Genre: Romantic Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 53 min.
Release Date: October 15th, 1954 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Billy Wilder Actors: Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, William Holden, John Williams, Martha Hyer, Joan Vohs, Walter Hampden, Marcel Dalio, Nella Walker
nce upon a time on the north shore of Long Island, there lived a small girl on a large estate – the Larrabee estate. It was so enormous that it employed dozens of servants, one of which is Thomas Fairchild (John Williams), an English chauffeur who came along with an imported Rolls Royce. Also accompanying him was his daughter, Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn), who can only watch from a distance as the ludicrously wealthy Larrabees glimpse heaven via their extreme affluence. On one night in particular, Sabrina spies younger Larrabee brother David (William Holden), a carefree playboy, as he dances with an elegant blonde, Gretchen Van Horn (Joan Vohs), during a luxurious party to celebrate annual yacht races.
“He doesn’t even know I exist.” Unfortunately for Sabrina, David barely notices her; she’s just part of the considerable group of hired help who ensure that the various swimming pools and tennis courts and cars and gardens are fastidiously maintained. But perhaps it doesn’t matter; Sabrina is scheduled to go off to cooking school in Paris the following day, which would take her far from her daydreams of being whisked away in David’s arms – and her jealousy every time the handsome bachelor embraces another elite woman. Instead of accepting her fate, she opts to kill herself by starting all the vehicles in the garage and closing the windows and doors. But elder Larrabee brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart), the responsible, hardworking one, comes to her rescue – though he also doesn’t take note of Sabrina’s vulnerableness … or her beauty.
‘You are unhappily in love.” Narrated like a fairy tale, “Sabrina” is very much a take on Cinderella, but updated with realistic relationships and a dearth of whimsical magic – and no wicked stepmother, save for the struggles of acceptance by the upper crust. Despite her suicidal obsession, she’s shipped off to Paris anyway, where she struggles to stay focused on anything other than David. Of course, he remains oblivious to her presence or whereabouts. She does receive a momentary distraction, in the form of kind, elderly Baron St. Fontanel (Marcel Dalio), who takes her under his wing during the two years she’s away studying – but romantic entanglements remain elusive.
“Who are you?” Sabrina returns to Long Island a new woman, educated and sophisticated and mature, which is suddenly enough to attract the attention of David, who doesn’t even recognize her when he accidentally sees her at the train station. And although he’s still not a fitting match for her, she can’t help but to fall head over heels in love with him once again. “You’re still the chauffeur’s daughter,” insists her father, to no avail.
In an interesting twist, Sabrina’s object of affection couldn’t be a worse counterpart; the audience knows it, but it’ll take a while for Sabrina to catch on (yet her alternate suitor, though more psychologically harmonious, appears uncongenial due to the age difference). Like “Pygmalion,” the title character undergoes a makeover, which should allow for an appropriate break in the standard class incompatibility, but she’ll have to win over a disapproving family as well. And one of the chief decriers is Linus, in cahoots with the family patriarch and matriarch to put David back on track with a millionairess (Martha Hyer) by creating a wedge with Sabrina – one that forces him to spend time with the young woman, only to realize that he might not want to get rid of her.
“Isn’t It Romantic?” plays in the background every so often, generating an enticing theme for this moderately comedic, incredibly fanciful love triangle – one in which plenty of wrongs are made before getting things right. Although Sabrina is wishy-washy, she ends up being the only one to handle the situation maturely; the two Larrabee brothers are much less sympathetic, botching up deals and relationships at every turn. Even when they conspire against one another to secretly help in matters of love, it’s a bit sticky and far from convincing. Nevertheless, the closing shot is terribly romantic.
– Mike Massie