Tonight we watched two movies as part of the current Audrey Hepburn tribute at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The first film on the double bill was the classic SABRINA (1954), reviewed here, and the second film was the sublime LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON. Both movies were cowritten and directed by Billy Wilder.
Ariane (Hepburn) is a young cellist who lives in Paris with her father (Maurice Chevalier), a private detective. When Ariane overhears one of her father's clients threaten to shoot American playboy Frank Flannagan (Gary Cooper), she decides to warn Flannagan. She's charmed by Flannagan, despite his roving eye, and they share an afternoon together before he leaves Paris. When Flannagan later returns to Paris and they are reunited, Ariane decides to make Flannagan think that she, too, has many men on a string...which drives Flannagan crazy and causes him to contemplate becoming a one-woman man at long last.
Cooper might have been considerably older than the lovely Hepburn, but it all works. Cooper's comedic timing in his big drunk scene, which involves a rolling cart of drinks, had the theater's audience in gales of laughter -- it made for one of those moments when you're especially glad to be enjoying a movie with a crowd. Both Cooper and Hepburn handle their roles with a light touch which retains the audience's sympathy; in the wrong hands their parts could have been leaden. The plot is a bit unusual but it made for a fascinating movie which I thoroughly enjoyed.
An Amazon reviewer writes "The final three minutes leave no doubt that Wilder hatched the best endings in Hollywood history." Indeed, as much as I enjoyed the movie as a whole, the film had one of the most powerful endings I can remember, with the audience hanging in suspense as tormented longing flashes across Cooper's face while he chooses the path for the rest of his life in a matter of seconds. Hepburn's tears and the shots of the train combine with Cooper's performance for a magical moment.
Kudos go as well to Maurice Chevalier as Ariane's father. He has some very funny moments, and his final confrontation with Cooper is a gem of a scene.
LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON was cowritten by director Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, based on a book by Claude Anet. The black and white photography is by William Mellor. It runs 130 minutes.
This movie is available on DVD. It's had multiple VHS releases.
LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON has been shown on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available online.
February 2017 Update: LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.