“Sabrina” (1954)

Directed by Billy Wilder
Paramount Pictures
US, 112 minutes
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, William Holden

This probably was not the best introduction to Billy Wilder I could have gotten, but the fact that it had Bogie and Audrey in the same film caught my attention. So, I decided to buy the Paramount Centennial Edition when I saw it cheap.

Sabrina is kind of a typical story of the ‘ugly’ duckling (although how anyone could ever consider Hepburn ugly, I’ll never know) becoming the beautiful swan that the Larrabee brothers, played by William Holden and Humphrey Bogart, fight for. The ending completely surprised me and elevated the film from ‘good’ to ‘excellent’ for me. That wonderful twist, plus Bogie’s incredible acting just floored me. Sure, this isn’t Sunset Boulevard, but Sabrina‘s entertainment value cannot be understated. Hepburn is a magnetic beauty in the entire film and her dress after she returns from Paris is just over-the-top gorgeous, even in black and white.  Holden is probably the least impressive of the leading three, but he’s still wonderful in his role, which is a total reversal of his work in Sunset Boulevard.

The ‘Centennial Edition’ of the film is probably the worst of the four from that short-lived series I own (I’ve also got Sunset Boulevard, To Catch A Thief and Breakfast at Tiffany’s). All of the material here could have fit on a single disc. The film itself is just 112 minutes long and the bonus material adds up to just 100 minutes. On top of that, nothing here actually has anything to do with the making itself. Yes, that’s right. Paramount put seven featurettes on the second disc and none of them relate directly to the film. The closest we get is “Sabrina”s World”, which talks about the Long Island locations in the film, but quickly turns into a Nassau County infomercial. There’s a piece on Audrey’s icon status and a short Holden biography that is literally just a repeat of the one on Sunset Boulevard but with more Sabrina clips. The first disc houses just the film – not even a commentary. The only real behind-the-scenes material in the whole set is in the two-page essay in the book.

The Verdict: I enjoyed this film. It’s light and very funny. Sure, Bogie might be too old (this was just three years before his death), but his acting is so great that you quickly forget about it. He really stands out in this film, but it shouldn’t have surprised me. He really was one of the best actors of the first half of the century.

I recently heard about Paramount’s Centennial Collection and it’s a really sad thing that they stopped it after just ten releases. All of them, except Breakfast at Tiffany’s, are out of print, just two years after it started. Some copies are still sitting in stores, but many of them I never even saw in stores. Most of them are pretty easily obtainable on eBay (that’s how I got my copy of Sunset for just $10), though.

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