Sabrina (1954)

Film Title: Sabrinasabrina

Year: 1954

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Silent or Talkie: Talkie

Genre: Drama


  • Humphrey Bogart
  • Audrey Hepburn
  • William Holden


Director Billy Wilder must have liked William Holden. Sabrina, made in 1954, was Wilder’s third collaboration with Holden in four years. In 1950, they worked together on Sunset Boulevard and then on Stalag 17 in 1953. It’s amazing that the pair had such a good working relationship, considering that Wilder did not initially want Holden to play Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard. Cary Grant was to play Holden’s older brother in Sabrina, but dropped out for unknown reasons just one week before shooting began. Knowing that the role called for an established actor who could pull it off, Wilder called on Humphrey Bogart. It was a chance for Bogart to stray from his tough guy image and step into a new pair of shoes. There is no doubt, however, that Audrey Hepburn is the centerpiece of the trio. Having only made a few films prior, she was a fresh face and the perfect ingredient in this recipe for classic Hollywood grandeur. The film became a large springboard in her blossoming career.

Audrey Hepburn is Sabrina Fairchild, a young girl living with her father Thomas (John Williams) on a large estate owned by the Larrabee family. The Larrabees are a rich brood who only feel content fraternizing with those of equal wealth and stature. Oliver and Maude Larrabee (Walter Hampden and Nella Walker), and their two sons Linus (Humphrey Bogart) and David (William Holden) are the only residents in the huge mansion. Sabrina and her father live in a separate, smaller house on the grounds. Linus is the business-minded son while David is a playboy, almost too immature to command such fortune. The Larrabees often hold parties for their affluent circle of friends, while Sabrina watches the festivities from a nearby tree. She is enamored with David, and has been her entire life; but, realizing her place in the world, she feels of lesser importance and never pursues him. Her father only solidifies her feelings of inequality by telling her not to “reach for the moon”. In an attempt to take Sabrina’s mind off of David, her father arranges for her to go to a cooking school in Paris. The night before she is scheduled to leave, Sabrina writes a suicide note and slides it under her father’s door before going into the garage to inhale carbon monoxide fumes. Linus finds her and gets her into the fresh air. Sabrina does go to Paris and becomes a changed girl after fighting her unhappiness. Two years pass and she returns home as a beautiful woman, attracting the attention of everyone on the Larrabee estate – especially David. Sabrina’s father does not approve of her new courtship with David and warns her once again not to “reach for the moon”, to which she replies “the moon is reaching for me!”. The other Larrabees feel that Sabrina is unfit for David, and that her relationship with him does nothing but disrupt the family business and cast an “ordinary” light on them.

Linus takes the reins by volunteering to “see” Sabrina while David is recuperating from an accident. In actuality, he plans on persuading her to return to Paris, thereby removing her as a threat to the family’s reputation. David is under the impression that his older brother is being helpful, unaware of the real intentions behind the gesture. Sabrina is also blind to the ulterior motives and readily agrees to let Linus entertain her while David heals. Meanwhile, David is already engaged to another woman named Martha Hyer (Elizabeth Tyson), a much more suitable wife in his family’s opinion. Much like an arranged marriage, David doesn’t love Martha and wants to break it off to be with Sabrina. Linus’ devious plan begins to go awry when he feels himself falling for Sabrina, so he covers it with the cold exterior of a man concerned with business and nothing else. He continues to take her out; they go to dinners, shows and out on boat rides where the solitude magnifies their affection for one another. David is nearly healed and ready to resume the relationship, but now with Linus in the picture, Sabrina is confused about who she loves more. The elder Larrabees continue to voice their disapproval, noting that Sabrina’s father is the family chauffeur and such a mixture between the two classes is beneath them. The love triangle not only requires Sabrina to choose, but also demands that Linus examine his true priorities. Does he value his brotherhood with David or does he follow his heart and sweep Sabrina away? Linus knows that such a drastic change in his stone-faced demeanor would prove that his life has been nothing but a ruse for his parents’ benefit. David has always been the loose one, the black sheep of the regal Larrabees. They expect much less of him than they do of Linus. Sabrina is the bridge between the opposite personalities, yet her feelings stand to take the hardest blow in this game of taboo.

Sabrina was remade in 1995 with the same title, starring Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond. Like many classic films that are remade, it’s nearly impossible to fix something that isn’t broken. This is no exception. Director Billy Wilder was extremely thorough in constructing the story, which was originally titled “Sabrina Fair” after the play written by Samuel A. Taylor. Wilder used subtle techniques, which included mentioning “The Seven Year Itch” twice in Sabrina. The play that Linus takes Sabrina to see is “The Seven Year Itch”. This is of particular importance because Wilder knew he would be working on the film, so he actually marketed his future work in his present work. Audrey Hepburn’s character is not only the film’s namesake, but the glue that held it together. Hepburn had the perfect combination of beauty, purity and innocence to play the role. This is one of many films where her image is immediately associated with the title, and when that happens, no other person can possibly compare. William Holden was a great choice to play David Larrabee, the playboy in a family of egotistical snobs. David could almost be considered an adopted son in comparison to his brother Linus, played by Humphrey Bogart. Bogart was top notch as always. Though the majority of his career was spent playing rough characters and sharp-witted sleuths, he really began to branch out in the early 50s with such films as “The African Queen” and “The Caine Mutiny”. Bogart would only make five more films after Sabrina, succumbing to throat cancer in 1957. Sabrina was a fairytale wrapped in the ambiance of real life, we even hear the requisite “once upon a time” spoken in the very beginning by Sabrina herself. While the film boasts a cast of superstars, this is an Audrey Hepburn film. This character is the embodiment of the sincerity and genuine decency she applied in her life outside of Hollywood.

On Video

Sabrina was released on DVD in 2001 by Paramount. The audio and video quality is stellar, and in addition we are treated to a bonus documentary on the making of the film. The movie is available individually, but it is also found as part of The Audrey Hepburn DVD Collection (Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and The Billy Wilder DVD Collection (Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, Sabrina).


Sabrina is set on a massive property, and such large surroundings tend to accent the people within. In this case, the extravagance brought the Larrabees’ shallowness to the surface. Sabrina and her father lived “away” from this behavior, literally and symbolically. The relationship between the two families echoed sentiments of Romeo and Juliet, and in the spirit of the theatre, we sit front row to observe the speed bumps of human nature. This movie is a representation of society, and the factors by which people are defined. Sabrina is a mixture of charm, comedy and seriousness. It’s a must see for all audiences, young and old.

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