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Film / Sabrina (1954)

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"Isn't it romantic?"

"I have learned how to live, how to be in the world and of the world ... and not just to stand aside and watch. And I will never, never again run away from life, or from love, either."
Sabrina Fairchild

Sabrina is a 1954 Romantic Comedy film starring Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn and William Holden. It was directed by Billy Wilder and based on a play called Sabrina Fair. It was Audrey Hepburn's second film, meant to capitalize on her rising popularity. The film was nominated for several Oscars and won the award for Best Costume Design, further cementing Audrey Hepburn at the top of the best dressed list for years to come. The film has become a classic of the genre. It was remade in 1995.

The story introduces us to Sabrina Fairchild, the waifish daughter of the wealthy Larrabee family's chauffeur. The Larrabees have two sons: the workaholic Linus (Bogart) and the carefree playboy David (Holden). Sabrina is madly in love with David, and tries to kill herself when he doesn't return her advances, but Linus stops her. Sabrina is then shipped off to Paris to attend culinary school, but still pines for David. She returns home extravagant and radiant, and immediately turns David's head, even though he doesn't recognize her at first. This causes problems as David is about to marry Elizabeth, who is essential to an important company merger. Linus tries to direct Sabrina's attention away from David, and unexpectedly falls in love with her himself.

The film contains examples of:

  • Arranged Marriage: David is supposed to marry someone against his will because it benefits the economic interests of both families. He agrees to it at the end.
  • Blowing Smoke Rings: Who knew an exhaustion pipe can do this?
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: When Sabrina retells the story of her and David's first kiss when they were kids but David doesn't remember.
  • Character Filibuster: Linus gives one early in the film about the virtue of industry.
  • Childish Bangs: Double Subverted. Sabrina has these as a child, but instead of the usual evolution of the hairstyle to show adulthood (growing them out), she cuts all of her hair short.
  • Closet Shuffle: At one point Linus is opening a closet in his room and sees his father hiding in it.
  • Cool Old Guy: The Baron, Sabrina's classmate, who immediately discerns her problems and helps her come out of her shell in Paris.
  • Cutting the Knot: Linus breaks his father's olive jar in order to get the last olive out.
  • Dance of Romance: Sabrina's dreams come true when she has one of these with her longtime crush David... then she dances with his brother Linus.....
  • Dialogue Reversal: When the newspaper shares a story about David and Elizabeth becoming engaged, David and Linus have this exchange:
    David: Did you plant this?
    Linus: Me?! I thought it was common knowledge about you and Elizabeth Tyson.
    • Later, news gets out of Linus and Sabrina fleeing to Paris together, causing him and David to have this exchange:
      Linus: Did you plant this?
      David: Me? I thought it was common knowledge about you and Sabrina.
  • Disposable Fiancé: Subverted with Elizabeth. Until the end it looks like David is about to dump her in order to hook up with Sabrina but then he has a change of heart and decides to go through with the marriage.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: The cooking workshop's main window provides a splendid view of the Eiffel Tower.
  • Endangered Soufflé: Happens naturally to Sabrina in Paris when she forgets to turn on the oven in the first place.
  • Family Business: Both Larrabee brothers as well as their father sit in the board of directors of the family company.
  • Fiction 500: The Larrabee Conglomerate has its fingers in just about every industrial sector in the world, and its own towering skyscraper in Manhattan. Linus admits that at this point he doesn't even care about making more money, to him that's just a "byproduct" of his managerial activities. To stress their power, Sabrina notes Maude's been on the cover of Fortune, while Linus was on the cover of Time. (David? He did a print ad to sell clothes.)
  • Gay Paree: Where Sabrina spends two years to learn cooking. She comes back having learned head-turning sophistication as well.
  • Goodbye, Cruel World!: Sabrina's suicide letter to her father.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: While Sabrina learns how to make a souffle, the teacher tells her and the other students, "The souffle, it must be gay. Gay like...two butterflies dancing the waltz in the summer breeze."
  • Hypocritical Humor: Larrabee Sr. when calling his wife out for accusing him of having smoked while he is holding a cigar behind his back. His wife has been pressuring him to quit smoking, and he claims to have quit the habit for three months. He actually never quit, and spends most of the film trying to hide his smoking habits from his wife.
  • Idle Rich: In the original film, David Larrabee has no actual job, though he is nominally an executive in the family company. He never sets foot in the office (and one point his brother gives him the address to the office), repeatedly admits that he does not understand anything about the stock market, chases after every pretty woman in Long Island, and attends parties. That is his daily schedule. The introduction mentions that after three failed marriages, David is still living with his parents and he is financially supported by his father. His father is getting a tax deduction due to this financial support for him.
  • Important Haircut: Sabrina loses her ponytail after the Baron jokingly tells her it makes her look like a horse.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Pre-Paris, Sabrina tries to suffocate herself on carbon monoxide due to her failure to catch David's attention, but Linus stops her. Later, Linus confides in Sabrina that he nearly jumped off of his office balcony after a woman broke his heart, but decided against it, after noticing children playing hopscotch on the sidewalk. However, judging by the fact that he later takes much too much time to catch Sabrina's reference to the balcony ledge he was allegedly standing upon while contemplating suicide, it's possible that this story was entirely made up for Sabrina's benefit.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Used by both parties. Linus knows Sabrina is in love with David even though he [Linus] is in love with her. He tells David to get on the boat with her, and they'll cancel the merger. David recognizes his affection, and takes his responsibility with the company so that Linus and Sabrina can be together.
  • Knuckle Cracking: Larrabee Sr. does this menacingly before giving David a stern rebuke about him dancing with Sabrina at the party.
  • Last-Name Basis: Thomas Fairchild is only called Fairchild by his employers.
  • Leg Focus: The newly sophisticated Sabrina wears Daisy Dukes at one point.
  • Literal Ass-Kicking: David sitting on his champagne glasses. Later, Larrabee Sr. does the same with the jar of olives.
  • Little Black Dress: Sabrina wears one during the party.
  • Longing Look: Sabrina gives these to David pre-Paris.
  • Love Epiphany: David causes Linus to have one after he jokingly calls Sabrina a Gold Digger who only loved Linus for his money. An offended Linus punches David so hard, that David tumbles backwards onto the table. As David gets back up, he proudly declares that he succeeded in helping Linus realize his love for Sabrina.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: The Baron claims to have noticed that a woman who tries to bake a soufflé while happily in love ends up burning it, while one who tries to bake while unhappily in love forgets to turn on the oven.
  • Loving a Shadow: Part of Sabrina's arc is realising that her love for David was a childish dream and she and Linus get along better. Plus, she actually spent quality time with Linus while falling in love, a thing that never actually happened with David.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Linus. He doesn't realize she'd been manipulating him too in ways he didn't expect.
  • Married to the Job: Linus, by his own admission. "If I got married, I'd have to take a dictaphone, two secretaries and four corporation counsellors along on the honeymoon. I'd be unfaithful to my wife every night with vice presidents, boards of directors, slide-rule accountants... This is my home. No wife would ever understand it."
  • May–December Romance: Sabrina is 22. Linus is much older (like 30 years older, judging by the age of actors).
  • Meaningful Echo: When Linus is telling David he should marry Elizabeth for the sake of the family business, and David protests, Linus says David wants to marry Elizabeth anyway and he's just helping him make up his mind. After David inspires Linus's love epiphany by insulting Sabrina, he says, "I was just helping you make up your mind."
  • Meaningful Name: Sabrina Fairchild is named after a story by John Milton, Sabrina Fair, in which a virgin is saved by a water nymph from a Fate Worse than Death. Tellingly, Sabrina is the name of the savior. While Linus is probably not a virgin, he's at the very least loveless.
  • Millionaire Playboy: David's love life is like this, until the end when he decides to be more responsible.
  • Missing Mom: In the original film, Sabrina Fairchild's only living family seems to be her father. During a conversation, Thomas Fairchild mentions that his wife used to be the best cook in Long Island, and that they had a good life together. But the implication is that he is a widower, and that his efforts to have Sabrina educated as a cook is his way of ensuring that she follows in her mother's footsteps.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Sabrina washes a car in a tied plaid shirt and Daisy Dukes at one point.
  • No Doubt the Years Have Changed Me: David doesn't recognize Sabrina after her two years in Paris.
  • Not Distracted by the Sexy: Linus insists this about Sabrina ("I don't care what she did to her hair!"). He's wrong.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: Sabrina's joy about her and Linus going to Paris makes Linus uncomfortable because it's a lie. He can't take it anymore and ends up spilling the beans to her.
  • Once Upon a Time: Audrey Hepburn opens the original movie by delivering narration that begins like so:
    "Once upon a time, on the North Shore of Long Island, some 30 miles from New York, there lived a small girl on a large estate..."
  • One-Word Title: First name of Protagonist Title.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • Linus realizes David is serious when he reminds him that he never visits the office.
    • Then how David realizes Linus is in love with Sabrina: "You'd blow a billion dollars over this? ... Uh... huh."
  • Opening Monologue: Sabrina provides one introducing the setting and major characters.
  • Pan and Scan: Inverted: 4:3 prints actually show more picture than originally shown in theaters. This probably explains why the film never received a widescreen home video release until the 60th anniversary Blu-Ray.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Sabrina's dress at the party has lots of embroidery, and a voluminous second skirt (in the shape of a Showgirl Skirt) attached to the narrow main skirt.
  • Production Foreshadowing: Linus orders two tickets for the play The Seven Year Itch, which was Wilder's next film. In interviews, Wilder said this was intentional.
  • Protagonist Title: First name.
  • Race for Your Love: By the time Linus realizes his love for Sabrina, she has already boarded a boat back to Paris. David helps Linus catch up to her by arranging for a tugboat to transport him.
  • Romantic False Lead: David Larrabee.
  • Sealed with a Kiss: Averted in the original. It ends with Sabrina and Linus hugging instead.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: David doesn't even recognize Sabrina when she comes home. He is just stunned when he find out who she is.
  • She's All Grown Up: "Would you have recognized her? That scrawny kid who'd run away when she saw us, her knees painted with Mercurochrome. How do you like those legs now? Aren't they something?"
  • Shout-Out: Some Viennese operetta is referred to in Linus and Sabrina's conversation, though the description of the plot given rather points to a mish-mash of different operettas (think Emmerich Kalman's oeuvre) than any particular single one. Billy Wilder was actually born in the state whose capital Vienna was (Habsburg Empire).
    • In the same conversation about the operetta, they joke about main characters opening the brewery in Milwaukee and being in "love that made Milwaukee famous". "The beer that made Milwaukee famous" had been an advertising slogan of the Schlitz beer brand, brewed, naturally, in Milwaukee.
  • Sibling Triangle: The brothers for Sabrina.
  • Suicide as Comedy: Sabrina's suicide attempt is mostly Played for Laughs, as she desperately shushes a noisy car, her father sleeps through his bedroom shaking hard enough to dislodge his blankets, and ultimately Sabrina finds the fumes she was there to inhale so unbearable she opens a window.
  • Unequal Pairing: Both Linus and David are members of the upper crust. Sabrina is a chauffeur's daughter. Her father attempts to discourage her budding feelings for this very reason.
  • Unlimited Wardrobe: As Christopher Buckley put it, Sabrina apparently takes along "about 10 steamer trunks full of Givenchy" when she returns to America.
  • Verbal Backpedaling: Sabrina does this after she almost lets Linus know what she was up to the night before she left for Paris:
    Linus: Sabrina, do you find it hard to believe someone might want to blot out everything, for sentimental reasons?
    Sabrina: Oh, I believe it! You know what I almost did because of sentimental reasons? I...I went to Paris to blot it out. Maybe you should go to Paris, Linus.
  • Was It All a Lie?: Played straight, then subverted.
  • We Named the Monkey "Jack": Sabrina's poodle is named David.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: David gives Linus a big one over being a Manipulative Bastard. When he asks what made him think he could toy with personal lives, Linus snaps with a hint of sadness, "Habit."