Thursday, August 2, 2007

Sabrina (1954) - Part 2

When Sabrina attends the party in probably the most fantastic gown ever created for the movies, the butler, played by Emory Parnell, gushingly brings a report back to the rest of the staff on how she’s doing, “The prettiest girl, the prettiest dress, the belle of the ball… and they way looked into each other eyes!” The Hubert de Givenchy gown, burned into our retinas, is a silk organdie with black floral patterns, a straight skirt with an overskirt open in front, and a long train. It is the best dress ever made, and Hepburn wears it with the talent of a virtuoso.

A special Olympic medal should have been given to Mr. Holden for his held-for-a-moment-in-mid-air leap over the patio wall to greet Hepburn, who, rather than running to him, waits like princess for him to run to her.

Miss Hepburn’s easy, beaming smile and graceful confidence tell us she is indeed the belle of the ball, even to the point of being oblivious of David’s discomfort at having to introduce her to his mother, and his mother’s suggestion she cook for them sometime. The chauffeur’s daughter cannot be put in her place, not anymore. She is above that.

Holden does a great comic bit when he sits on the champagne glasses, and Hampden’s frustration at the sudden and inexplicable romance between his already engaged to be married son and the chauffeur’s daughter explodes when he is reminded to be more liberal because it is the 20th century.

“Twentieth Century! I could pick a century out of a hat blindfolded and get a better one.”

Hepburn sings a dreamy chorus of “La Vie en Rose” in the car with Bogart, not as if she is performing but only absentmindedly, as if she is thinking of something else. It is a wonderfully quiet moment. She is comfortable enough to discuss with Bogart about life and love, and tweaks his hat. There is a moment when they return from sailing that she wears his coat over her shoulders and he carries her shoes that is sublimely intimate in a way she never achieves intimacy with the cocky and self-assured younger brother who regards her as a conquest.

Bogart’s flirtation-that-is-not-flirtation of remarking, “I wish I were my brother” is the capper to his character development. He says it only as a ruse to romance Sabrina, but there is truth to it as well. In many respects, he wishes he were David, but wishing that is as impossible as wishing he were younger. It cannot be. He does not dare wish she loved him. He wishes only that he were David, so that she would love him.

By now Sabrina’s character development hits the fan. She is falling for older brother Linus and tries desperately to stop herself. To the point of arriving at his New York office for date in her capri pants. Who but Hepburn would even think of wearing capri pants in a film at that date, let alone appear as stylish as she does?

At the end, Sabrina realizes with a burst of enthusiasm that she does prefer Bogart and wants him to take her to Paris, brushing away his reticence with a warm embrace and an ecstatic smile and a playful, “They’ll say I’m too young for you. There’ll be an awful scandal and the market will go down!” By now, Bogart wants to release her for her own good.

Sabrina’s father tries to put a moral on the story with, “Democracy can be a wickedly unfair thing. Nobody poor was ever called democratic for marrying somebody rich.”

We have our happy ending of course, but I wish that the ending of the original play written by Samuel Taylor had been used for this film. In the play, Sabrina’s father has made wise investments enough so that Sabrina is an heiress to a fortune, and can come to Linus as an equal partner with her own separate finances. That perhaps is too modern a thought for a 1950s Cinderella story, or someone felt so at the time.

Finances, so it is reported, are a major reason for marriages that fail. So much is made of the link between wealth and romance in this film, it would have been a striking end to have Hepburn’s and Bogart’s wistful empathy for each other have the bite of a little financial savvy and even competition added to it.

That's it for this week. See you Monday.

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