1954 - NR - 113 Mins.
|Director: Billy Wilder
|Producer: Billy Wilder
|Written By: Billy Wilder, Samuel A. Taylor and Ernest Lehman
|Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, William Holden, Walter Hampden and John Williams
|Review by: Bill King
"Sabrina" has all the elements of a great film. The director is Billy Wilder, who helmed the classics "Stalag 17" and "Sunset Blvd." We have Humphrey Bogart, who had long established himself as one of the greatest American actors of all time. William Holden, who had worked with Wilder before, was a dependable leading man. Then there's Audrey Hepburn, following up her triumph in "Roman Holiday" with the story of two brothers vying for her affections. This is a really good movie, but I think it could have benefited from a longer running time. The movie is bursting with material and opportunity, only to have a rushed feeling in the end.
Will you stop distracting me with your good looks?
The Larrabee family owns numerous companies with its tentacles reaching out for additional mergers. One such merger would have the Larrabee corporation join forces with a sugar cane company to manufacture a new kind of resilient plastic. In order to ensure the merger will go smoothly, David Larrabee (Holden) must marry Elizabeth Tyson (Martha Hyer), the daughter of the sugar cane company owner. David's older brother Linus (Bogart) arranged the marriage, without consulting him first.
As these dealings are going on, Sabrina Fairchild (Hepburn), the daughter of Linus' chauffeur (John Williams), returns. She's been gone for two years attending a cooking school in Paris. We meet her briefly in the beginning of the movie, just before her trip. She has always had a crush on David, but he never really noticed her. She matured nicely during those two years, and upon her return, she and David meet up and the sparks begin to fly.
Their romance would have a serious impact on the merger. David's father disapproves of them. Linus comes up with a plan. While David is off his feet for a few days with an injury (which Linus caused), Linus will lure Sabrina away from him. He takes her to dinner, plays, boat rides and anything else that would appeal to her, to make her love him instead of David. Linus hopes that his plan will push Sabrina out of the picture and allow the family business to continue uninterrupted.
There's plenty to admire in "Sabrina." Hepburn and Holden have real chemistry and we can plainly see the adoration that their characters have for each other. When Bogart steps in, he brings with him his own charm and affection to match Hepburn's. With three talented actors commanding the screen so well, I felt disappointed that the story seemed only half-told. Not enough time is allotted to allow the romance we see on screen develop. David and Sabrina are dancing and declaring their feelings for each other so soon after reuniting. When Linus sets his plan into motion, Sabrina falls for him too quickly, excited to go to Paris with him and offering to cook him dinner. The chemistry is there, thanks to the talents of the three leads, but Wilder is in a rush to get to these scenes. How did Sabrina fall for Linus within days of seeing him, when she's apparently been in love with David since they were children?
In "Roman Holiday," Hepburn fell in love with a newspaper reporter played by Gregory Peck. Even though that film took place in one day, the romance that resulted was more believable due to the gradual build-up of the relationship. That made its ending much stronger. In "Sabrina," I felt like something was left out. Not to give too much away, but I also wondered how David's and Linus' motives changed so abruptly towards the end.
I'm in no way bashing "Sabrina." I have reservations about the film, but it works nonetheless, mainly because of the actors. Anyone who loves to watch Audrey Hepburn will be glad to know that this is one of her best performances. She reminds us of Princess Ann, with the joy she brings to the camera, but she's more mature here. William Holden, who would star with Hepburn again in "Paris When it Sizzles," grabs our attention with his free-spirited portrayal, which is opposite of Humphrey Bogart's workaholic demeanor. David and Linus are brothers, but they clearly have different priorities. Despite its few missteps, "Sabrina" is an entertaining movie. However, it works better as an acting vehicle than as a demonstration of great screenwriting. There's potential for greatness here, but it never really surfaces.