Sabrina (1954) Review

Sabrina is one of the most popular films of the twentieth century. Directed by the brilliant Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, Sunset Blvd, Stalag 17, Seven-Year Itch, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment) and featuring a sterling A-list cast packed primarily by Humphrey Bogart, William Holden and Audrey Hepburn, the film has since been remade by director Sydney Pollack with Harrison Ford. However, the original Sabrina, based on the Samuel Taylor play Sabrina Fair, is the version that is forever endeared to audiences' hearts.

Sabrina tells of two affluent brothers - Linus (Bogart) and David Larrabee (Holden), both in charge of running their father's enormous Larrabee Corporation. Linus is all work and no play, whereas playboy David is the exact opposite, doing any leisurely activity he can think of that will prevent him journeying to his office. Whilst the two brothers enjoy their vast wealth, their lives are contrasted by the life of their head chauffeur's daughter Sabrina (Hepburn), who dreams of romance with David even though social order will never allow it. However, after moving to cookery school in Paris, Sabrina returns a changed lady - elegant and adult, and this sets David's pulse racing. The only problem is that Linus has married David off to the daughter of a rich Sugar magnate, as their marriage will help seal a lucrative merger. This Linus hatches a plan to push Sabrina out of David's way, even if he himself is falling for Sabrina.

Thank heavens Cary Grant dropped out of playing Linus Larrabee at the last minute, as Humphrey Bogart is much more suited to the business-like exterior of Linus's persona. Linus is the most important character in the film, in that we need to believe that he is both a preoccupied businessman and a man capable of love, and Bogart convinces the audiences of this using merely his trademark smirks and witty delivery. The youthful William Holden is very convincing and charismatic as David Larrabee, the headstrong playboy content to do anything that will keep him from his work responsibilities. It's rumoured Holden and Bogart hated each other on set, but fortunately there is no trace of this feud on screen, as the two Larrabee's share fantastic movie chemistry. As Sabrina, Audrey Hepburn is essentially playing two parts - a young love-smitten chauffeur's daughter and an older, more elegant Parisian possessed with eloquent prose. Fine performances however, do not just come from the three leads - John Williams is splendid as Sabrina's father Thomas, a principled and honourable character that contributes much charm to the film. The funniest character though, is Linus and David's father Oliver, played by Walter Hampden. Hampden gives the ageing Oliver a wonderful childishness and manic exterior, and you instantly believe that Oliver, David and Linus are all related.

Sabrina is expertly written and directed by the acclaimed Billy Wilder. The director enlisted the help of the play's author Taylor and future North By Northwest writer Ernest Lehman, and the trio concocted a deliciously humourous screenplay that still maintains much of its charm nearly fifty years later. The directing by Wilder is extremely slick, and he renders the world of the Larrabee's and their servants as two-sided without pandering to the predictable. It's arguable that the film contains more of a fantasy quality to it since it is filmed in black-and-white, and the film's lack of colour ensures that it is far less dated. The cinematography by Charles Lang is vivid, with stark contrasting images and fluid camera movements.

The film is slightly flawed - the 'Sabrina in Paris' moments are clichéd and sketchy at best, and the film ends rather abruptly (fuelling the rumours that Bogart disliked Hepburn; hence relatively low amounts of on-screen romance). Also, it is sometimes hard to notice the change in Linus' attitude with regards to his feelings for Sabrina. Even so, these slight detriments do little to mar the proceedings.

Sabrina is a delightfully warm film that refuses to pander to overt melodrama. Each character is constructed wonderfully, and the scripting and direction collaborate effectively to ensure the film will be forever regarded as a classic. On The Waterfront was that year's big Oscar winner, but Sabrina is just as good.

Academy Awards 1954
Best Black And White Costume Design - Edith Head

Academy Award Nominations 1954
Best Director - Billy Wilder
Best Actress - Audrey Hepburn
Best Black And White Art Direction - Sam Comer, Ray Moyer, Hal Pereira, Walter H. Tyler
Best Black And White Cinematography - Charles Lang
Best Original Screenplay - Billy Wilder, Ernest Lehman, Samuel Taylor

Presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the transfer is mostly very good, with picturesque images and sharp contrast. Occasionally, the transfer has a few digital artefacts noticeable when the cameras pan in either direction, but this is probably the best the film has ever looked and will ever look.

Presented in the film's original mono track, the sound is very clear and defined with relatively low hiss for a film nearing fifty years old.

Menu: A stylish yet static menu that is composed of some nice images from the film.

Packaging: A more stylish than usual cover artwork from Paramount, with the film being part of The Audrey Hepburn Collection and thus being given a gold border and lettering. A one page chapter listing insert is included.


Sabrina Documentary: An eleven minute featurette devoted to describing the making of the film, and featuring interview clips mostly with Paramount Pictures producer A.C. Lyles. Most of the information concerns Cary Grant's last minute change of heart and how the majority of Hepburn's costumes were not in fact the work of Oscar winning Edith Head but in fact Hubert de Givenchy.

Photo Gallery: A good black-and-white selection of behind-the-scenes and promotional photos, accessible via user navigation.


It's hardly a special edition DVD package, but as Sabrina is such an enjoyable classic and the picture and sound quality of the film is very good, you can hardly fault Paramount considering the merits of the film in question.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 18:07:41

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