Sabrina – 1954

sabrina

My Review

—A Great Film—

Your Bogie Fix:

4 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Billy Wilder

The Lowdown

If there’s one movie that can truly punctuate Bogart’s acting range, it’d have to be Sabrina.  Hold Linus Larrabee up against any one of his other, more iconic, gangster / detective / murderer roles, and it’s hard to imagine many of the other leading men from his era being able to switch gears so completely.  Add in Charlie Allnut from The African Queen, and Frank Taylor from Black Legion, and you see an actor who is so incredibly versatile, that I don’t think enough credit can be given.

It’s not that Bogart’s portrayal of Linus is all that deep or groundbreaking, but at no point in the movie am I reminded of roles like Roy Earle or Philip Marlowe – characters cemented permanently into Bogart’s legacy, yet forgotten the moment Bogart’s likable, driven, wry, corporate businessman appears onscreen posing for a family picture.

Bogart is Linus Larrabee, son of a wealthy business magnate (Walter Hampden), and appears to spend as much time taking care of the family business as he does keeping his playboy kid brother, David, (William Holden) out of trouble.

David’s trouble comes in the form of women, who he seems to go through like tissues – moving on from one to another with a great deal of overlap in between.  Linus comes in behind David, tidying up any leftover messes or potential scandals with an endless supply of hush money and a great deal of patience.

As good as Linus has become at looking after David, he’s not quite prepared for the affair that begins when the daughter of the family chauffeur returns home after a two year absence.  Sabrina, played so wonderfully flawed and beautifully mischievous by Audrey Hepburn, spends her teenage years on the Larrabee property silently stalking David, head-over-heels in love.  After finally coming to terms with the fact that she’ll never have the man that she secretly pines for, Sabrina tries to kill herself in the garage with carbon monoxide poisoning, only to be saved by Bogart’s Linus moments before it’s too late.

Sent off to cooking school in Paris, one might assume that Sabrina would return to the Larrabee estate with enough personal growth to leave silly infatuations behind, but the genius of Billy Wilder and Samuel A. Taylor’s script lies in the opposite direction.  Sabrina comes home as a blossomed rose, mature in the ways of the world, and ready to make a real go at winning the heart of David Larrabee – even if it means wrecking his current engagement.

Linus steps in, as he always does, but this time the scandal is a little more serious.  David’s fiancée happens to be the daughter of another businessman that the Larrabees desperately need to keep happy for a merger.  David’s less-than-subtle indiscretions with Sabrina could bring the whole deal crashing down.

What follows is a charming love story about two people, Linus and Sabrina, who fall in love despite themselves.  Neither is looking for love with the other, and both of them are so busy stumbling blindly through their own personal flaws, that it’s a real testament to Wilder’s directing that he could make an audience believe that these two people have truly begun to care for one another.

The Great

Billy Wilder is a national treasure.  Seriously, go to IMDB right now and just peruse through all of the classic work that this guy has done.  There should be statues in Hollywood erected in this man’s honor.  Can anyone else weave comedy and pathos together so brilliantly?  He makes movies about flawed people that you cannot help but love.  Speaking of which . . .

This is my favorite out of all of Audrey Hepburn’s roles, and that’s a tough call to make.  The different shades of Sabrina’s psyche that she’s able to pull off make the character seem like a real, living, breathing human being – the kind of woman that every guy falls in love with, knowing full well that there’s going to be some trouble attached.  You believe that she has an emotional attachment with every other character that she interacts with – that she knows, cares, and loves them all.  Even when she’s making the wrong choices (trying to tame the untamable playboy) you’re still rooting for her to come through.  Hepburn was born for the screen with her gorgeous face and off-the-charts charisma, and this role was tailor made for her to play.

Bogart, playing the lonely businessman who’s just beginning to realize that his prime is over, so subtly begins to fall for Hepburn that it’s a real thrill to watch the dominoes fall.  I’ve said it before, as have so many more qualified than I, Bogart could do more with a look and a gesture than any other actor that I’ve seen.  Watch his face as he puts on his old college clothes before the boat scene – that understated look of dejection that comes out around his eyes – Oh, God, I’m too old for this. . .

The script, based off of Samuel A. Taylor’s Sabrina Fair, is solid.  The best theater happens when you get to watch the main characters make life changing decisions right in front of your eyes, and that’s what we have here.  Wilder’s adaption for the screen seems to hit on all cylinders off of Taylor’s original stage piece.

William Holden never misses a beat as the younger, self indulged brother that can draw love and disappointment in equal measure.  Great chemistry with Bogart and Hepburn.  Holden is so smooth that if David had ended up with Sabrina, I don’t think I would have complained.

The Good

John Williams, as Sabrina’s father Thomas Fairchild, is always a joy to watch work.  Williams, perhaps my favorite part of Dial M for Murder, is another actor that can show a great range of emotion without an over-the-top effort.  When he speaks, you can almost hear the subtext as loud as the scripted words.

Walter Hampden vs. An Olive Jar.  Textbook Wilder physical comedy.

Classic Bogie Moment

Linus, playfully misdirecting Sabrina from thoughts of David, leans in and kisses her deeply.  “Here’s a kiss from David,” he says, “Oh, it’s all in the family.”  It’s exactly this kind of charmed confidence that makes Bogie so believable as a ladies’ man – even with the massive age difference between Linus and Sabrina.  Did Linus mean the kiss when he planted it?  Not really.  But you can tell he enjoyed it!  One of the perks that comes with cleaning up David’s affairs, I guess.

The Bottom Line

If you haven’t seen this movie yet, what rock have you been living under?  It’s a classic.  A signature Hepburn role.  A joy from beginning to end.  A great cast.  An amazing director.  A great script.  There’s nothing I can add to this film’s legacy that hasn’t already been said.  But it might be a fun double feature with Casablanca!  In one he gets the gal – in the other he lets her go.  I’ve heard arguments that he made the wrong decision in both movies . . .

Fun Fact(s)

I’m not even going to touch on the animosity that reportedly arose between the main actors because . . . well, that’s not fun.

Did you catch how many times The Seven Year Itch is mentioned?  Wilder’s follow up movie was clearly on his mind while filming this one!

Swing Your Lady – 1938 

swing

My Review

—A Weak Script, but Fun Film—

Your Bogie Fix:

2 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Ray Enright

The Lowdown

For all of the horrible things that I’d heard about this movie, I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as its reputation.  It’s got a 4.5 user rating on IMDB and that seems unfairly harsh, but perhaps my expectations were so low that anything would’ve seemed better than the horror that I expected.

Bogart is Ed Hatch, a traveling professional wrestling promoter who’s trying to break into the big time at Madison Square Garden.  The wrestler that he’s attached himself to is a big, dumb, lummox of an ape named Joe Skopapoulus (Nat Pendleton) who’s so brainless that even the dinging of a hotel bell will send him into a wrasslin’ fit.  Pendleton plays Skopapoulus unrealistically dumb to the point that the character would be much more at home in that one pro wrestling Bugs Bunny cartoon rather than walking around in the real world.

Hatch, his girlfriend Cookie (a wonderful Penny Singleton), Skopapoulus, and Hatch’s crew (Trainers?  Marketing Men?  Cronies?) find themselves deep in the Ozarks in a little town named Plunkett when they stumble across a possible opponent for Skopapoulus that they can use to garner some attention.  Why do they think that wrestling their champ in the middle-of-nowhere will garner them attention?  I don’t know, and they really don’t seem to either.

Enter Sadie Horn (Louise Fazenda), a rough and tumble ox-like woman who works as a blacksmith and has the ability to lift Hatch’s car right out of a pothole when it gets stuck.  Hatch sees a potential intergender novelty match in the making, and starts to set up the fight.  But just when things start to fall into place, the big, dumb ape falls in love with the ox-like blacksmith – they kiss – and the fight is off.  Luckily for Hatch, there are plenty of enormous hillbilly bumpkins running around, and one of Sadie’s unrequited suitors, Noah Wulliver (Daniel Boone Savage), comes running in to defend the woman that he loves from the traveling wrestler.

So a new match is on!  Skopapoulus vs. Wulliver, and Sadie will be the prize for the winner!  Except Hatch doesn’t want to drag Sadie all over the country with his champ, so he tells Skopapoulus to take a dive.  (So why are they in this town?  To gain attention by losing?  But no one will notice because they’re in the Ozarks, right?  So why go on with the match???)  Yet, lo and behold, the powers that be in professional wrestling get wind of the fight, and offer the winner a match . . . get ready for this . . . at Madison Square Garden!  So now Hatch’s fighter needs to win!

Whew.

Fortunately, what the movie lacks in plot coherency, I thought it actually made up for in charm.  Are a few of the characters a little over-caricatured?  Sure.  But every one of them was able to squeak out at least one or two laughs from me.

And don’t be fooled like I was by any of Bogie’s biographies that make it sound like he was unhappily sleepwalking through this role.  He’s Bogie, and even with so little to work with, he’s a lot of fun to watch as the slick, big city promoter who’s always thinking two steps ahead of his current scheme.

Script flaws not withstanding, this movie is far more watchable than I’d been led to believe, and if it reran on TCM, I’d probably watch it through again.  It’s harmless, family-friendly fun.  Ronald Reagan even shows up in a very small role as a reporter towards the end of the film.

The Great

Penny Singleton’s character of Cookie doesn’t have a whole lot to do or say, but when she starts singing (Oh, did I forget to mention that this movie is almost/kind of a musical?) she is so doggone wonderful and cute that I gave the rest of the movie a pass.  Turns out that Cookie is a bit of a hillbilly at heart, and she jumps right in with the locals on a few song and dance numbers.  Most will remember Singleton as Blondie Bumstead from all of those 40’s movies.  Her second song towards the end of the film is so adorably endearing, I admit that I may have developed more than a little crush on her.

The Good

Hmmmm.  I easily made it all the way through the movie even though I’d been led to believe that I wouldn’t.  That’s good, right?  The supporting cast is adequate here, mostly diving deep, deep, deep into hillbilly cliché and caricature.  That being said, I think if you go into the movie with the knowledge that it’s an over-the-top screwball comedy, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Classic Bogie Moment

Bogart gets to use his comedy chops here, as only he can do.  It’s great to see someone who can be so menacing, effortlessly play light as well.  One of my favorite exchanges comes when Hatch asks Sadie if she’s interested in a match:

Bogart: Do you wanna wrassle?

Sadie:  What fer?

Bogart:  For money.

Sadie:  Sure!

And she immediately lunges at a wide eyed Bogart as if he meant for it to happen with him on the spot.

There’s also a great little interrogation scene where Bogart and his crew are trying to find out what’s wrong with Skopapoulus.  Bogie slips back a bit into his gangster persona as he yells, “Now listen ya conniving baboon, I’ll give you one more chance!  I’ll make ya talk!”

The Bottom Line

If you don’t mind gags that involve chickens falling out of cars and moonshine jugs, you won’t be offended by this.  It’s fun.  Don’t take it too seriously.  If nothing else, Bogie gets to play a character that we don’t see him tackle much in the rest of his films, and I dare say that it looks like he might even be having a little fun!

Fun Fact

Penny Singleton was the voice of Jane Jetson!  Really???  I may have to go back and watch this movie sooner than later!