—A Great Film—
Your Bogie Fix:
Director: Billy Wilder
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.
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.
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 . . .
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!