Friday, October 30, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Sabrina (1954) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

SABRINA is one of the two films we saw this evening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. SABRINA, along with LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (1957), was shown as part of a tribute to Audrey Hepburn.

I had seen bits and pieces of SABRINA over the years, and also seen the 1995 remake, but this was my first chance to see SABRINA from start to finish. It was a great treat to see it for the first time in an archival 35mm print with an appreciative audience.

SABRINA is, simply put, brilliant. All the elements are there -- a trio of Oscar-winning actors, a tremendous supporting cast, shimmering black and white photography, a witty script, an excellent musical score, and fashion designs which are still famous half a century later. Every aspect of the film combines to give it a magical fairytale glow.

Sabrina (Hepburn), the daughter of a chauffeur (John Williams), has grown up in the servant's quarters of a large estate. Sabrina has always loved David (William Holden), the ne'er-do-well younger son of her father's employers. When a newly glamorous Sabrina returns from two years studying in Paris, David finally takes notice and it seems her dreams may be coming true. But then David's older brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart) steps into the picture...

The film drew appreciative chuckles and laughter from the audience, but it's interesting to note that while the film has a great script with many wonderful lines, some of the film's best acting was completely wordless. Hepburn's astonished eyes after Bogart kisses her on the tennis court were delightful, and Bogart conveyed his developing feelings for Sabrina almost entirely with his facial expressions. There is also some wonderful physical humor, such as Linus and David's father (Walter Hampden) wrestling with the last olive in a jar.

The actors in this film were all at the top of their game, and this film also helped cement Hepburn's status as a fashion icon for the ages. (Her gowns were by Edith Head and the uncredited Hubert de Givenchy.) The supporting cast includes Martha Hyer as David's latest fiancee, Ellen Corby as Linus's secretary, Francis X. Bushman as Hyer's father, Nancy Kulp (THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES) as a maid, and Nella Walker as Linus and David's elegant mother. This was the last of Walker's dozens of film credits; among her best-known roles was Deanna Durbin's mother in the trio of THREE SMART GIRLS films.

John Williams, who plays Sabrina's father, had another great role in 1954 as the police inspector in Hitchcock's DIAL M FOR MURDER.

SABRINA was cowritten and directed by Billy Wilder. Ernest Lehman and Samuel Taylor also wrote the script, based on Taylor's play. The black and white cinematography was by Charles Lang. The movie runs 113 minutes.

SABRINA has had multiple DVD releases, including last year's Centennial Collection DVD. It's also had multiple releases on video.

The movie also airs from time to time on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available here.

SABRINA is a must for films of classic movies -- and if you have the opportunity to see it up on the silver screen, so much the better.


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