Sabrina was Audrey Hepburn’s second American film, after Roman Holiday. She’d won a best actress Oscar for that movie. Audiences were head-over-heels in love with Hepburn, as William Wyler, who directed her in that picture, predicted they would be. Her style, grace and poise were admired by everyone.
Billy Wilder was a huge Hollywood success story in the early 1950s, writing and directing his own scripts. He had won or been nominated for director or script Oscars for Sunset Boulevard, Ace in the Hole, and Stalag 17 – these were for three of the four years before he directed Sabrina in 1954. The script was written by Wilder, Samuel Taylor and Ernest Lehman from Mr. Taylor’s play “Sabrina Fair”. The movie starred Humphrey Bogart and William Holden as the male leads opposite Hepburn. It was released in September, 1954. Edith Head won an Oscar for best black and white costume design for this picture. This was something of a backhand compliment for Head. Most of Hepburn’s clothes were created by Hubert de Givenchy and selected by Hepburn. We’ll see his costumes in upcoming films in this series as well. Head refused to share screen credits with Givenchy, so Head got the Oscar when Hepburn’s Givenchy clothes struck the Academy’s voters as worthy of the best costume honor. The picture received the following Oscar nominations: Hepburn for best actress; Hal Pereira, Walter H. Tyler, Sam Comer and Ray Moyer for best black and white art direction and set direction; Charles Lang for best black and white cinematography; Wilder for best director; and Wilder, Taylor and Lehman for best writing, screenplay. In 2002 the Library of Congress added it to the National Film Registry as a film worthy of preservation.
Bosley Crowther, in the New York Times, wrote “We hesitate to say this, because it dates us like button shoes, but we can’t remember liking a romance any better since It Happened One Night.” In retrospect, the film pairing of the twenty-five year old Audrey Hepburn with older male stars raises issues. Holden was eleven years older than she was, and two years younger than Gregory Peck, her co-star on Roman Holiday. That difference in age doesn’t seem too bad on the screen. But Bogart was thirty years older. Several 1950s movies followed the same casting formula – they included Hepburn filmed in romances with Henry Fonda, Gary Cooper and Fred Astaire. Hepburn and Holden had a widely reported love affair during the filming of this movie. Bogart was unhappy during the production. He felt Hepburn was inexperienced as an actress. He didn’t like Holden – with whom Wilder had made two earlier pictures. He wasn’t Wilder’s first choice (Cary Grant was) and he felt he was all wrong for the role. I find his performance successful, despite all this.
Sabrina was remade by Sydney Pollack in 1995 with Harrison Ford and Greg Kinnear in the Bogart and Holden roles, possibly better casting. As someone wrote on one of the websites I searched looking for reviews, it isn’t that the 1995 film was bad – it isn’t – it’s just that the 1954 film was magical. I think that magic was, for the most part, Audrey Hepburn on the screen. I hope you enjoy watching her in the 1954 Cinderella story, Sabrina.