Today we look at a movie that made comedy history, that faraway 1954 masterpiece directed by Billy Wilder with the name of its gorgeous young central character, Sabrina.
The maiden is the daughter of a modest chauffeur, absorbed in the daily life of her wealthy employers, the Larrabees, living a silent adoration for their youngest son, David.
David is a lazy bum who knows how to win over any woman. So knowledge of his impending marriage to another girl throws Sabrina into a spiral of despair, culminating in a suicide attempt.
Fortunately, the other brother, Larry, more mature and responsible, intervenes promptly, successfully foiling the tragic act.
Concerned that she might try again, her father, Thomas, sends her to Paris to study at a prominent culinary school.
Initially feeling inadequate and lonely, Sabrina changes dramatically after meeting a much older gentleman, who helps her become an irresistibly attractive woman with refined and elegant manners.
Upon returning from abroad, her new personality completely captivates the charming David, who struggles to even recognize her.
However, Larry adamantly opposes such a union, fearing the unstable relationship will undermine a vital business deal he is running, which relies on a marriage between David and Elizabeth Tyson, the eldest daughter of the wealthy and prosperous family of the same name.
Aiming to distance Sabrina from her brother and ensure that everything proceeds as planned, the sharp businessman decides to keep her occupied, taking advantage of a tragicomic accident that forces David to stay in bed.
Though he played his time with the girl shrewdly, Larry did not anticipate that Sabrina’s sincere and sweet manner would penetrate his shell of discretion and lead him to experience unexpected emotions, challenging his firm beliefs about life, love, and business.
Recipe for an eternal masterpiece
Considering the romantic comedy tradition, Sabrina is a unique expression of this kind, a charming movie of love and social contrasts in America in 1954.
It is a modern fairy tale along the lines of Cinderella, with its essence narrating the universality of love, amid class conflicts, romance, and laughter, creating a rich and exciting image of human life.
Despite this, Billy Wilder never wanted to recognize it as a comedy but rather as a mild-toned drama, lighted by sprinkles of humor, a perfect blend of chuckles and tears.
With its power and candor, the direction is both essential and trenchant, enhancing humanity at its truest nuances with dialogues of brilliant and wise writing, an example of mastery that should be studied by every aspiring screenwriter.
Every line, pause, and interplay reveal a depth that only a master like Wilder, along with writers Samuel A. Taylor and Ernest Lehman, could create.
The natural comic timing marks brilliantly with intelligent jokes and precise control of the rhythm, which flows, holding our attention with pleasure firmly for nearly two hours.
Indeed, the plot never loses momentum, constantly introducing new situations for the chorus of characters to work in, like a flawlessly precision Swiss watch.
Even today, this visual grace is unquestionable, emphasized by its amazing sets and classy black and white, which lends an aura of timeless sophistication.
The sweet melody of Édith Piaf‘s La Vie en Rose, along with Frederick Hollander‘s sober soundtrack, lends an atmosphere full of romance and passion.
Finally, flair is enhanced by the magnificent costumes, especially the gowns worn by Audrey Hepburn, created by legendary designer Hubert de Givenchy for whom the actress became a superb muse inspiring spectacular new fashion creations.
Love always wins, sooner or later
The group of performers in this cinematic masterpiece shines with an unquenchable light in the context of a fable that wryly handles social inequalities amidst a tangible division and yet a democratic similarity between rich and poor.
Firstly, as a representative of “ordinary girls,” Audrey Hepburn has an unsurpassed youthful vitality. Moreover, her character, Sabrina Fairchild, begins as a modest and ignored ugly duck who transforms into a majestic swan after her formative journey to Paris.
Hepburn’s irresistible charm, sweet and disarming, wins the viewer’s heart, so natural yet almost surreal there is no defense against her innocent smile.
John Williams, as dignified chauffeur Thomas Fairchild, maintains a formal behavior with growing comic distress over his daughter’s rugged attentions to both Larrabee brothers.
A man who has been made rough by life but still has within him the romance he thought he had buried after his last love disappointment.
Contrasting Bogart’s serious attitude is the lightheartedness of William Holden, playing the young and frivolous David Larrabee. Between failed marriages and temporary relationships, his life seems like a carousel of romantic adventures.
These two so different brothers, one austere and the other playful, create a dynamic balance that nurtures their performances, which complement each other, generating a vortex of humor, truth, and deception that fuels the intricate plot.
To this quirky family picture, we add the amusing figure of the stern patriarch Larrabee, played by Walter Hampden. His open contempt for young Sabrina is always manifested with a drink in his hand, looking for an olive he never finds.