Sabrina (1954, US)
Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Billy Wilder, Samuel Taylor (based on his play), Ernest Lehman.
Starring: Audrey Hepburn (Sabrina Fairchild) Humphrey Bogart (Linus Larrabee), William Holden (David Larrabee), John Williams (Thomas Fairchild) and Martha Hyer (Elizabeth Tyson).
“Don’t reach for the moon, child, ” says the chauffeur, Thomas Fairchild to his daughter Sabrina. The moon is used as a metaphor for something beyond one’s reach. Though, as pointed out later in the movie by Baron St. Fontanel in Sabrina’s cooking class in Paris, “You young people, you are so old fashioned. We are building rockets to reach the moon.”
Sabrina’s father has worked as a chauffeur for the wealthy Larrabees family for 25 years. He is one of the many servants who work on the Larrabees extravagant estate, which has both an indoor and outdoor tennis court as well as an indoor and outdoor swimming pool. Maude Larrabee, the matriarch of the house and his husband Oliver has two sons: – the workaholic and solemn Linus and the irresponsible playboy David.
Sabrina has a huge crush on David since her childhood. When she was nine, David kissed her while they were playing on the roller-skates. David seems to be forgotten all about this and has since had been part of three failed marriages.
The movie begins with a party taking place at the house of Larabees. David and his date (having a really annoying giggle) for the evening dance to the tune of “Isn’t it Romantic?” as a teary-eyed Sabrina watches from a tree at a distance. David remains quite ignorant of her presence as she later on childishly attempts suicide by inhaling carbon fumes, only to be rescued by Linus, who happened to be passing nearby.
Billy Wilder’s ability to build characters in complex situation which we end up caring about strengthens the film. The characters in the film are quite intelligent and aware of the complexity of the situation they find themselves in.
Sabrina always believed David to be the love of her life, but after spending some time with Linus and getting to know him more,she can’t help herself falling for the latter.In an amazing scene,Sabrina asks David to kiss her,after returning from her date with Linus.Her conflict is depicted superbly.
Linus, on the other hand tells everyone, including his father that his intentions to spend time with Sabrina is just to get her away from Long Island so that the million dollar merger with the Sugarcane Industries remain intact. David is supposed to marry the daughter of the Sugarcane tycoon as a condition for the merger to take place.
Though, Linus is not the cold-hearted businessman we think he is. He is just a heartbroken man, who keeps working long hours to forget his loneliness and sorrow. He is as romantic at heart as Sabrina.This is the reason why his tenderness and empathy towards her makes so much sense.
Even, the younger brother David has more to him than we realize. He understands that his brother has fallen in love and helps him make the decision towards the end.
The film is beautifully shot in Black and White by the one of the greatest cinematographers of Hollywood’s Golden era, Charles Lang Jr. He worked with Wilder previously on “Ace in the Hole”. Lang was superb with his masterful use of light and shade (Chiaroscuro) and was adored by Hollywood stars like Marlene Dietrich and even Audrey Hepburn because how gloriously he shot them. Hepburn’s beauty comes right at us in “Sabrina”. He also worked with her in Stanley Donen’s “Charade”.
It was wonderful to see, the use of several long tracking shots in “Sabrina” like in the earlier scenes as we see Sabrina climbing the spiral staircase running to her room above the garage.
At the end, “Sabrina” is all about its leading lady and one of the most loveable Hollywood icons-Audrey Hepburn. This was her second film after her debut in William Wyler’s “Roman Holiday”. This film is one of her less talked about films and often overlooked when you compare it with “Roman Holiday” or “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” which is a bit unfair because of how crucial the impact of this film was both in her life and career. This was her first film where we see her transforming from a normal girl to a glamorous style icon. Audrey had the quality to play both kinds of roles effortlessly, something which we see her do it again, most notably in “My Fair Lady”. Watching her in these films makes us realize how unique she was,and why her popularity never seems to cease even 60 years after the dawn of her fame.