Sabrina!!!!!! This has been a favorite film of mine for a long time. I still remember the first time I watched it. It wasn’t until I was in high school—yes, I can’t believe it took me that long to see it! I was a little late in joining the “I Love Audrey Hepburn” club, but ever since Audrey’s magic hit me upside the head junior year of high school, I have been a full-fledged fan, reading virtually every book on her out there! She ranks among my favorite stars.
If you missed Sabrina (1954) on TCM Sunday, it’s still available to watch on tcm.com through Saturday. Just log into your cable provider through TCM’s website. You can also find Sabrina here. It’s a fantastic film that just gets better and better with each viewing, so I think it’s totally worth adding to your film collection! Heaven knows I’ve played my copy of Sabrina almost to death!
My Summer Star of the Week: Audrey Hepburn
There are a few quintessential Audrey films, and Sabrina is definitely one of them! Only her second film in Hollywood, Sabrina sealed Audrey’s fate as a megastar. In it, we see the traits and qualities that would continue to be integral to Audrey’s appeal and popularity for the rest of her life, both on and off screen: innocence, vulnerability, kindness, gamine-ness (yep, I just invented a word!), and not to be forgotten, her status as a fashion plate! Let’s get to the plot.
Sabrina is set amidst the affluence and glamour of the Larrabees, a (fictional) very wealthy family on the US east coast. The Larrabees’ loyal chauffeur, Thomas Fairchild, is extremely conscientious and observant of the class distinctions in the hoity-toity society circles the Larrabees run in. As such, when Fairchild’s pretty young daughter, Sabrina (Audrey!), can’t get over her girlhood crush on David Larrabee (William Holden), the younger—and rather caddish—of the two Larrabee brothers, Fairchild sends her off to cooking school in Paris. Fairchild hopes the beauty of Paris and learning a new skill set will wash David out of Sabrina’s mind.
Reaching for the Moon
“Don’t reach for the moon, child.”
Fairchild tells his daughter, suggesting that David is far too above Sabrina in social position to chase after.
Sabrina witnesses David romance another girl at the annual Larrabee yacht party the night before she sails to Paris. It breaks Sabrina’s heart so much to see David with someone else for the one hundredth time over the years, that she leaves an unintentionally comical suicide note for her father, and then tries to kill herself by turning on all the cars in the Larrabee garage and locking herself in.
Ok, it sounds like a super intense scene in writing, but director Billy Wilder manages to make it comical and endearing with his light touch. When older Larrabee brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart) discovers Sabrina’s plan and saves her, it’s one of the best scenes in the film!
So Sabrina goes off to Paris a girl, and she returns to the US a few years later a beautiful, sophisticated woman. I mean, just look at this gorgeous suit she’s wearing! It’s no wonder that all of the sudden, David Larrabee wants to take her on dates and thinks she’s the most beautiful girl EVER. David actually doesn’t even recognize Sabrina when he first sees her! But he totally flips, and can’t believe he never noticed Sabrina before.
“The moon is reaching for me!”
Sabrina excitedly tells her father.
And wouldn’t you know it, the night of Sabrina’s return, the Larrabees have another big party, and David invites her to come. Never mind that he’s already going to the party with his fiancé, Elizabeth Tyson (Martha Hyer). Oh, and that the marriage between David and Elizabeth will secure a huge business partnership between the Larrabees and the Tysons. No big deal to David if his romancing of Sabrina, in front of Elizabeth and her family no less, puts the Larrabee business venture in jeopardy.
Sabrina's Turn. FINALLY.
After all the years of watching David romance other girls at the Larrabee parties, Sabrina can’t believe it’s now her turn. Her longtime dream has come true! Sabrina wears a stunning white organdy gown with
“yards of skirt and way off the shoulders”
to the party. (The dress would become one of the most iconic of Audrey’s career!) David goes so obviously nuts over Sabrina that Linus, definitely the more business-oriented of the two brothers, concocts a plan to get Sabrina out of David’s life. Here’s his plan:
Linus' Foolproof Plan
1. Linus will keep David away from Sabrina by injuring him. Perfect, easy to do, David already has champagne glasses in the back pockets of his pants, with the intention of romancing Sabrina privately at the indoor tennis court away from the party guests. Linus will simply encourage David to sit down, detaining him from his tryst with Sabrina due to the glass shards that will end up in his rear.
2. THAT accomplished, Linus will meet Sabrina in David’s place for the private champagne party. Linus will then proceed to romance Sabrina while his brother’s behind heals.
3. Naturally, Sabrina will then fall for Linus and forget about David, David will marry Elizabeth, and the merger with the Tysons can move forward!
4. Linus will get Sabrina on a ship back to Paris so that she’s not around to potentially beguile David again.
Fool proof plan, isn’t it?!!!!
Not So Fool Proof...!
Only something happens while Linus woos Sabrina that he didn’t plan on: not only does Sabrina fall for Linus, Linus falls for Sabrina!
Feeling like he’s double crossed his brother by stealing his girl, and feeling even more terrible for manipulating Sabrina, Linus buys not one, but two tickets to Paris, intending for Sabrina and David to sail off to France together. Linus decides they deserve to be happy, and he will stay behind and clean up the merger mess that will undoubtedly result from David jilting Elizabeth.
Who Will Sabrina Choose?
But Sabrina now has feelings for Linus, so would going to Paris with David really make her happy????
Does Sabrina sail to Paris? Which brother does she end up with in the end? Watch Sabrina to find out!
The Casting of the Film
Director Billy Wilder really had Cary Grant in mind for the role of Linus Larrabee, but Grant turned it down. When you watch Sabrina with this knowledge, you can see how the role of Linus has “Cary Grant” written all over it, even after all the script revisions to tone down the Grant-ness of all Linus’ dialogue.
Humphrey Bogart was definitely not Wilder’s first choice for the part, and Bogart felt this acutely on set. As such, he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder throughout filming. Bogie’s self-consciousness at being second choice was further amplified because William Holden and Audrey were first choices for their respective roles. Furthermore, Bogie, usually the star of film noirs and dramas, felt like a fish out of water in a romantic comedy like Sabrina.
Bogart shouldn’t have felt anxious about any of this though, because he turns in a comical and very nuanced performance. I’m a huge Cary Grant fan, and a huge Bogart fan, so I would have been thrilled with either actor playing opposite Audrey in Sabrina. But I must say, I do love what Bogie did with the role, and think his performance would have been hard to beat!
Director Billy Wilder wanted Audrey Hepburn for the role of Sabrina from the get go. In fact, some sources say Wilder is the one who encouraged Paramount to buy the screenplay for Sabrina, specifically as a vehicle for Audrey. Pretty cool, especially since Audrey’s only other Hollywood film at this point in her career was Roman Holiday (1953), and Wilder was already a legendary director. He famously said of Audrey around the time of Sabrina‘s release that
“This girl, single-handed, may make bosoms a thing of the past.”
Wilder not only noticed Audrey’s unique appeal and screen presence early on, but he knew how to present Audrey’s uncommon gifts to full advantage. Throughout his life, Wilder had nothing but glowing things to say about Audrey, who became a good friend of both Wilder and his wife, also named Audrey!
Edith Head was one of the top costume designers in the business. Among Head’s extensive portfolio, she was the genius behind Grace Kelly’s gorgeous wardrobe in To Catch a Thief (1955) and Rear Window (1954), as well as Audrey’s trend-setting attire in Roman Holiday (1953). It was a no brainer that Head would design Audrey’s costumes for Sabrina.
But….Wilder had other ideas! He was all for Edith designing Audrey’s pre-Parisian transformation outfits in the film. But after Sabrina returns from Paris, Wilder wanted Hepburn’s wardrobe designed by a European designer, and he encouraged Audrey to choose and court one of her favorites.
Audrey’s first choice was Balenciaga, but the fashion house would not meet with her: Audrey was still a newbie, not yet really a name to be reckoned with in Hollywood or the fashion world. What an opportunity Balenciaga missed out on, right?!!!! Hindsight is 20-20.
So Audrey courted a newer designer on the fashion scene, Balenciaga’s protégé, Hubert de Givenchy. When Audrey went to meet with Givenchy to discuss designs, he was initially disappointed to see her: Givenchy had expected to see a different Miss Hepburn when he made the appointment, Katharine Hepburn! As Givenchy himself recounted,
“One day, someone told me that ‘Miss Hepburn’ was coming to Paris to select some clothes [for Sabrina]. At that time, I had never heard of Audrey Hepburn. I only knew of Katharine Hepburn. Of course, I was very happy to receive Katharine Hepburn.”
The Hepburn/Givenchy Partnership Begins!
The confusion aside, it didn’t take long for Givenchy to realize what a gem this Audrey Hepburn was. Audrey and Givenchy became fast friends, and he gave her choice over his designs from his current collection to take back to Hollywood for Sabrina.
Despite his significant contributions to Audrey’s wardrobe in Sabrina, Givenchy was not mentioned in the film credits as costume designer, so when Sabrina won the Oscar for Best Costumes, the award went solely to Edith Head. Audrey quickly called Givenchy to apologize (as if it was her fault!) that he had not received any accolades for his tremendous work on Sabrina: everyone knew that it was Audrey’s wardrobe in the film that won the Oscar, and everyone further knew that Head was only responsible for a fraction of what Audrey wore. The designs that won the Oscar were Givenchy’s.
Audrey’s gesture meant the world to Givenchy, and it deepened their friendship, a friendship that ended up being life-long. Givenchy would design much of Audrey’s wardrobe on and off screen for the rest of her life. And of course, once Audrey became a superstar, what Audrey wore, the rest of the women in the world wanted to wear it too! For Givenchy, Audrey was good for business!
(So much so that Audrey’s first husband, Mel Ferrer, seethed that Audrey never received a cut of the profits she brought Givenchy through wearing his designs and perfume. Free advertising, as Mel saw it! But Audrey would never have gone for that, to her, Givenchy was a dear friend who happened to design her favorite clothes.)
Isn't it Romantic?
One of the songs played at key times throughout Sabrina is Rodgers’ and Hart’s “Isn’t it Romantic?”. Paramount Pictures bought the song for 1932’s Love Me Tonight, starring Maurice Chevalier. Since Paramount bought the song, the studio planned to get its money’s worth out if it! You’ll hear “Isn’t it Romantic?” frequently in Paramount films of the 30’s, 40’s, and 50s. Besides Sabrina, the song plays prominently in such classics as The Lady Eve (1941), The Major and the Minor (1942), and Houseboat (1958).
More Summer Under the Stars!
And with that, I wrap up my thoughts on Sabrina! Have you watched Sabrina? What do you think of Audrey’s performance? How about the stellar designs of Edith Head and Givenchy?
And don’t forget to check out the TCM film schedule as Summer Under the Stars continues every day this month on TCM!