In this intricate romantic comedy, Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn) is a chauffeur’s daughter, who is desperately in love with David (William Holden), the son of the rich Larrabee family that her father works for. Unable to put David out of her mind, she flees to Paris to learn about life. Here she becomes a beautiful, sophisticated young woman. On her return to America, David finally notices her, instantly dropping his latest fiance. But the financial importance of his future marriage causes his business-minded brother, Linus (Humphrey Bogart) to intervene and an intense love triangle develops.
Based on the successful Broadway play, Sabrina Fair by Samuel A. Taylor, Sabrina received five Oscar nominations and one win (costume design) in 1955. Writer / Director Billy Wilder had already won an Oscar in 1946 for The Lost Weekend and again in 1951 for Sunset Boulevard. Sabrina’s cast were also a talented bunch. Hepburn was fresh from her Oscar win for Roman Holiday in 1954. William Holden had also won Best Actor for Stalag 17 in the same year, while Bogart had received an Oscar in 1952 for African Queen.
Sabrina was Hepburn’s third major film role and her second Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Although, this time, Hepburn lost out to Grace Kelly for her performance in The Country Girl, Hepburn is stunning as Sabrina. In the film’s early scenes Sabrina is a self-conscious young girl who feels invisible – as she hides in the trees watching the family ball David sees her, ‘I thought I saw somebody,’ he says, to which Sabrina replies wistfully, ‘No, it’s nobody’. On her return from Paris, Hepburn gives us a very different character, confident, bubbly and intelligent. As the plot develops, Hepburn brilliantly conveys Sabrina’s confusion – the changing emotions of a very mixed up young woman unable to separate her childish fancies from true love.
As Linus, Bogart is unfathomable. Linus is quite cunning and Bogart manages to make his character very difficult to read, keeping his character’s true intentions hidden until the end of the film. Without Bogart’s impressive delivery of Linus’ impenetrable persona, the many twists and turns of Sabrina might seem predictable and silly. Linus is a complicated character and one scene in particular – on board the family sailing boat with Sabrina – gives us a touching insight into his youth and what lies beneath his serious exterior.
William Holden delivers as the childish David who falls in love much too easily, ‘look at those legs now’ he says like a boy with a new toy. David, Linus and their father, have some great dialogue that is amusing and witty. After David’s oblivious fiance prattles about the wedding flowers that will spell out ‘Elizabeth and David,’ the father exclaims, ‘2000 gardenias spelling disaster’. Sabrina is littered with an almost nervous anticipation that breeds its own comedy.
Set against the backdrop of the plastics industry (the Larrabee’s family business), this provides the opportunity for some nice physical comedy and there are a great many jokes involving glass. An extreme stereotype of a French chef and the servant’s constant reflections on Sabrina’s letters also make for some good laughs.
Sabrina’s gentle comedy also makes some smart points about snobbery and class, Sabrina’s father is perhaps the worst of the bunch, ‘nobody poor was ever called democratic for marrying somebody rich,’ he tells his daughter. Sabrina is a young woman with ambition and aspirations – even her snobbish father recognises that she doesn’t belong above a garage. But it seems regrettable that Sabrina has to run away and become sophisticated before the upperclass brothers will notice her.
The upperclass elements of this romantic comedy provide the perfect circumstances for opulent sets and luxurious props. As with so many of Hepburn’s movies, the costumes and props in Sabrina are exceedingly stylish from ball gowns with yards of fabric to (probably) the cuddliest poodle ever seen on screen. Frozen daiquiris at Linus’ office ooze sophistication along with the sports cars and sailing boats the Larrabees own. Hepburn’s costumes are stunning. Sabrina marked the first time Hepburn worked with Hubert de Givenchy – a designer she went on to work with for most of career.
Sabrina is a very romantic film with an ending that is both sweet and touching. The performances are first rate and it’s a visual feast to watch. It might not be for everyone but, as a romantic comedy, Sabrina is hard to beat.