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SABRINA (director/writer: Billy Wilder; screenwriters: Samuel Taylor/Ernest Lehman/based on the play Sabrina Fair by Samuel Taylor; cinematographer: Charles Lang, Jr.; editor: Arthur Schmidt; music: Frederick Hollander; cast: Humphrey Bogart (Linus Larrabee), Audrey Hepburn (Sabrina Fairchild), William Holden (David Larrabee), Walter Hampden (Oliver Larrabee), John Williams (Thomas Fairchild), Martha Hyer (Elizabeth Tyson), Marcel Dalio (Baron), Marcel Hillaire (the Professor), Nella Walker (Maude Larrabee); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Billy Wilder; Paramount Home Video; 1954)
“Just as much chilling as it’s witty.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Billy Wilder (“Sunset Boulevard”/”Double Indemnity”/”Some Like It Hot”) directs this slick fluff romantic-comedy Cinderella fairy tale story about two tycoon brothers running their family business, the stuffy austere Linus Larrabee (Humphrey Bogart) and his younger irresponsible playboy sibling David Larrabee (William Holden), who both fall in love with their chauffeur’s (John Williams) daughter, the beautiful Sabrina Fairchild (Audrey Hepburn). It’s based on the Broadway hit play Sabrina Fair by Samuel A. Taylor; the screenplay is by Taylor, Wilder and Ernest Lehman.

The story is set on the North Shore of Long Island (filmed on the Long Island estate of Paramount chairman Barney Balaban), where the shy Sabrina grows up living over the garage on the Larrabee estate and has a crush on David. But he ignores her, chasing after numerous socialites. Her transplanted English father sends her to a cooking school in Paris to forget the three-times married rascal after her failed suicide attempt over his neglect and she returns after two years as a beautiful charming princess, coming under the influence of an elderly baron (Marcel Dalio) who teaches her charm and culture. David now turns his attention to Sabrina even though engaged to the daughter of a sugar king, Elizabeth Tyson (Martha Hyer), where his family business has a big merger transaction in the works with her family. Linus wants David to marry the heiress because it would be good for business and decides to woo Sabrina away from his brother, but in the process falls in love with her.

Wilder wanted Cary Grant for Bogart’s part, which made the star feel unwanted as only second best. Furthermore Bogie was unhappy on the set because the Viennese director favored the handsome Holden and the perky Hepburn and was autocratic in his direction. The two had words and continued the film under a cloud. It wasn’t until later, when Bogie was dying of cancer, did they patch up their differences.

The film was remade in 1995 by Sydney Pollock. Neither version greatly cheered me, though I do prefer Wilder’s version. There’s a smugness about this breaking down of class barriers themed comedy that is just as much chilling as it’s witty. It’s a satirical battle of New World crass materialism versus Old World romanticism, with the kicker being that in a democratic environment, despite its many drawbacks, fairy tales are more likely to occur.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”