Rewatched and Reconsidered: Sabrina (1954)

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Sabrina is one of a few films that continue to benefit from Audrey Hepburn’s ongoing popularity. There are a few “classes” of classic film – ones that everyone knows like The Wizard of Oz, ones that are loved by die-hard classic aficionados, and ones like Sabrina that find an appreciative modern audience of people who are open to classic films but aren’t necessarily big film buffs in general. These people gravitate toward Audrey Hepburn as a style icon, and certain films of hers (especially this one, Roman Holiday, Funny Face, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charade and My Fair Lady) stay perennially popular because they highlight her effortless style, effervescent screen presence, and ineffable wide-eyed innocence.

Perhaps my own struggles with loving Sabrina stem in part as a personal backlash against its popularity, the assumption of certain classic film watchers that it’s a great and classic film.

Karina Longworth has a great podcast called You Must Remember This, an exploration of stories from classic Hollywood, and she has an episode devoted to Audrey Hepburn and specifically the making of Sabrina – what it meant for Hepburn’s career, how it solidified her style (it was her first time wearing Givenchy, whose Parisian couture became inextricably linked to Hepburn for the rest of her career), and how it really established her career and her persona. I suspect that has a lot to do with its endurance in the popular imagination. Those aren’t the things that bother me in the film, either.

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Now Playing at the Row Three Rep: Washed Up Hollywood

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[Row Three programming if we owned a Rep Cinema]

Washed Up Hollywood

In a Lonely Place – 8:00pm
The Bad and the Beautiful – 10:00pm
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane – Midnight

Hollywood has ever loved casting a cynical glance on itself, somehow managing to maintain its visage as the dream factory while also exposing the deep decay and corruption underneath. This surfaces especially in film noir, of which you could almost create a subgenre of “Hollywood Gothic.” All these films could fall under that subgenre, but they all also feature characters whose great success in show business has faded, leaving them in the unenviable position of trying to make a comeback against all odds. Sunset Boulevard is the obvious go-to film here, so I left it out. I’m ornery that way. The three films I have chosen depict a writer, a producer, and an actress all trying to reclaim their former glory while dealing with their own, sometimes severe, personal difficulties.

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Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place gave Humphrey Bogart one of his best roles as troubled screenwriter Dixon Steele, who hasn’t written a hit film for several years. When his agent begs him to adapt a recent bestseller, Dix asks a coat check girl smitten with the book to come home with him and tell him about it – when she turns up dead after leaving his apartment, he’s the obvious suspect, and his history of short-temperedness and violence against previous girlfriends doesn’t do him any favors. But neighbor Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) gives him an alibi and they start a relationship that may save Dix both personally and professionally. He’s like a new man and starts writing a new screenplay, with a poetic touch in lines like “I was born when she kissed me, I died when she left me, I lived a few weeks while she loved me” that could apply as well to Dix and Laurel’s relationship as it does to Dix’s screenplay. But this is Hollywood Gothic, and that rarely turns out well for the main characters. When the murder investigation turns back around it sours both his blossoming career aspirations and his relationship with Laurel, leading to an end quite bleak for the time in which it was made. There’s so much to love and respect about this film – the career-topping performances by Bogart and Grahame, the complexity of their characters, many editing and story decisions that set this apart from its noir-esque siblings. It’s a heartbreaking movie, all the more so because we see what Dix and Laurel could have had, what his career and his life could have been with her at his side, but yet it all almost inevitably breaks down.

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Finite Focus: Literary Interlude (The Big Sleep)

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There’s pretty much nothing I don’t love about Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep – Bogart’s world-weary but somehow still idealistic private eye Philip Marlowe, the chemistry between him and Lauren Bacall (now an off-screen couple starring in their second film together), the cast of colorful supporting characters like Martha Vickers as Bacall’s crazy sister, the witty and caustic script, the florid dialogue, yes, even the fact that some of the mystery isn’t even resolved. I love the very messiness of it. But when I think back about The Big Sleep, the scene that usually pops into my head is essentially extraneous to the main mystery, is unrelated to Marlowe’s relationship with Bacall’s character, and is basically an all-but-unnecessary interlude to the entire rest of the film. I’m talking about the scene where Philip Marlowe goes to a pair of rare bookstores to follow up on a clue.

Read more and see the scene after the jump. (No spoilers for the film as a whole.)

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Bookmarks for July 16th through July 17th

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What we’ve been reading – July 16th through July 17th: