Thursday, November 5, 2015

Take Two: Sabrina

Is it just me? Or does every other movie these days seem to be a remake?

Is a remake always a bad thing? Are there instances where the remake is good, or even (dare I  suggest) better than the original? Or are they simply a sign that the writers in Hollywood have lost all sense of originality and have some sadist need to pile dog droppings all over your favorite flicks? Are some films sacred ground, that are so perfect in every way that a remake would just be an insult?

Never one to shy away from a challenge, I intend to plumb the depths of movie remakes in a new segment I like to call "Take Two!".

Today's remake review: a classic Cinderella tale of unrequited love, growing up, and, um... social classism?

The Plot:

Since the plot is roughly the same for both films (not a complete rewrite, as some remakes are), I'll sum up the plot here noting the differences before I start comparing what I like and dislike about each film. Sabrina Fairchild is the daughter of the chauffeur of the Larrabee family, an old money clan living in a large mansion on the North Shore. The family consists of mother Maude and two sons: Linus (the more business-minded brother and CEO of the Fortune 500 family business) and David (the flighty playboy). The original also includes father Oliver Larrabee, but he was written out of the remake (largely because he did very little to advance the plot). Sabrina has been in love with David from time immemorial, but he's so busy with his fling of the week that he doesn't notice she exists. Sabrina takes the opportunity to get away to Paris (for cooking school in the original and a Vogue internship in the remake). There she meets some wise friends who help turn her into a sophisticated socialite and Sabrina returns home, almost immediately catching the eye of David.

There's a problem, though. In her absence, David has become engaged to Elizabeth Tyson, whose father just so happens to own a company that Linus would love to merge with. It's a match made in corporate heaven that would land the Larrabee Corporation millions. And Sabrina turning David's head puts both unions in serious jeopardy. Linus isn't about to stand for that. At first, he makes veiled attempts to pay her off. But she proves to be a woman who can't be bought. Then, Linus changes tactics. If she's determined to love a Larrabee, he's going to make sure she falls in love with the one who will do the least amount of damage. So he begins to seduce Sabrina. He has no intentions of staying with her, of course. But that's a necessary evil if Linus wants to preserve the greatest business deal of his career.

Will Sabrina be turned on by the charms of the cold, calculating businessman? Will David abandon his fiancee for the chauffeur's daughter? Will Linus lose out on a multi-million dollar merger, especially when he starts falling in love with Sabrina for real?

If you haven't seen either of the films, I suggest you stop reading here, because spoilers are ahead. Ye be warned!

The Original

The Good:

The original has a lot going for it. It was based on a rather popular Broadway play called "Sabrina Fair". Having the gorgeous and ever-classy Audrey Hepburn as the elegant and sophisticated Sabrina is a major plus. There's wit and humor, particularly on the part of father Oliver Larrabee (played by stage actor Walter Hampden as one of the last performances before his death), who just wants his boys to be sensible and marry within their class like they're supposed to. He's not bitter about the classism. It's just the way things are done and he's a man too old to be pushed far out of his comfort zone by newfangled ideas. John Williams shines as Thomas Fairchild, Sabrina's loving but cautious father. The scene of Linus rescuing Sabrina from a failed suicide attempt does help hint at a future relationship. Overall, it's a sweet film that doesn't overstay its welcome.

The Bad:

The opening narration by Hepburn is clunky and monotone. Humphrey Bogart's performance as Linus is one-dimensional and forced. Bill Holden's David is neither charming nor dashing, and I find myself wondering why Sabrina is interested in him to start with. The fact that he goes through several marriages in the original and only "relationships" in the remake says a lot about his character in this version. An odd thing, considering marriage was considered much more sacred in the 50s than in the 90s. We spend very little time seeing Sabrina's transformation from awkward shy chauffeur's daughter to elegant debutante, and so don't get too attached to her journey.

The Ugly:

Perhaps my most irritating problem with the movie is the fact that it ends on a very simple note. After all the lies, betrayal, and manipulation, Linus and Sabrina just sail away together to Paris without so much as an apology. Look, I know "love means never having to say you're sorry" (yes, I know, wrong movie) but come on! If it were me, I'd expect at least some acknowledgement that deceiving a woman just so you can make a ton of money was a bad idea. But no. Linus just strolls into frame, they embrace, fade to black. Ugh. Makes me nuts.

The Remake

The Good:

If there was a lot going for the original, there's ten times more going for the remake. Directed by Sydney Pollack of all people, this PG rated romance is big on charm, wit, and warmth. Harrison Ford kills it as Linus. He has all the emotion and expression that Bogart lacked in his performance. Greg Kinnear pulls off a believable David. Certainly a much better performance than Holden's. He's a dashing, yet immature man-child playboy who has a severe commitment phobia. I may have liked the performance a bit more if Kinnear were a tiny bit...better looking, but if I had to choose between eye candy that can't act and this "adorkable" performance, I'd rather have Kinnear any day.

The subplot relationship between Thomas Fairchild and Joanna the housekeeper is sweet but not distracting. The upgraded status of Mrs. MacCardle, or "Mack", Linus's longsuffering secretary is a welcome one. She almost acts as a barometer for Linus's emotional transformation because she knew what he was like before Sabrina. A lot more time is spent on Sabrina's time in Paris and it becomes obvious why she's so in love with the place and the people there. Her relationship with her supervisor at Vogue, Irene, is one of mentoring and maturing. Truly, it is Irene that turns Sabrina from wallflower to rose blossom. Julia Ormond's Sabrina is sweet and gentle. She lacks some of the refinement of Hepburn's performance, but in her defense it's hard to go against the queen of class. Had you never seen the original, you'd never know the difference.

For me, though, it's the payoff at the end that makes the whole movie totally worth it. The final scene of Linus and Sabrina in Paris just sells the whole romance, and the book-end narration was the perfect touch. I couldn't think of a better way to end such a great film.

The Bad:

Not much, actually. I did miss father Oliver's presence in the story line (he was killed off in the opening monologue), but maybe because of the humor injected elsewhere in the story, his role may have been redundant, as he was almost entirely comic relief. I'd also have liked to have seen a bit more of Linus's background. The original tried to paint him as a suicidal depressive, which was a bit off-putting, but at least they explained why he never settled down. Linus's excuse for being single in the remake was that he was too busy, which, given the 90s setting when multi-billion dollar CEOs manage to find a wife and a mistress, seems a bit flimsy. But that's probably just me subconsciously trying to spend more time watching Harrison Ford.

The Ugly:


I think it's safe to say that in this case, remakes aren't always a bad thing. I'd rather watch the Sydney Pollack version any day of the week. The writing is great, the performances are out of this world, even the music is amazing. While I will forever love both Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart for their various other films, in my heart, there is only one Linus and Sabrina.


  1. I like them both, though I have to admit I have seen the remake more than the original.