’s mean or cruel, it’s just that she’s not in his social circle or as sophisticated as the women he’s used to dating.
In an attempt to break her of her infatuation, Sabrina’s father sends her to cooking school in Paris. Two years later she returns, a well dressed, polished and sophisticated young woman. She and David meet at the train station and he, not recognizing her, offers her a lift home. When she directs him to his own house, he finally realizes who she is and impulsively invites her to a party the family is hosting that night.
When she arrives, David can’t keep his eyes off her to the consternation of his older brother, Linus. The family closes ranks, not because they hate Sabrina but because fooling with the daughter of a servant is considered in poor taste and the family, or make that Linus, has arranged a marriage between David and the daughter of another wealthy family, the Tysons, in order to facilitate a business merger.
Linus engineers a slight accident that will keep David out of commission for a few days until his wedding. In the meantime, it’s up to Linus to entertain Sabrina and attempt to lure her into a romance with him before gently paying her off. But as they spend time in each others company, who is falling for whom and how will it end?
Sabrina starts out as a dreamy romantic. Reaching for the moon and messing up at cooking school since she’s unhappily in love, as a fellow student tells her. Then she arrives home, so sophisticated and supposedly grown up yet she starts again with David and her dreams of their romance. But it’s not reality and doesn’t live past her few encounters with Linus – a man she’s never dreamed of and was actually a little afraid and in awe of while growing up. With him she quickly realizes she’s found the real thing and it scares her. She’s desperate to get away from him and back to David. That is until the night when she thinks she discovers that Linus loves her. Her reality crashes down on her when Linus can’t keep up the charade and reveals all.
Linus is all business and businessman. There’s a hint of a past romance gone bad but since then, he’s strictly about Larrabee industries. He has a line that reminds me of one of the 90s computer tycoons who said that if business was only about making money, it would hardly be worth coming into the office. For Linus it’s about changing the world around him for the better – about creating new things and bringing prosperity to those who’ve never had their slice of the pie. But with Sabrina, he finds himself thawing into a romantic. First he plays the part and then the part becomes him. Oh, he’ll never be a David, all suave and a playboy, he’ll reserve his soft side for his family, but he allows his inner romantic to show a little to the world and a lot to Sabrina.
And is David finally growing up? He’s on his way and looks to be stepping forward into the family business. He’s willing to force Linus’s hand and make his brother acknowledge his true feelings for Sabrina. Which highlights one of the nice aspects of the film – namely the relationship between the two brothers. It’s obvious that Linus has always taken the lead, cleaned up David’s messes as a big brother would. But the affection between them is real even if Linus gets exasperated at times.
Today, we’ve seen more of this lifestyle from TV shows and magazine spreads but in its day, the Larrabee estate on Long Island must have made an impression on movie goers. The expensive cars, the servants – though not so many as I’d expect – the lavish parties, the women’s gowns and jewels, the Larrabee Building – all must have been seen as glamorous. The class difference isn’t great today since film stars and singers can become staggeringly wealthy in a short amount of time and begin to lead this lifestyle but then, in 1954, the jump in class would have seemed greater and Fairchild’s comment about life being a car with a front and back seat and a window in between would have been more important.
Audrey Hepburn plays the dreamy eyed romantic beautifully and when David begins to pay her attention, I see it as her due as a lovely young woman instead of as a scheming, hard nosed gold digger. Even after Linus breaks her heart with the truth of his scheme, she still just takes one ticket for the ship back to France instead of all the swag the family had planned to buy her off with. She’s basically a good person who truly was in it for love and not what she could get. So when she ends up getting it all – love and the lifestyle, I can cheer and smile.
Humphrey Bogart turns out to be a marvelous choice to play Linus. The first time I saw the film, I’d never heard of it, didn’t know the plot and was taken aback that Sabrina is supposed to fall for him. For this old guy when she’s got a handsome, younger brother in love with her? By the end of the film, I would have felt cheated had she not gotten Linus. Bogart plays the role wonderfully. He’s supposed to be slightly stiff and the one who’s allowed himself to stodgify over the years. But he can also turn on the, slightly clumsy – or is?, charm and slowly chip away at Sabrina’s calm and her belief that she loves David. Bogart never pushes the role, as Linus also never pushes Sabrina. Everything is slow and steady. What Bogart does masterfully is to allow us and Sabrina to see what’s inside him. But is that longing for a woman of his own an act or real? We’re not sure and Bogart’s performance keeps us guessing until the end.
William Holden portrays the happy go lucky playboy in a way that allows us to laugh with him and not hate him for not loving Sabrina from the beginning nor be angry that he’s cheerfully planning on jilting the otherwise charming young woman Linus has picked out as Mrs. David Larrabee the fourth. After all, it’s not David falling in love with Elizabeth Tyson – it was Larrabee industries merging with Tyson. So when David kicks over the traces, we’re actually hoping that he does escape into the arms of a woman he truly loves. But in the end, we see that David still isn’t quite the man Linus is and thus we’re happy that he seems to be willing to marry Elizabeth – as Linus says, it was only a matter of time before David would eventually have proposed to her anyway.
The humor of the story isn’t forced and is both visual and linguistic. The image of Mr. Larrabee standing in Linus’s closet in order to hide his smoking from his wife is one I always remember as are his efforts to get that last olive out of the jar for his martini. Linus realizes the image he must be cutting as the much older man squiring the luminous Sabrina about town – and mockingly shows it to us by trying on his old college letterman sweater before he takes Sabrina out sailing. But the story also has hauntingly romantic scenes such as Linus and Sabrina waltzing around the indoor tennis court to the strains of “Isn’t it Romantic.”
The last scene is fantastic. Understated and all the more powerful for it. Linus shows that he’s been listening to Sabrina tell him what he needs to do in Paris – turn down the brim of his black Homburg hat and ditch his umbrella – and he does so before opening his arms and his heart to her.
Edith Head and Hubert de Givenchy both do amazing jobs with the costumes for Hepburn. Head makes her look like the innocent, sheltered, pre-Paris, young woman while Givenchy and Hepburn begin their long association here with the stylish and sophisticated couture Sabrina displays upon her return from the City of Light.
Everything about the film is elegant and simple. I think it’s aged fairly well though it does show its age by what must have been state of the art technology then – watch for the dictaphone which Linus uses in his car while being driven into the city. Plus all the secretaries at Larrabee industries are women and Linus’s office is all modern glass and chrome.
The dialogue is rapid fire and intelligent with Linus tossing off puns that float right over his brother’s head. Perhaps Cary Grant might have been more believable as a man whom a younger woman would fall for but the fact that Humphrey Bogart can pull off a performance in which I believe that Sabrina would choose him says much about his acting ability.
As Roger Ebert says, the movie is about escapism and fairy tales. I can believe them a bit more in 1954 before women’s lib than I could in 1995. I can believe that Sabrina doesn’t immediately think Linus is trying to coldly seduce her though I can see the questions that occasionally flit across her face as she wonders. I can believe that a gruff, older Linus falls for this young woman and she for him, all in the space of a few days. And I can believe in them sailing off to their HEA as the lights dim and “The End” flashes on the screen. B+