Saturday 14 February 2015

Movie Review: Sabrina (1954)

A sophisticated romantic comedy with a bright cast and an enjoyable love triangle, Sabrina sparkles with wit and talent.

The Larrabee family are rich industrialists who control multiple companies and throw lavish parties at their grand mansion. Linus Larrabee (Humphrey Bogart) runs the business empire with cold efficiency, while his younger brother David (William Holden) is the careless playboy, already married and divorced several times. Thomas Fairchild (John Williams) is the loyal family chauffeur, and he lives above the garage with his impressionable daughter Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn).

Sabrina harbours a long-term crush on David, and when she is finally convinced that he does not even know that she exists, she tries to kill herself but is saved by Linus. Thomas packs off his daughter to Paris, where she enrolls in cooking school. Two years later, she returns as a much more sophisticated woman, with a stylish look and a new confidence to get what she wants. David is immediately smitten, but Linus has arranged for his younger brother to marry Elizabeth Tyson (Martha Hyer) in the interest of furthering a major business deal. Linus starts to spend time with Sabrina to distract her from David, and an unexpected love triangle develops.

Fresh from her break-out performance in Roman Holiday, Audrey Hepburn was quickly paired with more top Hollywood talent in the form of Humphrey Bogart, William Holden and director Billy Wilder. With a screenplay by  Wilder and Ernest Lehman, Sabrina is a lighthearted delight, making best use of Hepburn's charms and cajoling a uniquely engaging performance out of Bogart.

In many ways turning the premise of Roman Holiday on its head, in Sabrina Hepburn plays the commoner mingling with the upper classes, and she proves her range with an equally convincing turn. Whether barefoot and star-struck standing on a tree early in the film or at the height of sophistication and stealing all hearts in her post-Paris transformation, Hepburn oozes understated star power, effortlessly commanding the screen with her searching eyes and undeniable presence.

Hepburn provides an injection of life into Bogart's screen persona. Linus Larrabee has all the decisive attributes of a typical Bogart character, but despite the age difference his romance with Sabrina rings true. Both Linus and Sabrina have their hearts clearly set on other targets (David in her case, new business opportunities in his case), so when their relationship starts to warm up it crackles with the familiar current of unintended attraction.

Despite venturing into territory as dark as attempted suicide and the thorny issues of classism, Wilder manages to keep the mood jovial with exquisite pacing. The film bounces along at an energetic clip, and allows all three of the lead characters plenty of opportunities to develop along individual arcs. Sabrina uses Paris to mature from girl to woman, David finally sets his eyes on a woman that he might settle down with, and Linus awakens to the opportunities offered by a world outside the corporate boardroom.

And it's all delivered with touches of refreshing humour, including David dealing with the consequences of sitting on wine glasses, Linus wholeheartedly embracing the technology of plastics, and the patriarch Oliver Larrabee (William Hampden) slipping into the dottiness of old age.

She may be only the chauffeur's daughter, but Sabrina is the one who takes the Larrabee family on a wild ride.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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