There is no one dreamier than Audrey Hepburn, and nowhere is this more evident than in Billy Wilder’s 1954 romantic comedy, Sabrina. Based on the Samuel Taylor play Sabrina Fair (which I’ve finally borrowed from the library), the film is a Cinderella tale. A chauffeur’s daughter transforms from an awkward duckling into a graceful swan.
Sabrina Fairchild has had an all consuming, unrequited crush on David Larrabee (William Holden) for years. He’s the youngest son of the wealthy Larrabee family on a Long Island estate. Sabrina’s father Thomas (John Williams) has been the family chauffeur ever since she was a little girl. He disapproves of her crush for two reasons: 1) class differences 2) David is an incorrigible playboy who’s already been married and divorced multiple times.
At one of the Larrabee parties, Sabrina keeps watch from her perch in a tree. David, all suave and sneaky, disappears from the party with a young woman named Gretchen. Sabrina of course, desperately wishes she was in Gretchen’s place. As David is passing below beneath her tree, she jumps down from it.
“Oh, Sabrina. I thought I heard somebody.”
“No. It’s nobody.”
I read a particularly vicious criticism of Audrey recently. While not everyone is obligated to fall under her spell, I do think she’s too often dismissed as an actress. Because of her own modesty and the fact that she trained as a dancer and was never actively pursuing a film career, she would be the first to say she was never much of an actress. But her performance as Sabrina is so earnest. She’s wonderfully emotive. The eyes. Heartbreak lives in those eyes. Heartbreak, longing. Poor Sabrina. If this was a different film and she wasn’t spending so much time, energy, and loveworn fantasies on David, Sabrina would be the girl with hopeless crushes on dead movie stars. (Ahem).
So this is our girl. Not an ugly duckling, but an unnoticeable one. As much as I’d love this film to be a comfort to all awkward, lonely, unnoticeable teenage girls, it’s just a bit too Hollywood. Sabrina is luckier than most because she goes on a trip to Paris. Her father is hoping that she’ll forget David while she’s a student at a distinguished culinary school. David takes up more room in her mind and memory than before. But something does change. Sabrina gets a glamorous makeover on the outside, and a renewed look at her life. She vows in a letter to her father that she’s never going to run away from life – or from love, either.
When Sabrina arrives back in Long Island, hair shorn and wearing a chic Givenchy suit, she’s no longer the shrinking violet hiding in a tree.
The camera pans over her body slowly, moving upwards from her legs to her face. The instrumental version of “La Vie en Rose” is playing when we see this new Sabrina. The music, the camera, the girl; all of it produces a dazzling effect. She is exquisite, and the first person to see this new Sabrina is none other than David. He doesn’t recognize her but he’s attracted to her immediately. Sabrina has a lot of fun toying with him as he guesses about her identity. And when he does learn that she is Sabrina, the same kid who used to go whipping around corners when she heard him coming, he decides that he wants her.
Thomas Fairchild tries to discourage his daughter from pursuing David or allowing herself to be pursued. David is engaged, but Sabrina coyly brushes this off.
“But he’s still David Larrabee. And you’re still the chauffeur’s daughter. And you’re still reaching for the moon.”
I can’t be sure if this quote has had a far reaching impact on pop culture, but I do know that it expresses realized longing in the most beautiful way imaginable. Sabrina isn’t merely setting out to steal David from his fiancee. She still has so much more to learn, much more growing to do, but for now, the moon is in her orbit. Audrey is so dreamy here. It captures to me all the hopefulness of a young girl. To see good things happening for you, to be more than just optimistic, to no longer feel as if all those things you’ve dreamed for are as distant as the moon. She’s not stretching out her arms for something impossible; the impossible is coming down to her.
This is my second post for the second annual Classic Quotes blogathon. Click on the banner to read more!