Sabrina (1954)
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Sabrina (1954)

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There is an old saying that ‘they don’t make movies like that anymore.’ Perhaps younger movie buffs may disagree pointing to the remarkable advances in computer effects and specialized cameras. For those of us that have five or so decades of loving films behind us that saying is axiomatic. One example is the 1954 film ‘Sabrina.’ This is one of the true old school romantic comedies with just the right touch of drama blended in. This film is from the golden age of romantic comedies. While there are similarities to modern variations of this genre, there is a style, charm, and grace that have, for the most part, been lost over the years. First of all everyone on both sides of the camera was certified greats in their respective fields. The movie may be over fifty-four years old at this point but watching it again it was just as fresh and entertaining as ever. That is what is special about true classics like this film. Many of us may remember seeing them in our much younger days and be swept away from nostalgia it invokes. Others, seeing this for the first time will be caught up with the sheer magic a film like this provides. It might be a good idea to gather the family together and watch an older movie like this to show them that there was incredibly films long before computers were even thought of. This has gotten easier especially since Paramount has decided to start celebrating their centennial anniversary a couple of years early. They were founded in 1912, but already they are beginning to release a series of the most famous and beloved films in their incredible catalog. The first three are ‘Sunset Boulevard,’ ‘Roman Holiday’ and, of course, ‘Sabrina.’ Hopefully, they will continue this series with more of their fabulous collection of movies. This film harkens back to a gentler time in the film when going to the movies was a social event. People would dress up to go to a palatial theater and sit back to enjoy a film. Outside the cold war was reaching its peak but in the movie house, people could surrender themselves to the fantasy of films like this.

To create a film that remains one of the most beloved years after year, you have to start with a solid screenplay. This one was created by Ernest Lehman, Samuel A. Taylor, and the legendary Billy Wilder. This was only the third script for Lehman, but he would go off to films like ‘West Side Story’ and ‘The King and me.’ Taylor was also new at the time as a writer but would hit big again with ‘Vertigo.’ The writing resume of Wilder is something that all screenwriters would aspire to, but very few could come close to. In the course of his 53-year career, he would receive three Oscar wins and another eleven nominations. This was his last contracted picture for Paramount.

Typical of the genre the actual story takes a back seat to the star power. All it has to do is provide the lines of dialogue and setting and set the stage for great performances. Also typical of a romantic comedy is the female lead would be elevated to the status of ‘America’s Sweetheart.’ This story does contain many classic romance elements. There is a transformation. A sweet but lowly born girl is changed into a sophisticated young woman. The men that ignored her before are now falling for her. Then there is the romantic triangle. There is nothing like a rival to men in love act crazier than usual. It is typically even better if the two male parts of the triangles are brothers added that age old plot device of sibling rivalry. For many ‘Sabrina’ is considered one of the lesser classic movies. Sure, the story is as predictable as any romantic comedy, and it came out a year after the much better rom-com, ‘Roman Holiday’ but this one remains a lot better than the way the genre has tended in recent years.

Wilder was one of the most creative men ever to direct a movie. He spent a lot of time in Germany where he learned the techniques that would allow him to bring the film noir movement to the States. While many of his best works are in this genre such as ‘Double Indemnity,’ he also took romance to the dark side with ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ He would later delve deeper into the romantic comedy with films like ‘The Apartment’ and ‘Irma la Douce.’ This is not the best film in Wilder’s career, but it nicely demonstrates his mastery of the art form.

Along with his cinematographer Charles Lang they create a fantasy world of pure imagination. Lang would receive an Oscar nomination for black and white cinematography for this movie. Many modern film buffs have a disdain for black and white, but you have to consider it a different medium than color flicks. Just think of it as the difference between charcoal and pastels. Wilder does have a way with contrasting shadow and light that is a wonder to watch, and this is a prime example.

Sabrina Fairchild (Hepburn) is a carefree and lively girl. She is the youngest daughter of Thomas (John Williams) who has worked for years as the chauffeur for the very rich and powerful Larrabee family. Sabrina has always had a big crush on the older son of that family, David (William Holden). Unfortunately for her, he was the definition of a playboy; occasionally married but always on the lookout for a young lady to woo. Okay, this is the fifties, so I get to use the term woo here. David has never seen Sabrina as anything other than a background person; always around but never really noticed. Her father saves up enough money to Sabrina to Paris for two years of education at a culinary school. Upon her return, she is now a beautiful and sophisticated young woman. In all this time she has never given up on her feelings for David, and now he notices her. The big problem is David is engaged to the daughter of a wealthy businessman, and a big deal depends on the marriage. David’s workaholic brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart) devises a plan to have Sabrina fall in love with him taking her mind off of David and saving the deal.

Once again Paramount shows us just how they managed to remain one of the leading film studios of the world. This is a movie that is delightful and fun for the whole family. Like the others in this centennial celebration set, It is an in full-screen black and white with the original mono audio. Both have been fully restored, so this film hasn’t looked or sounded this good in decades. There are also plenty of extras to add to the fun.

Disc Two


Audrey Hepburn: Fashion Icon


Sabrina’s World


Supporting Sabrina


Sabrina Documentary


Behind the Gates: Camera


Paramount in the 50’s: A Retrospective

Posted 10/31/08                Posted  02/07/2019

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