Wednesday, 5 January 2011

AFED #4: Paris When It Sizzles (US,1964); Dir. Richard Quine

Never mind that she's been dead for 18 years, somewhere in the world they'll be somebody who's just fallen in love in Audrey Hepburn. It's unlikely to be a amorous attraction; Hepburn's allure was always curiously asexual, borne of timeless natural beauty and poise.

We're inclined to think of her as the antithesis of the overt eroticism of other fifties icons like Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield and the tendency to pair her with much older leading men (Humphrey Bogart in Sabrina, Fred Astaire in Funny Face) often felt less of a romantic coupling and more that of girl-woman needing a surrogate father to protect her. Even with her role as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's, as a woman (and mother) now in her thirties, Hepburn couldn't entirely relinquish the persona of the ingenue.

As the sixties progressed Hepburn was savvy enough to realise she had to evolve. Charade and My Fair Lady both marked progression and maintained her box office standing. Paris When It Sizzles, on the other hand, is a bit of a mess.


Hepburn plays a temp secretary who's sent to the Paris apartment of screenwriter William Holden to type out the screenplay he's supposedly been working on for the last six months. Problem is that Holden's been too busy living the good life to write anything and his producer (Noel Coward) is coming to collect the manuscript in two days time.

Between them the pair begin concocting an absurd storyline, 'The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower', featuring thinly veiled alter-egos of themselves. Through the magic of cinema we get to join their fantasy, as the story-in-the-story plays out over and in between their exchanges. Inevitably they also end up falling in love.

What begins as fairly amusing - particularly when Holden's describing the opening sequence and Frank Sinatra sings the opening line of the theme song - rapidly wears thin when it becomes clear that not a great deal of thought has been given to the to anything beyond the basic premise. Moreover, while the early exchanges have enough snappiness to evoke the spirit of classic screwball it's supplanted by the fantasy antics of 'The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower'.

The modish, self-conscious whackiness of these scenes betray how mainstream Hollywood was struggling to get down with the kids during this period. "Go absolutely ape in Paris when it sizzles!" proclaimed the tagline; presumably they were thinking of a depressed gorilla banging its head against a brick wall.

It might have been redeemed if one actually sensed some chemistry between Hepburn and Holden, but neither gives anything more than a professional performance and since the script makes little or not attempt to make their romance believable it leaves a gaping hole in the film. The pair had briefly had a fling a decade earlier and one suspects that tension still festered.

I'll say this for Paris When It Sizzles: it's the kind of film - potentially much better than it was - that somebody should try and remake. Will never happen though.

2 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yeah, I'm not a fan of her anorexic sixties look and of course she smoked (and by some accounts stank) like a chimney. One thing I didn't mention is that there is some very good cinematography of the Paris backdrop, but sadly far too much time is spent in Holden's apartment.

    ReplyDelete